Alternative Palestinian Agenda
The Palestinian Non-Violent Resistance Movement
Abdul Jawad Saleh
It currently seems in vogue to call for a Palestinian non-violent movement. However, there was, has been and still is a very active non-violent Palestinian resistance movement. We have opposed the Israeli occupation by trying to work around it and to build a sustainable Palestinian society, schools and economy, in spite of Israeli Occupation.
Palestinians have been committed to developing an effective non-violent resistance movement at least since the beginning of the Israeli Occupation in 1967. As a seventy year-old moderate Palestinian leader - a former Mayor, Cabinet member, and now a Member of Parliament and one of the founding members of the Palestinian National Front - I have invested my professional and personal life in non-violent resistance to Israeli Occupation. The idea that such a movement never existed is a odd attempt to erase a very real political movement.
Unfortunately, peaceful resistance to the Israeli Occupation has never served the interests of many of Israel's leaders. This is true for several reasons. Israel is determined to pretend that it is a victim because there is no glory, or even self-respect, in being the victim of pacifism.
Palestinians have never been a military threat; in truth, they have never been able to pose one. Fighting against even a fictional "force" legitimizes Israel's military approach.
As the Israeli Occupation grinds on without end, Isreal is able to construct more settlements and to imprison Palestinians in several enclaves, each surrounded by settlements, bypass roads and checkpoints. Most of these acts are illegal and are only justifiable because they take place behind the barrel of a gun. It is simply a case of military might against non-violent civilians. In many cases, Israel's actions are nothing more than an attempt to goad Palestinian civilians into anger.
The last thing Ariel Sharon wants is a non-violent resistance movement - a là Ghandi - that the world could sympathize with. Israel wants the sympathy of the world even as it sends it army to destroy our apartment buildings.
To minimize non-violent resistance among Palestinians, Israel has systematically dismantled and discredited moderate political forces in the Occupied Territories. Other comparable occupying forces are known to have used this tactic with success. The South African apartheid regime devastated the leadership of black communities as a means to weaken ANC non-violent resistance initiatives.
We, the Palestinians, have worked well at non-violent resistance. We have staged non-violent marches, organized labor strikes, and boycotted Israeli goods and banks. In response, Israel has dissolved our elected municipal governments, undermined the judicial system by closing appeal courts, and exiled the numerous Palestinian mayors and community leaders who preached pacifism.
In the first days of Occupation, a dynamic voluntary work movement sprang up under the guidance of democratically-elected Municipal Councils. This movement created jobs, built schools, established youth clubs, and created public libraries. Passive resistance demands strong leaders. The Palestinian non-violent resistance movement had a surplus. Seven years later, in 1973, the establishment of the Palestinian National Front provided a much-needed central leadership with representatives from all the Occupied Territories. It's goal: to collectively confront the Israeli Occupation by non-violent means. What did pacifism gain? Over the next ten years, the Israeli Occupation Authority dissolved Palestinian Municipal Councils, deported its elected leaders and attempted assassinations of others. On December 10th, 1973 (ironically the International Day for Human Rights), eight of the most moderate leaders, among them a mayor, of the Occupied Territories were deported, with no charges given and no access to legal defense.
Then came further deportations, arrests, and the imposition of Israeli-controlled local governments. As the Israeli's intended, the immediate effect was an incredible weakening of the non-violent resistance movement. This was followed by months of closures in cities and villages, humiliations, incessant harassment, searches of houses, bulldozing of hundreds of homes, uprooting of vineyards and olive groves, filling up of wells, construction of tens of thousands of housing units in settlements and large scale confiscation of land, all in violation of international law.
The contention that if Palestinians had acted differently -- had mobilized ourselves in effective, pacifist ways -- we would have a state today, is making it's way through the ranks of the Western press, and unfortunately people are beginning to believe it. Regardless of how long this lie continues to be passed around, history will show that Palestinians responded to the Israeli Occupation with an energetic and well-organized non-violent resistance movement that was crushed at every turn. That the non-violence movement survives is evidenced by the fact that for six weeks this summer there were no Israeli casualties and during that time numerous Palestinians died.
It is fortunate that those asking us to peacefully organize have never experienced the problems of ordinary Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip as we struggle daily to simply to get enough water, cross the 250 checkpoints that surround us, feed our children, earn a living, and extract a small amount of dignity from our lives. It is fortunate that they have never had to explain to their sons and daughters that the family honor is still intact, even though we have non-violently endured over 40 years of oppression and humiliation. Out of the Occupation morass and devastation a second Intifada erupted. Ariel Sharon, previously having failed to destroy much of the pacifistic peace movement in Palestine, was given another chance to do so as Prime Minister. Since he has taken office, Israel's relentless crushing of democratic institutions, Palestinian towns, Palestinian Administration ministry headquarters, offices of the civil society, educational and cultural facilities, as well as industries and socio-economic infrastructure, has taken place on a level unprecedented in modern history. The blockading of agriculture, denial of work permits, and increased impoverishment and hunger strain at the limits of pacifistic tolerance. As innocent citizens are uprooted, injured, and killed and as thousands of homes are destroyed, the intensity of Israeli violence has produced the perhaps intended response from our bewildered Palestinian youth. Israel's complete disregard and violation of all international norms and standards under prolonged Occupation has been the catalyst for the destruction of the non-violent resistance movement. As Palestinian youths experience Israeli torture, illegal and arbitrary repressive measures and non-judicial collective punishment, it becomes more difficult to convince them that the pacifistic approach has been appreciated by the outside world and will eventually provide a just peace.
