The Palestinian people have many symbols, and one of them is Bir Zeit university near Ramallah – the secular intellectual center of the society.
For years, Bir Zeit has also been a symbol of the spirit of coexistence between the two peoples. Even during the darkest periods of the occupation (when the university would be immediately closed by a military order), they called for a solution based on recognizing the rights of both peoples. Even when their position was far from being popular in their community, and there were those who accused them of collaboration, they called for cooperation with Israeli peace forces which opposed the occupation. In the eighties, I acquired, like many others, my political education in the way of civil and democratic struggle from the young and idealistic lecturers of Bir Zeit.
There is no doubt that Bir Zeit had an important role in the triumph of the spirit of compromise and reconciliation within the Palestinian society, at the eve of Oslo, when the Palestinian people extended their hand to peace with us, with hope and faith.
Last week, Bir Zeit too returned to the claws of the military administration. Bulldozers ruined the only road which connects Ramallah with Bir Zeit and some thirty other villages. From now on, nobody enters and nobody leaves – no ambulances, no supply trucks, no students and lecturers who live in Ramallah. Bir Zeit ghetto joined the Gaza ghettoes, the prison camps of Jerico, Jenin and Tubas which are surrounded by ditches and many other. This week the areas south and west of Ramallah were also isolated, and ghetto Ramallah moved from “breathing encirclement” to “choking encirclement”, as the IDF calls it.
In the new military language, the ghettoes are called “territorial cells”. The newspapers of last weekend expose the IDF’s plans for the near future: Since Oslo, “the IDF regarded the occupied territories as if they were one territorial cell”, and this placed some constraints on the IDF and enabled a certain amount of freedom for the PA and the Palestinian population. The new plan is a return to the concept of the military administration during the pre-Oslo years: the occupied territories will be divided into 64 isolated territorial cells, each of which will be assigned a special military force, “and the local commander will have freedom to use his discretion” as to when and who to shoot. The IDF has completed already the division of Gaza into territorial cells, “but so far there has only been isolation, and not yet treatment inside the cells” (Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, March 9.01).
Now, after the forced restraint of the elections period is over, the IDF and the political system are ready for the “treatment” phase. And we’re talking about a comprehensive “treatment”, which includes not only starvation, imprisonment and “local discretion” in shooting, but also preplanned personal elimination of the Palestinian leadership and destruction of the social infrastructure.
We, who grew up with the memory of the holocaust, have set it for ourselves as the only standard of evil. Indeed, no crime equals and compares to the systematic and preplanned elimination of six million people. But it seems that what we have internalized of this memory is that any evil whose extent is smaller is still within the “OK” standards.
For five months, there has been a process of slow, but systematic and preplanned, elimination of Palestinians in the occupied territories. We won’t find it in the statistics of the dead. Israel couldn’t get away with thousands of dead. So, soldiers who were carefully trained for the job are conducting a manhunt – aiming at the eyes or knees, in order to injure but not kill, in a daily quota which doesn’t distinguish between demonstrators and passersby.
At least 12,000 injured were reported so far, many of them blind, crippled and maimed. Their fate is to die slowly, far away from the cameras. Some because there are no hospitals to care for them, others because they won’t be able to survive, crippled, in the starvation and infrastructure destruction which is inflicted on their people. But our hands are clean – those who die because of their handicap don’t enter the statistics of evil.
There aren’t six million Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the ideology of evil is different as well. Blunt and direct Nazi ideology is only found in the Messianic centers of the settlers in the territories. The army and the government are just protecting the living space of the settlers. And the rest are just deeply disappointed with the Palestinians, who failed to grasp how profound our desire for peace is.
But in Germany too, most of the Germans were not Nazis. The majority just chose not to know.
Tanya Reinhart is a professor in Tel Aviv University. This article is Translated from Hebrew by Irit Katriel.