The Palestine Times/ London
Samah Jabr is a physician and a life-long resident of Jerusalem. This piece was written with the assistance of Betsy Mayfield, Ames, Iowa.
Palestinians are known for lots of things, not all bad, either. We�re tops at hospitality, wonderful at debate and among the world�s best in getting our people where they need to be. With apologies to the famous American fighter, Muhammad Ali, we�re beautiful, too. On the other hand, we tend to torture ourselves with endless and futile attention to occupation, even when we might do better to turn off the radio and read a book. Doing things for pleasure or escape is not a part of our national persona, rather we should find out where we�re headed.
Lately, I�ve been going against the stream when I have a break at the hospital. Instead of sitting with colleagues listening to accounts of aggression, I�ve been reading for pleasure.
Not long ago, I tucked myself into my bunk in the on-call sleeping room, turned on the small light above the bed and started to read a love story, The Chaos of Senses, by Algerian writer and feminist Ahlam Mustaghanmi. As it turned out, the love story was secondary to the book�s political commentary about Algerian internal conflict that came after years of French colonization and Algerian independence. The book reminded me of the famous film, �The Battle for Algiers,� in which murder, the injustice of killing the suspected without trial, created scenes in which no one could tell who was killing whom and for what. Rather than entertaining me, the book and memory of the film reminded me of the concerns I have about Palestine. Feeling my usual unease about �what will happen� now in the land of my birth, I was full of my usual trepidation when the phone rang in the room telling me that five more Palestinian activists had just been killed in Gaza�not by the Israelis, but by the Palestinian Authority. So, this is the end of our occupation, I thought. The oppressors suggest leaving, but all the stresses, deprivation and energy used to fight the other turns inward and we kill each other. I felt a crushing sensation on my chest. I thought about what the death of these five young patriots meant in terms of what they had to give up to see their own country through its hardships. Make no mistake, they did indeed see it through to their very end. I felt as if the cruel wheels of history were rolling over all of us.
Like the Algerians, like any nation coming out of internecine or genocidal war, we drink toasts to small triumphs. Then, we turn around and kill off our brightest and best in order to maintain power for those who have made it to the top. Our people�those trying to go about the everyday business of living�pray that the Israeli occupation will soon be over. This is only a hope and, yet, we�re already experiencing internal violence, murder-for-power or for a display of concession. Whether our battering comes from foe or so-called friendly fire, it does, indeed, show the world the evil of terror�state-sponsored or through individual choice.
It wasn�t long after the five resisters were killed that America, again, vetoed a United Nations� resolution requesting international forces to protect Palestinian civilians. That�s the 24th time that the U.S. has vetoed, refused, said �no� to UN efforts to provide some semblance of safety for the thousands of us terrified to go to the store or to work or to school. Is the U.S. government oblivious to the fact that we live in the land of the sniper, whether he be an Israeli or Israeli-influenced Palestinian deciding the fate of one or another of us? Some Americans explain away the veto by saying that it would be impossible for troops to come to Israel/Palestine and be effective, because the locals on both sides would not allow it. Which locals? We, the people of Palestine, want to be able to �get a life.�
Evidently, those Americans who veto a chance for safety for us refuse to hear the pleas of peace and human rights advocates such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
I have met many Americans and others from abroad, young and old, who care enough about justice and human dignity to have come to experience occupation with us. With sturdy shoes, they stand with us. They do not fail us because they are slandered as anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic. Their belief in justice makes them strong and their strength gives us hope. They demonstrate against Israeli �defense� actions that not only violate Palestinian rights, but also human rights everywhere.
Still, instead of emulating the courage of many international activists who have come to Palestine, the U.S. vetoes the very resolution that would allow those UN forces wishing to help us. Soldiers volunteer to accept the risks of war, yet, they are kept away. Only the brave and unprotected are allowed to come. Those using passive resistance are arrested and beaten. Journalists trying to share our story have been shot. A German physician, Dr. Henry Fischer, was killed trying to save the lives of injured Palestinians. These internationals are just as worthy of the recognition of martyrdom as our own freedom fighters. These people have stood out, faithful to their principles, enduring what we endure. Israeli aggression does not silence them even in death, for their experiences are told in every corner of the world.