The Palestinians have an indomitable will that in the end will survive and win. The Palestinian non-violent resistance movement has consistently demonstrated the Palestinian people's undeniable commitment to peaceful and democratic change.
Palestinians have clear ideas about the necessity of internal institutional reform. These concepts of reform have evolved over the years. Outsiders actually interested in peace and in a non-violent solution to the conflict with Israel should work to end the violence and non-judicial repression caused by Israel, and should do everything possible to ensure that free Palestinian elections take place under a new and independent election committee. We only ask that you give pacifism a chance.
The writer is currently a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (Independent). During his twenty-two years in exile in Jordan he authored several books on the legal implications of Israeli administrative orders in the Occupied Territories. Since the Israeli's allowed his return to the West Bank, he has received overwhelming Palestinian electoral support and was appointed the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Agriculture in 1996.
During the siege and prolonged curfews that engulfed three million Palestinians, I read Thomas Friedman's article "Muslims Held Down By Their Own Rage" (International Herald Tribune, March 7, 2002). I was provoked by his denial of the existence of the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement. This unfair accusation denies my twenty years of exile for promoting and implementing exactly what he calls for in his editorial. Freidman states that "If Palestinians had said, "we are going to oppose the Israeli Occupation with non-violent resistance as if we had no other options, and we are going to build a Palestinian society, schools and economy as if we had no occupation," they would have had a quality state a long time ago." That is exactly what took place after the Israeli occupation in 1967 and what many of us have advocated ever since.
When the 1967 war broke out, I was the elected mayor of Al Bireh. I don't know how old Thomas Friedman was in 1967, when I told my electors what Friedman is writing now. Moreover I have campaigned for and implemented these ideas to help construct a viable, strong Palestinian society ingrained with democratic Arab cultural values and based on principles of human and political rights.
Once the Israeli Occupied Authority (IOA) had accomplished its Occupation of Palestine in 1967, it issued a series of military orders. The target of these orders was to change the constitutional status of the Palestinian Occupied Territories (POT). The IOA annexed Jerusalem, dissolved its elected municipality, undermined the judiciary system by closing the appeal court, forced the Israeli educational curriculum on all of Jerusalem and imposed a curfew. On our part, the moment Israel lifted the curfew we buried our dead. Among them were eight Jordanian soldiers who had been machine-gunned after they surrendered to the Israelis.
As a mayor I found myself face to face with challenges that had nothing to do with normal municipal business. I dealt with Israeli raids, bombardments and rumors of massacres that never happened as panic struck the targeted civilians. In Jericho, three hundred thousand Palestinian refugees fled to Jordan. In Al Bireh, a few devoted citizens succeeded in stopping the flood of fleeing civilians.
The political struggle was necessary to preserve the physical existence of our people. A pacifistic non-violent national guidance committee was established in the early days of the Occupation. It was formed from the different institutions in Al Bireh and its twin city, Ramallah. The Israeli military authorities exiled some of its members, the committees were curtailed and later terminated.
Nevertheless, the national movement succeeded in non-violently boycotting the Israeli-imposed educational system and the battle of education was won when the Israeli department of education in Jerusalem re-introduced the former curriculum. Many things remained unchanged, although Israeli annexation measures remained and the Palestinians lost the battles to reinstate their own municipal and judiciary systems.
The Al Bireh Municipality Council (the Council) decided to meet the challenges of the occupation: job creation to preserve our labor force, building schools, and immediate aid to the poor. As Mayor, I asked the rich to pay former taxes that had been deferred by previous mayors. They were infuriated at the request because they were not sure of the future. They soon realized that we had no other homeland to preserve, and that we had to rebuild our society to enable everyone to stay. We had to build schools and offer to better services as if there was no war or Occupation. We succeeded.
Later, General Vardi, Israeli commander of the West Bank, questioned me and I pacifistically proposed the threat of the labor force not working in Israel. We did not follow through with the threat. The only thing The Council did was to provide jobs.
Schools were built at an unprecedented pace. We spared the young from the troubles of a two-shift system. I acted on the premise we should build as if there will never be a war, and we should reconstruct our society as if war will take place tomorrow. The Council built the first shopping center and an industrial area that helped to organize the town. Projects and developments were conceived that might non-violently protect areas from confiscation and colonization.
These projects accomplished The Council's objective of moving toward economic independence. This independence increased The Council's sovereignty and our non-violent resistance to IOA's pressures.
The Mayor of Latrun (including Amwas, Yalo, and Beit Nuba) rejected the IOA's demand to convince the inhabitants of the three villages to be transferred to Jordan after their villages were razed to the ground.
