It’s odd what strikes us when exposed to the extreme cruelty one human being can inflict upon another. The mind balks, trying to come to grips with pain and suffering on a scale as enormous as that we have seen in Ramallah and other Palestinian towns over the past week. The only way to appropriate it mentally, it seems, is to break it down, to focus on particular instances/images — to subjectify both the cruelty and the pain.
There were many such images. The rounding up of all males between 16 and 45. The herding. The men stripped and forced to kneel or lie prone on the ground. The prodding and the knocking about. The insults, beatings and summary executions. The sheer arrogance of the prancing young soldiers exercising the power of life and death over a whole population: they can eat or be denied food, drink or go thirsty, turn on the lights or spend their nights in darkness, remain with their families or be made to disappear, live or die, at the whim of a commanding general, or the fancy that strikes the young lieutenant who happens to be transforming your home into a sniper post. If all this does not evoke the Nazis, then be damned; and still my mind kept returning to the question: Why the blindfolds?
Oh, I did pause before the handcuffing. I even noticed that the ropes and wires initially used to tie the detainees’ hands behind their backs had been streamlined. Technicians had been at their drawing boards and some little factory (probably in a nearby Jewish settlement, operated by Russian immigrants, most of whom are not even Jews) was now churning out especially designed, easy to use, cheap to produce, handcuffing gizmos. These, by the look of them, seem to be made of a combination of plastic and wire, like the twists that seal garbage bags.
Looking at the televised images of the handcuffed, immobilised Palestinians, one could imagine the discomfort. As time goes by, the pain becomes unbearable. Blood stops circulating to the nerves. Contorted muscles scream in protest.
And you’re blindfolded. The point about the blindfolds is that, at first glance, they seem so utterly pointless. Everything else serves some practical purpose or several, however horrific, brutal and inhumane. The blindfolds are gratuitous. And paradoxically, the very pointlessness of these strips of cloth serves to underline the real point of the whole bloody exercise code-named Operation Defensive Wall. Now everything is shown for what it really is: the tanks and F-16s, sieges, killings, mass arrests, house-to-house, hospital-bed-to- hospital-bed searches, curfews, withholding of water and electricity, stripping, cuffing, executions, the injured left to die and the health workers and journalists dealt with as military targets; and, Arafat, confined to two rooms, his very life subject to a simple command issued to the soldiers on the other side of the door. Individually, each of these acts can be given “Defensive Wall” explanations; add a purposeless blindfold and their overall purpose is revealed: to degrade, humiliate, break the spirit. In a word, to enslave.
Everything else is sheer rubbish. Sharon apes Bush aping Sharon spouting “war against terror” rhetoric, but all along Sharon’s purpose has been to “defeat” the Palestinians, to break their will to resist. Israeli security means Palestinian enslavement. The sub-text is there for all to see, expressed in the “blunt” language of the war criminal himself, the more “subtle” language of Shimon Peres or merely the words of the Israeli soldier who, while destroying Ramallah, degrading its whole population and subjecting them to enormous suffering, protests that he has to do it to protect the safety of the Jewish people. The American experts, via CNN, offer us a daily diet of their latest wisdom on Arafat’s ability or inability to rein in terrorism; but do they ever wonder why the number of suicide operations beyond the Green Line has increased dramatically since Sharon came to power on a pledge of bringing these operations to an end (within 100 days), more than a year ago? Why have such operations been gaining ever greater support among the Palestinians? Why have these operations (initially the preserve of radical Islamist groups) become both more secular and more ad hoc?
The Israelis, including the genocidal butcher at their head, know very well that the enemy is not Arafat, the Tanzim or a few hundred or thousand militants from this or that organisation, Islamist or secular, but the three million Palestinians under occupation. And they will be the enemy for as long as Israelis pin their very existence on the continuing usurpation of Palestinian land and the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people. That is why Sharon is convinced he has to “defeat” the Palestinians before any “settlement” can be reached; it is also why the Jewish soldiers, who are reenacting Nazi atrocities from the Warsaw ghetto in Ramallah and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories are convinced, as one of their commanders has advised, that this is the only way to protect Jewish lives. And it is also the reason behind the increasing popularity of “transfer” (i.e. the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians) among the Israeli public.
None of it will work.
The Palestinians will not be cowed into submission. If Oslo couldn’t do it, nothing short of genocide will. Extreme humiliation will only lead to extremes of desperation — the ingredient for the suicide operation. If and when the suicide operations do stop, it will not be as a result of Israeli atrocities, but despite them. It will signify that, from the depths of their desperation, humiliation and unbearable suffering, the Palestinians have been able to extract a strategy for liberation, for winning. Zionism, then, will have much to fear.
Mr. Hani Shukrallah is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram Weekly.