Few today in our information age fail to recognize that the U.S. veto serves Israeli/Zionist interests. We know too much about each other, now, to be ignorant of what�s going on. Furthermore, if aiding Israel is not the motivation of America�s veto of UN peace-keeping forces, why did America help the innocents of Kosovo while rejecting our pleas for help? I suggest America knew that the people of Kosovo, regardless of which side they were on, were not the real problem. It was the leadership that brought terror to the street. I also propose that this is true here.
Still, we Palestinians are hardly in a position to get America to help us resist violence that comes from without or within. After all, we can�t seem to quell even the few Palestinians in power who do their enemy�s bidding.
The day after the infamous American veto, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Arafat, spoke to the world saying that popular resistance of the Palestinian �street� would be stopped. Any Palestinian forces daring to disturb the security of Israel would be dismantled. Freedom fighters would not only lose their freedom, but their lives. Then, threats became reality. Our situation is reminiscent of the stories about Algeria in the book that lost its love story plot to the reality of its setting. It reminds me of what I know of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or the Northern Irish and the British using religion to fight for political power, on and on and on. It fits with history.
Now, the five who were just killed without trial have paid the price of responding to the national dictates. As in Algeria at the end of the French occupation, we hardly know who is killing whom. Algeria, however, was left with a homeland. For us, 78 per cent of our land lies under total Israeli control and we continue under occupation. So far, all that Israel will concede is recognition that the Palestinian Authority is the �sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians.� We are all betrayed. Israel acknowledges the Palestinian Authority and Chairman Arafat while simultaneously issuing politically expedient bogus threats of destroying the Authority and Arafat. While Israel distracts the world by pointing a finger at Mr. Arafat, the Israelis continue to whittle away our land through continued occupation, settlement expansion, oppression and dispossession of our people.
We are told to stand back and not resist. After all, there is the Oslo agreement that will surely give us what we want. Yet, the Oslo agreement, among other failures, left more than 6,000 of our men, women and youths in Israeli prisons, not to forget the thousands who have been arrested after Oslo. We can�t even negotiate away this terror. I search for historical precedence in which another resistant, patriotic leadership bowed to so much to maintain peace with its occupier and oppressor. Maybe a book on the result of the First World War or the French Revolution would tell me how to cope with the knowledge that thousands of the very people taught to resist, as any people anywhere would, continue to rot in enemy jails even as consideration of new �negotiations� begin. What will be asked for this time? We never just stop fighting and reach consensus. Always, there are �the stages� that blur reality. Many say we reject agreement after agreement, but those speaking do not mention what each agreement asks of us. Concessions are ours to give, but not to be expected from those who would oppress us still. Over the last 53 years, Israel has failed to dismantle the Palestinian resistance, but since the Palestinian Authority has been in charge of the highly populated centres in Palestine, it became its main job to dismantle the Palestinian popular resistance, �building confidence,� as some would say. No wonder we feel so betrayed. Our world lies in shambles and we remain unprotected, without liberation, without sovereign human rights, and with a leadership willing to punish its own without trial. Tossed about in the political wind, we wonder what to do next. Will the logic of those who encourage �ending violence� and �beginning confidence-building� sink into the minds of those who know that State-sponsored terrorism is not the answer and may harm the world far beyond Israel/Palestine if justice does not soon prevail? Will our memories be ready for a peaceful future or will we be unable to free ourselves from the sting of the old �toss them into the sea,� or �they don�t exist� quips?
Will the peacekeepers come? We need a force to protect us, to monitor our elections, to get the snipers off the rooftops, to teach us to resolve our anger by giving letting us plan for our future. I pray that we will not become another Algeria, surviving one oppressor only to be suppressed by the corruption of a government more eager for its own survival than for the building of democracy that brings new life to the people. May the New Year bring us peace.
Back to Top
� 1998-2000 Arab World Books