Our growing economic independence strengthened our strategy of not accepting loans from the military government. This was one of our primary forms of non-violent political resistance. In response, the IOA arbitrarily deducted repayments of Jordanian government loans taken before 1967 from the taxes due to our municipality. We encouraged investors to build industries by offering moral and sometimes financial support. Broad-scale participation was encouraged in municipal financial matters to achieve credibility and transparency. Ex-mayors, council members and interested citizens were involved in funding. We also recognized at this time that it would be impossible to create a viable Palestinian society if the participation of women was not encouraged and fostered. The President of a local women's charity organization handed me, as head of The Council, the keys to her organization. She told me that "now is the time for armed resistance, not for charity." We managed to change her mind, and to convince her that people can resist effectively in non-violent ways. Being convinced that there are many ways and means to fight the Occupation, she turned the society into the municipality's Ministry of Social Affairs. The Ministry of Social Affairs enabled miracles to occur: it changed illiterate women into effective leaders and managers of many productive cultural and educational projects run by the Ministry. These new female leaders organized the first political and peaceful demonstrations. Clubs for youth were opened to provide cultural and scouting activities for girls and boys. The first public library was inaugurated. The Council strategy to mobilize the different sectors of society into social movements was met with strong IOA resistance and threats. All of the participants I had invited to create a voluntary work movement were warned by the military governor, "If you work with this Mayor, I will either imprison or deport you." In defiance, the movement was established. Young men and women, doctors, teachers, students, and intellectuals created campaigns to help both farmers and municipalities. Farmers were assisted in forming cooperatives and in land reclamation that it was hoped would provide protection against Israeli appropriation and colonization.
In Beit Sera village, a cooperative was established that enabled the villagers to confront harassment from Israeli colonizers and peacefully resolve a situation that might have lead to ethnic cleansing. The next day the General commander of the West Bank called an emergency meeting and informed me, "You are superseding your jurisdiction and active outside the boundaries of the town; either you stop violating our instructions or you will be deported or incarcerated." He then ordered me to write down what he had said. I answered, "You mean establishing a cooperative for the poor is against Israel's security?" and he retorted, "The meeting is over" and showed me the door. Unfortunately, Israel fought vehemently against our work in developing our human resources. Our new organizations provided a framework for discussions of peaceful means of struggle. A dialogue concerning voluntary non-violent alternatives was under review for adoption. Applauding the educational impact of voluntary work, institutions of higher education had assigned it in their curriculum and then the Israeli military governor issued orders to UNRWA to prohibit it being used in the teachers training college. Some Palestinian factions, in the beginning, opposed our non-violent resistance movement, arrogantly saying that only the gun speaks. The communists accused us of being a bourgeois movement.
By non-violently opposing the Israeli policies of hegemony and containment, we took the lead towards nation building. This was noted in a British Observer article from the late 1960's.
In the 1970's, I met with Dr. Hanna Nasir to discuss the development of Bir Zeit College, the idea being to develop a four-year program granting bachelor of arts and science degrees. We also discussed the idea of establishing a Board of Trustees. Both ideas were implemented. In 1972, a Council for Higher Education was established representing the elected social, political and cultural Palestinian leaders who were responsible for developing, coordinating and financing institutions of higher education.
The Israeli Bus Company (IBC) began to run its buses on the same routes as our locally-owned and operated bus company. I asked our citizens to boycott the IBC. I gave instructions to remove all IBC signs that were posted in the town, noting that they were illegal. The assistant of the Israeli military governor accused me of being a Nazi.
Corruption is an important tool of Israel's policy of repression. Collaborators are not given salaries but royalties. Attempting to non-violently resist collaboration, I presented the police with a flagrant case of corruption. The case concerned a joint venture between a collaborator and the Israeli defense minister that involved gas bottling. A few hours later, the military governor called and read for me the text of a new military order requiring the marketing of bottles with less weight at the same price. Israeli military power used corruption to further its interests, opening the road to reliance on other tactics such as assassination and collaboration. Attempting to curtail municipal development of all kinds, the Israeli Occupation Authority began depriving municipalities of the capability to increase electricity production. Mayors were deported, assassinations of local leaders were attempted, municipal councils were dissolved, and the boards of directors of Palestinian companies were gutted as means to destroy the newly-emerging local institutions.
The Council decided to erect a statue depicting and honoring Palestinian women and prisoners. An artist built a statue representing a woman, dressed in a Palestinian embroidered dress and looking to the sky while holding her naked baby. The figure stood on a pedestal surrounded by youths inside bars and other youths outside trying to free them from their prison. The military governor ordered my incarceration for refusing his orders to remove the statue. While I was in detention, he called The Council to a midnight meeting and ordered, "Either you remove the statue tonight or Mayor Saleh will be deported tomorrow morning." They removed it.
A report by The Council of its achievements criticized IOA negligence that had degraded the education system. The military governor accused the city of violating a Jordanian law against disseminating communist literature. Punishment is life imprisonment. Fortunately, military interrogators found each department of the municipality had written different parts of the report. The IOA lawyers found it would be necessary to incarcerate for life not only The Council, but most of the municipal workers as well. This conclusion led them to drop the case. After all of the events related above, I reached the conclusion that our people, as any other people, if given a chance to have democracy, will achieve miracles.
The Establishment of the Palestinian National Front
In 1973, after annexation and colonization policies became a continual threat to Palestinians, I co-founded the Palestinian National Front in the Occupied Territories (PNF). It was the first central leadership established after 1948 and contained representatives from all of the Palestinian Occupied Territories (POT)
We created a collective leadership to confront Israel's policies of colonization through non-violent means. We wanted to provide a peaceful option based on the right of self-determination.
