Conspiracy theories are said to flourish in this part of the world, so it is not surprising that Israel should entertain the idea that Yasser Arafat orchestrated the second Palestinian Intifada, which began on 29 September 2000. The reasons advanced may vary: after the failure of Camp David, the Palestinians decided that negotiations were no longer the best way to achieve political gains; the Palestinians knew that Israel would respond violently and were hoping to win the international community’s sympathy; the Palestinian Authority was losing credibility at home and needed to rally the masses against the common enemy; etc.
In all these scenarios, the Israelis are conveniently missing the fact that the Palestinian uprising sparked by the “visit” of Ariel Sharon to Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is being waged by a people that could no longer bear thirty-four years of occupation and oppression.
In order to sustain this conspiracy theory, Israel must present us, the Palestinians, as a bunch of unruly terrorists, which allows the “Jewish state,” in turn, to be portrayed as the victim in most Western media and to justify its use of excessive force as a defensive rather than offensive tactic.
Beyond conspiracy theories lies reality. To date, the Israeli army and settlers have killed over 400 Palestinians, 90 per cent of whom were civilians. For each Israeli, six Palestinians have been killed. More revealing still is the fact that, since the beginning of the Intifada, 97.2 per cent of those killed by the Israeli army were killed by live ammunition; and 46 per cent were killed while not involved in any clashes or demonstrations but rather randomly shelled by the Israelis in the privacy of their homes or when walking in the street. A further 48 per cent were killed during civilian demonstrations, which leaves only five per cent of Palestinians killed when actually involved in armed clashes.
These numbers speak for themselves. Israel is targeting harmless civilians and the protests against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are led overwhelmingly by civilians. The bottom line is that the Intifada is indeed a popular movement.
Of course, this truth is disturbing since it is in Israel’s interest to be the victim of Palestinian aggression rather than the opposite. Therefore, it is not surprising that every Palestinian attempt to choose civil disobedience is foiled by Israel. The path of violence cannot be sustained anyway, due to the very unfavorable balance of power between one of the most sophisticated armies in the world and a population that has, at best, light weaponry. Thus, in the month of March alone, seven peaceful demonstrations were violently crushed by the Israeli army.
One took place on 12 March to protest the closure of the Birzeit-Ramallah road. The closure was the latest measure taken by the Israelis to perfect the strangulation of the Palestinian territories by digging trenches, erecting some 91 roadblocks and military checkpoints and cutting off the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. The closure of the Ramallah-Birzeit road alone imprisoned 65,000 people and prevented another 160,000 residents of neighboring villages from entering Ramallah — the economic, financial, medical and institutional center of the West Bank. By mid-March, Israel had managed to cut the West Bank into 61 pieces totally isolated from one another, while the 365km2 Gaza Strip was severed in three parts.
On 12 March, 1,500 Palestinian men, women and children, including Birzeit University students and foreigners in solidarity with the Palestinians, were peacefully marching towards Birzeit, hoping to prevent further road destruction and even trying to re-build what the Israelis had destroyed. Faced with Israeli bulldozers, the Palestinians, who had formed a human chain to stop them, were suddenly attacked by tear gas. Shortly after, as students threw stones toward the armored jeeps, rubber bullets were fired; live ammunition followed. The outcome is sadly predictable: the international press reported the occurrence of “clashes between Palestinian stone-throwers and the Israeli army” when one young Palestinian man had been shot dead and a first-aid worker, who received a rubber-bullet in his eye, had been blinded.
A week later, on 19 March, a group of Palestinians went on a peaceful march to protest the Ramallah closure. Departing from Ramallah, 800 Palestinian women and men accompanied by foreigners residing in the occupied territories walked toward the Israeli checkpoint of Al Ram, which separates the West Bank from Jerusalem. They chanted as they marched, carrying Palestinian flags and banners calling for the end of the occupation, the removal of checkpoints, an end to the siege and international protection for the Palestinian people. When they reached the checkpoint, Israeli soldiers started firing tear gas canisters, sound bombs and rubber-coated metal bullets at the demonstrators. The soldiers also beat several women with the butts of their rifles. Fifteen women were injured and transported to nearby hospitals — although the march was entirely peaceful, with not a single stone thrown.
We are consciously choosing the path of non-violence, and the Israeli army is purposefully thwarting acts of Palestinian civil disobedience. Israel would rather see escalation to a full-fledged armed conflict, maybe one extending throughout the region. How else could Israel continue to justify the relentless financial and military support of the United States? How else could it continue to nurture its population with the phobia of the “other,” and sustain the myth of being an isolated and vulnerable island surrounded by a sea of aggressive Arab states? What Israel fails to see is that this isolation is its own doing and that, by choosing the path of estrangement, it is indeed becoming estranged. More importantly, it is destroying every chance of regional peace and security.
As for the Palestinians, we will continue to oppose the Israeli occupation for we have no other choice in our quest for freedom. Whether Israel likes it or not, this conflict remains a struggle between the Palestinian David and the Israeli Goliath.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.