A group of residents of Ramallah and Al Bireh whose homes are adjacent to the Jewish settlement Psagaot seem to have found the third way. Forced to choose between opposition to the Israelis who are daily bombarding their homes with an assortment of guns and shells, or turn against their own people they chose a different route.
The third way chosen by many ordinary Palestinians has turned them into angry opponents to the young Palestinian gunmen who are shooting at the nearby Israeli settlement from the middle of residential areas. The residents who have no place to go to safeguard their own families have decided that enough is enough. Armed with the decision of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and 14 Palestinian national and Islamic factions against the shooting from residential areas, these people have decided to go on the attack. They have contacted all the Palestinian security agencies, presented petitions, tried to stand up to these gunmen and finally found enough courage to make their case on local television.
I picked up these residents protests with the popular Palestinian talk show massaha lil rai with Maher Dasouki. Dr. Nimeh Awad an employee of the Palestinian Authority, Kamal Abu Samra the head of Al Wehedi housing committee in Al Bireh and Ramallah business man Issa Shkukani. The three made a powerful case against the young Palestinian gunmen who have come to their residential areas, firing some shoots against the nearby settlement which elicited a heavy Israeli response leaving homes destroyed, at least one home burnt, children traumatized and one child dead apparently from shock.
All three speakers made it clear that they support the Palestinian struggle and hold Israel responsible for its barbaric attack against their homes. But the consensus amongst them was that the young men shooting at the Israelis were irresponsible and clearly in violation of the presidents orders and the agreement of all Palestinian national and Islamic movements. They criticized the youth for what Dr. Awad described as the wrong understanding of the use of guns. Businessman Issal Shkukani described these youth as criminal. Housing Committee head Kamal Abu Samra explained that the situation has caused many to leave the housing complex. Out of 19 families only five have remained. He warned that some of the residents will not only leave to safer areas in Ramallah but might emigrate from Palestine if they have a chance. During the heavy shootings even the fire brigade was unable to reach the burning house despite pleas of the residents to the gunmen to stop. At one time one gunmen said bikafi (enough) and the other, possibly their leader said Kamel continue.
What angered the talk show guests was the unwillingness or inability of members of the Palestinian security from interfering. Speaker after speaker noted that to get to their homes they had to pass three or four Palestinian checkpoints, yet when the shooting started the same Palestinians security people either disappeared or refused to get involved. Phone calls to top Palestinian officials produced promises of sending more security people but nothing happened.
The live television program quickly found fertile ground amongst viewers and the phone was literally jammed with phone calls from all kinds of people expressing similar comments. What was amazing for me was that every single caller was willing to identify himself with his name despite the fact that they were critical of both the gunmen and the inactive Palestinian security officials. Callers also went as far as attack the Ramallah governor and other PA officials for not showing up and doing something about the situation. One caller used the example of Israel by saying how Israeli officials quickly visit areas of attack and respond to the peoples needs. Another caller explained how a PA official asked the people to fix what happened and send him the bill, while another speaker told the television audience that members of the Islamic movement had fixed the water tanks that were shot at by the Israelis thus providing the residents with drinking water.
The situation that is taking place is endangering the sense of unity that has been felt in the past. While the majority of Palestinians are praying for the day that this nightmare will be over and the Israeli shelling will stop, many are no longer willing to accept the lack of discipline that is taking place in residential Palestinian areas. This silent majority seems to have spoken out about such abuse of the use of weapons and because of the courage of these residents I am sure it will not be long before some of these Palestinian hot heads will be under control.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.