Oddly, we seemed to find that Palestinian radicalism, and a rejection of peace, were a part of Israel's strategy. Moshe Sasson, the advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister on Arab Affairs, was not upset when told that Israel's forced expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, and rejection of their right to return, proved that Israel was not interested in peace and that with this foundation there would be perpetual conflict Despite my pacifist and non-violent (yet radical) platform that the land could not contain two peoples, ("either you or us"), I was left as Mayor of Al Bireh for another seven years.
At this same time, Ibrahim Bakir, a respected Palestinian leader who was one of the first to promote a two-state solution, was among the first leaders to be expelled, after meetings with Sasson. When the PNF opted for peace and political compromise, eight of its suspected leaders were deported.
Our so-called "dialogue" with the Israeli "professors" David Farhi and Amnon Cohen of the Hebrew University, both dressed in green military outfits and decorated with colonel stars, indicated that there was no Israeli peace strategy. Both "colonels" were advisors to the Israeli military government and, at the same time, were holding disingenuous meetings with Palestinian leaders.
Farhi and Cohen attempted to undermine the basic policies and political stance of the Palestinian leadership formed after June 1967. When the Palestinian leaders signed petitions of commitment to unify the two banks of the Jordan River and rejected the annexation of Jerusalem, these "colonels-professors" tried to convince us that we should advocate independence from Jordan. Later, after the PLO was defeated in Jordan and our local leadership sided with the PLO, the "colonels-professors" shifted against Palestinian independence and advocated unity with Jordan. Sadly, these men never answered our specific questions concerning peace and Israel's intentions regarding peace. They talked evasively about peace as an abstract, void of any application or formula on the ground.
However, the PNF successfully waged non-violent battles by encouraging Palestinians not to pay taxes imposed to cover the expenses of the elections of the Israeli municipality. These successes bolstered the non-violence resistance movement in the POT as well as among Palestinian in exile. The PNF, in a very short time, had mobilized the Palestinian people against what was called "solutions for liquidation of the cause." For the first time, the Palestinian people believed that this political non-violence resistance movement not only constituted an alternative, but also a fruitful one. In effect, the non-violence resistance movement created a strong base for the PNF and strengthened its ability to mobilize the Palestinian people.
I held public conferences in Jerusalem and in Nablus. At these meetings I emphasized the importance of having a central and field leadership in the POT. In these two meetings I also called for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and made it clear that I was firmly of the view that a two-state solution was necessary.
The Israeli reaction was to further hamper the achievements of The Council and to harass Israelis who were defending Palestinian rights. Two months after pronouncing my pacifistic, non-violent advocacy of the two-state solution, I was uprooted and exiled for twenty years. This grave breach of the Geneva Conventions was executed on the international anniversary of Human Rights Day, December 10, 1973. It was implemented without any charge or any legal procedure. I was not given the right to defend myself before any court or tribunal. This exemplifies Israel's respect for law, for non-violence, and for human decency. Palestinian victims of Israeli crimes continued using non-violent methods of resistance. For example, they called upon the Israeli high court to heed their grievances (i.e., house demolitions, racial segregation, exile, collective punishment, expropriation of private lands, colonization of these lands, transfer of civilian Israelis to POT, humiliation, and uprooting trees).
The Israeli Professor, David Kretzmer, currently the Deputy Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee, states in his recently published book, The Occupation of Justice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories, that "the Supreme Court has granted legitimacy to nearly all the decisions taken by the government and by the Israel Defense forces, even when these decisions were arbitrary, seriously violated human rights and were plainly contrary to international law." He concludes that "the criteria used by the High court of Justice when it is required to deliberate on disputes between the Israeli regime and Palestinian residents of the Territories are extremely different from the criteria it applies when it is called upon to deliberate on disputes between the authorities and Israeli citizens." In some cases, the military authorities dissolved the elected councils that brought cases before the Israeli High Court. On July 7, 1983, The Council and the Mayor of Hebron were dismissed because they petitioned the court against the destruction of Palestinian homes and shops in the center of Hebron so that Israel could build a colony there.
Hearing that eight Palestinian leaders were exiled, students left classes to join in non-violent demonstrations that were met with violent confrontations by the Israeli army. For almost a month the demonstrators filled the streets. Exile is a horrible punishment, one becomes sad and dry as the roots of an uprooted tree. It seemed I had been thrown into the wilderness of the Arab desert, blindfolded and arbitrarily displaced in a new political environment. I was suddenly unable to mobilize the people around me. Quite simply, I found myself arbitrarily displaced. I viewed myself as the shepherd of a new and useful set of social values and moral commitments, but was suddenly and forcefully separated from them and thrown into a new environment.
The PLO in Beirut received us as heroes and made us roving "Delegates of the Occupation"; this is a bitter title for somebody who struggles in exile. The leadership sought us as its saviors. It was not able to climb down the high tree of liberating the whole of Palestine and establish a utopian democratic republic in Palestine for its Jewish, Christian and Moslem citizens.
The PLO planned for us to campaign throughout the Arab countries where Palestinians were living or working to promote the idea of a two-state solution. The eight leaders succeeded. The majority of the Palestinians throughout the Arab world who listened ended up welcoming the political initiative.
The Arab press in all these countries orchestrated praise and warm welcome to the heroes exiled from the POT. The Arab mainstream press welcomed the new political approach we disseminated. They felt that this moderate position would eventually bring the Israelis to the negotiating table, yet it caused hot debate amongst the Palestinian public and across the Arab world.
Arafat decided, after the success of the campaign, that the time was right for the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the Palestinian Parliament in exile, to hold its first session. He also thought the time was ripe for a new approach. On February 19, 1974, a PNC resolution called for "the establishment of a Palestinian Authority in any of the Occupied areas evacuated by Israel." This resolution had changed the nature of the PLO. It was changed from an organization committed to armed struggle to liberate the whole of Palestine into a negotiating partner for establishing a sovereign state on the POT.
Israel did not show up to negotiate. Their absence was a rejection of peace. Peace is incompatible with Israel's grand design of colonization. Fragmentation of the POT by building colonies and imposing dependency is a prescription for creating ghettoes. However, while we were traveling the Arab world to promote a peaceful solution, the Israeli intelligence and military were preparing their next war against the Palestinians. The target was to destroy the PLO in Lebanon and create a pro-Israeli Lebanese regime that would spare Israeli soldiers from fighting. At this time Israel was preparing new elections for the Palestinian local governments. The ulterior motive was to create an alternative leadership to the PLO. In December 1975, Peres, as Foreign Minister, reiterated this plan. He declared after meeting the Municipal Council of Beit Jala that the elections would allow councils to expand their jurisdictions - in effect, autonomy.
The PNF played a great pacifistic role, even in exile. I used my resignation as a threat to ensure that the PLO Executive Committee did not take a decisive step in favor of participating in the elections. Some factions were strongly opposed. After long discussions, the Palestinian national movement, for the first time, was given a green light from the PLO Executive Committee to participate in the new elections.
In the POT the Palestinian national movement succeeded in forming national blocks in the majority of principal cities and towns. From exile I helped in such formulations, and later was allowed to recommend mayors in our area. The PLO and the PNF achieved a great and non-violent victory. That victory regained the power and influence the PLO had lost after its defeat in Jordan and the war in Lebanon. The elections had proven to the PLO that there are forms of non-violent resistance that are much more efficient than violence. Its alternative, the assassination of candidates to implement boycott, was replaced by the more efficient and sustainable mobilization of national blocks.
In Lebanon, a new alliance between the Lebanese national forces and the PLO blocked Israel's plans. The Syrian army's 1976 involvement in Lebanon prevented the potential defeat of the Israeli-ailed Phalangists in Lebanon. These new developments in Lebanon later paved Ariel Sharon's war road to the quagmire in Lebanon and the physical expulsion of the PLO.
In advent of the Israeli national elections of 1977, bulldozers rampaged Palestinian land with the goal of transforming the POT. Before the elections the Labor party attempted to prove they could be as radical as the Likud. This competition took different dimensions. The Labor party imposed new taxes that violated not only the standing laws but also the Geneva Convention. These taxes were spiteful, punishing tools of impoverishment. Non-violent strikes by merchants were met with harsh measures.
Nevertheless, the Likud won. Its victory unleashed a force that doubled the number of colonizers and colonies. This unprecedented rampage of land confiscation lead to unprecedented Palestinian uprisings against repressive measures, such as torture of prisoners, unjustified sentences, and long school closures.
The Likud, to emphasize a Greater Israel, invaded the depth of Palestinian cities and colonized the center of Hebron. In Al Bireh they colonized land within the town's own borders. The colonizers also played a new, even more provocative role. Rabbi Kahana, the head of the Jewish Defense League, visited Nablus municipality under Israeli army protection. There he threatened Palestinians with transfer and directed obscene curses at the new municipal administration.
The newly elected councils and the mayors won PLO and also international recognition. The Likud terminated any minor restrictions inherited from the previous administration and the reins of colonization were completely released. Any Israeli land speculator or fanatic could fence a hilltop, put in a mobile home, give the location a Hebraic name and proclaim to be pioneers, as opposed to a thief. This was outrageous. It was intolerable for the mayors as well as for the common Palestinian. From historical experience, Jewish colonization paved the road to ethnic cleansing. This expansionism lead to the choking of Palestinian habitations. Gush Emunim, a fanatical and radical colonization organization based on ultra-religious ideology, in show of force to begin a new colonization drive, initiated a long march that crossed most of the West Bank. This march was a humiliating provocation to all Palestinians.
The National Guidance Committee
To help confront colonization, the mayors established a new body representing the democratic leadership from all of the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The National Guidance Committee (NGC) was born in 1978. The NGC was not formed as an underground organization. It was openly formed and its members were common knowledge. It was lead by the mayors of the principal cities. Its membership included labor and professional unions, women's and student organizations, and many owners of small commercial and industrial enterprises. This new elected leadership followed the tradition of peaceful political Palestinian resistance. The NGC members dealt pragmatically with Israeli military authorities on a daily basis. But at the same time they peacefully resisted colonization with declarations and demonstrations. Palestinian development, which depended a great deal upon the whims of military authorities, managed to continue. The Likud government considered the NGC a threat. The NGC proved capable of mobilization and organization. They practiced non-violence with perfection. They would call for five-minute strikes that were observed by all Palestinians. The NGC's non-violent struggle complicated things for the Israeli leadership. It was more difficult for the Israeli army to confront a leadership that wanted peace. In addition, the NGC call for an independent Palestinian state, side by side with Israel, on 22% of UN mandated Palestine that surrendered 78% for Israel, clearly denied Israel's propaganda ploy of pointing out that the Palestinians wanted only to destroy Israel.
The NGC, as had the PNF, rejected anything less than independence. This insistence on independence was not emotional. It was necessary to undermine fragmentation that made the construction of a meaningful political entity impossible. Accepting autonomy would continue Israel's right to impose its sovereignty over Palestinians and to ensure Palestinians economic dependency.
Israel began to harass mayors, restricts their activities and limit their jurisdiction. Israel launched its war against the mayors and the NGC in the apparent attempt to drive the Palestinian people towards violence. Israel's violence inflicted on the Palestinians had been ingrained into their behavior. Torture, humiliation, destruction of homes, uprooting of old trees, confiscation of farms, closures of schools and cities, the murder of a brother, a class mate, a friend, a father merely became the systematic curriculum of Israel's school of terrorism. Still the Palestinians resisted. Among the major consequences of Israel's use of oppression, impoverishment, illiteracy and depredation was the undermining of the viability of non-violent resistance.
The Likud administration issued military order no. 752 in 1978, stipulating the creation of village leagues. This targeted the destruction of the democratically-elected local governments. Ariel Sharon, as Minister of Defense, called upon Menachem Milson, an orientalist radical right professor from the Hebrew University to head the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). He chose a person who thought as he did, as Professor Milson was the author of a comprehensive plan dealing with how to suppress the Palestinian people. He drew from historic colonialism to devise a system of "local" control. He thought that a rural population, being exploited and neglected, could be mobilized to revolt against the urban leadership. According to this theory a new rural leadership would be the outcome of socio-economic changes in the Palestinian society of the West Bank, which would in turn bring about a change in the character of the Palestinian leadership, forcing them to accept the Israeli political and constitutional changes.
In part it worked. The leaders of many village league had no problem with their role in fighting both the PLO and the mayors before negotiating with Israel. Being collaborators, they earned jobs, salaries, military training and arms from Israel. They succeeded to satisfy Milsons expectations by killing opponents. Their capabilities in their attempts to undermine society were, however, mostly limited to robberies and spread of fear.
Muhammad Nasr, one head of a local village league, believed the Israelis and saw himself as an alternative leader. He worked to build the political base for such a leadership. The base was the creation of the "Democratic Peace Movement." The charter of his movement called for the struggle towards achieving a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital and for special relations with Jordan. The moment the movement's charter was published, he was expelled from his league and later accused of financial irregularities, assault and murder.
Mustafa Dudeen, an ex Jordanian minister, from a respectable family in Hebron area, was chosen as the head of all the village leagues. He believed the Israeli approval to set himself and his colleagues up as the administration of a self-governing authority as stipulated in the Camp David I agreement. After Dudeen did as was asked by Ariel Sharon his reward was that ten days later Sharon rudely terminated him of his "job."
The actions against the democratically-elected councils took two forms. The first was punitive, such as imprisonment or dissolution of the councils. The second was militaristic in nature. One of the first victims of this second form was Bassam Shaka, the mayor of Nablus. He was detained in November 1979 after being falsely accused of supporting terrorism. After proving the accusation to be completely false, Shaka was released and re-instated.
On the second of May 1980, the moderate mayors of Hebron and Halhoul, Qawasmeh and Milhem, were deported. Their arbitrary expulsion was done as revenge for a (failed) military operation in Hebron. Their pragmatism won them support from both the international and Israeli peace movements. On the 31, August 1980, Israeli military order No. 830 was issued. This froze the elections of municipal councils. Israel, which claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, destroyed the main Palestinian democratic institution - local governments. On January 2, 1985, Defense Minister Yitzhaq Rabin reiterated that Israel would not allow elections in Palestinian towns and villages.1 On September 2, 1980, assassination attempts against Bassam Shaka, the Mayor of Nablus, Karim Khalaf, the Mayor of Ramallah and Ibrahim Tawil, the Mayor of Al Bireh, took place. Shaka and Khalaf were maimed; Shaka lost two legs and Khalaf one foot. Tawil was rescued after hearing what had happened to his colleagues. The non-violent struggle of these men and their pragmatism achieved a great deal in building their towns. The Joint Jordanian-Palestinian Committee, with the support of the Baghdad Summit financial allocations, made the financial part of development easier than any time before. However, permission was seldom given for the required development. Israel was feverishly implementing a plan for the POT that clearly prohibited development.
Under Ariel Sharon, Military Order No. 1015 was issued in 1982 to prohibit the planting of any fruit tree without the agreement and conditions of the Military Governor. It also prohibited the planting of more than 20 tomato seedlings without the permission of the Military Governor.
Military orders 946 and 947 created the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). Israel's answer to non-violent democratically-elected local governments was to install its own authority as rapidly as possible. Israel had already paved the way for installing its own system of governance through the political and physical liquidations of mayors. In August 1980, seven members of the NGC, including two mayors, were placed under arrest. Following this, a series of further arrests and dismissals were imposed on other elected mayors.
David Zucker, Team Director of the Center for Peace in the Middle East, reported that the Israeli policies vis-à-vis Palestinian mayors were drawn up and promoted by the ICA: "continuation of the battle to be incessantly pursued with great devotion is not to be stopped after they are removed from their positions continued maximum neutralization, making them greatly dependent on the civil administration ."
In March 1982, Sharon dismissed the three mayors of Nablus, Ramallah and Al Bireh. This accomplished, he later dismissed the Palestinian mayors of all other cities and Israeli military officers were appointed in their place. The appointment of these officers was part of the ICA's implementation of Israel's master plan for colonization. It incorporated the West Bank by de facto annexation of it into the metropolitan areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The officers who replaced the mayors attempted to destroy what had been achieved since 1976. The Nablus electrical power generating facilities were purposefully undermined. In Hebron, the Israeli military mayor moved the city public bus station and the vegetable market to make room for the development of new Israeli buildings in the center of the city. He also cancelled the petition that had been submitted by the dismissed democratically-elected Palestinian mayor to the Israeli High court seeking a halt to Israeli construction. Prime Minister Rabin said, "I don't want an Israeli settlement to be a quarter of Al Bireh." In Al Bireh, one of the achievements of the Israeli military-appointed mayor was his responsibility of indirectly killing a Palestinian student. In his trial, Eliazer Itzokovitch, a colonizer from Pissagot, admitted that the "Mayor," Colonel Yousif Bakochba, had ordered him to chase the students and shoot them. The "Mayor" had provided the colonizer with a car that belonged to the Palestinian municipality. Does history repeat itself? Due to the complete destruction of local governments, the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps was able to succeed. At that time there were no suicidal martyrdom operations. Again there were simply pacifistic initiatives presented by the mayors.
For Menachem Melson and Ariel Sharon, the destruction of an elected Palestinian leadership -- whose only crime was defending their people peacefully, politically, and non-violently -- could never be defined as terrorism.
In his book, "Palestinian Leadership in the West Bank," Professor Moshe Maoz, an advisor to the Minister of Defense on Arab Affairs, reported that some of the Palestinian mayors were ready to participate in Camp David I negotiations. Among them were Rashad Shawa, appointed (by the Israelis) mayor of Gaza, Elias Freig of Bethlehem, and Fahd Qawasmeh of Hebron. Their peace initiative followed the same lines as those drawn by the US and Egypt in Camp David I. This was only rejected (by Begin); but the mayor of Gaza was dismissed, his colleague of Hebron was deported and later assassinated. Their pacifism found them no official U.S. support.
General Rafael Verdi (ex-general commander of the West Bank) and the government coordinator, a straight forward man, declared, "the dismissal of mayors would lead to the failure of the policy of encouraging moderation among the leadership and eventually would turn the moderates into radicals." This has been the main theme of Israel's policies for the last 35 years. On March 19, 1982, Palestinians throughout Al Bireh non-violently occupied the municipality offices to prevent the army and its new mayor from occupying them. Israeli colonizers, under the protection of Israeli army, fanatically attacked the unarmed Palestinian pacifists and inflicted a huge number of fatalities. Demonstrations erupted everywhere and ended with many Palestinian being killed. Despite this, Palestinians again initiated peaceful demonstrations after the dismissal of Nablus and Ramallah mayors in March 1982. Israel again confronted non-violence by shooting and killing demonstrators. Mayor Friege of Bethlehem, who had called for mutual recognition in early 1982, presented a non-violent peace initiative, "Palestinian Peace Document" signed by 200 Palestinian leaders.
The Begin government fell and with it Sharon. The government of Yetzhaq Shamir, and his Minister of Defense, Moshe Arense, was no different that of their predecessors. Both were interested in annexation of the West Bank, but without its Palestinians. The difference was limited to tactics. However, Arens felt that the village leagues could not continue to be effective politically without being rewarded in some way. So he came to the conclusion that they should be dismantled. They did. Prime Minister Shamir expressed, on different occasions, his intention to initiate negotiations with Jordan on the basis of Camp David I. Secret negotiations revealed that the Israelis were not ready to give the lands back but were eager to give the Jordanians a functional role to control the Palestinians.
In February of 1985, Jordan and Palestine agreed to establish a confederation when a Palestinian state would be established. The agreement was a vehicle to reach peace with Israel. Some of the mayors were behind the agreement. A delegation of 36 leaders, led by the Mayor of Bethlehem, left for Amman on February 1984 to hold talks with Jordan. But the Israelis, especially the Likud, had no realistic agenda for peace.
The leadership of the PLO contemplated that the confederation agreement would open the gates of dialogue with the USA. But the Americans disappointed the PLO. And the Americans, representing the only force that Israel would listen to, absented themselves from real politics. In fact they did not follow the Reagan initiative that Freige and his colleagues supported as being a good basis for negotiations. But the PLO continued to pay the bills without avail. In its 16th session the PNC held in Algiers on March 23, 1983, it did not attack the proposed autonomy of Camp David I. The Americans did not find that the PLO new moderate stand adopted by the PNC in 1974 was enough. They asked Arafat to fulfil many conditions, among many others, to recognize Israel on an a priori condition before American recognition of the PLO. The Americans representing Israel's position of complicating the start of any political process had resulted in a stalemate. The hopes for putting an end to the vicious circle of the conflict just withered away. The stalemate had jeopardized the mainstream factions' status and led to schisms in the Palestinian movement.
The Likud, after helping orchestrate the setbacks resulting from Camp David 1, the failed coordination with Jordan and the PLO defeat in Lebanon, released the reigns of the colonizers. They allowed the colonizers to essentially run wild, rampaging land, colonizing, destroying property and killing, all without legal restraint.
A report was published on the 7th of February 1984, authored by the official Israeli Karp Committee that dealt with the failure of the Israeli authorities to act against or to investigate Israeli colonizer's terrorism against the Palestinian people. The report accused the Israeli army of protecting the violators. It was found that legal procedures were not pursued against victimizers and that cover-up was systematic. At this time a mysterious chemical epidemic afflicted several hundred schoolgirls, scores of adults of both sexes, and a number of Israeli soldiers.
A booklet published in 1985 publicly revealed this problem. The epidemic took place in the spring of 1983, between 21 March and 3 April, during which period 70% of 943 cases reported were schoolgirls. The epidemic was characterized by headache, dizziness, blurred vision, abdominal pain, weakness of the lower limbs, difficulty in breathing, fainting, mydriasis, peripheral cyanosis, sinus tachyacardia and tremors. Israel accused that the PLO was behind this "fabricated episode" as a means of political agitation.
The World Health Organization concluded that an "environmental agent could have provoked at least some cases in the first outbreak." U.S. Center for Diseases Control, whose team reached the POT near the end of the outbreak, concluded that the epidemic was due to psychogenic factors. They could not explain how this "collective hysteria" had spread in certain locations in the north and south of the West Bank.
Dr. Abdulazim S. Salhab, (a Ph.D. in Toxicology from the University of California at Davis,) Professor from the University of Jordan's Pharmacology Department, launched an independent scientific investigation on blood samples. He found a carcinogenic toxicant that could have been behind the causes of the epidemic. Both the possibility of chemical warfare and the reduction of a civil population to collective hysteria are causes for concern in the international community. In the context of this discourse, concern is not to prove chemical warfare or collective hysteria. In case that the truth lies in either of the two options, it is a catastrophe. It proves that the Israeli tools of oppression and exploitation had really created the grounds for transfer.
The epidemic helped trigger a future explosion regardless of its causes. The two Likud governments had fueled the furnace. Another immediate political factor was that after the defeat of the PLO, Jordan held its dormant Parliament in 1984, inviting its Palestinian members and Israel gave them VIP permits. Other Palestinian traditional dignitaries made pilgrimage to Amman to hold discussions with the Jordanian government. They were ordered not to meet with the PLO.
The spark this time was Arab. The Arab Summit held in Amman on November 1987 excluded the Palestinian problem from its agenda.
The first Intifada broke out. It was a non-violent uprising. It was as if three million men, women and children, old and young alike, became infused with a single unanimous resolution to peacefully revolt against the Occupation. After all the horrible events that had occurred since 1967, the final straw that broke the camel's neck was the killing of a group of Palestinian workers by a military vehicle. The Intifada called for non-violence, civil disobedience, and no taxation without representation. It also called for an end to the Israeli Civil Administration.
The non-violent messages of the Intifada were announced through declarations that became the daily agenda of the whole population. In its first few months, the Intifada recreated Plato's Palestinian Republic. Later the IOA was able, with its repressive measures, to undermine and distort the Intifada. The Popular Committees (PC) were one of the major factors that were responsible for mobilizing the people into a popular movement. They were significant in providing social services and alternative education. These committees were very effective in the establishment of people's power and authority. In many cases they led to the displacement of individuals by the IOA.
The boycott of Israeli Banks, and of work in Israel during national strikes, led to a massive reduction of Palestinian workers in Israel. It was very clear that in areas where the PC was present the effectiveness of boycott was higher. The PC was an outlaw organization; its membership was prohibited and when convicted members were imprisoned for ten years. The historic impact of Palestinian pacifism is perhaps best exemplified by the next event which took place. The Israeli Tax Authority (ITA) targeted Beit Sahur, the twin city of Bethlehem. On July 11, 1988, in Beit Sahur, when the pressure of the Israeli tax authority (ITA) reached an impossible level, Palestinians passively handed their identity cards to the Israeli authority. The action spread in many other areas in the POT. The Israeli reaction was beyond the comprehension of most of the civilized world. At no time in modern history has a pacifistic action resulted in such reprisal.
The city was besieged. All its entrances connecting it with other towns and cities including Bethlehem were closed. A curfew was imposed. Mass media representatives were prohibited from entering the town. The town was rampaged. Workshops, factories and homes were ransacked. Machinery, cars, tools of production, jewelry and money were stolen. The mayor estimated the losses at NIS $8 million. NIS 600,000 in bank accounts was confiscated. The commercial, industrial and economic infrastructure of the town was destroyed.
One of noblest ideas of non-violence was ended by massive Israeli violence. It led many Palestinians to conclude that non-violence could not be a viable means for winning freedom under Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, the non-violent Intifada was distorted by Israeli violence. This was also documented in a excellent unpublished report by Anne Elizabeth Nixon titled "The Status of Palestinian Children During the Uprising in the Occupied Territories," sponsored by Radda Barnen, the Swedish Save the Children Organization, and financed by the Ford Foundation. The following quotations are provided below from the above report (part II, "Collective Punishment") to exemplify the dimension of Israeli violence: "The most important thing to realize is that the Intifada has very broad popular support. Our confrontation is with the entire Palestinian population, and that is why punishment is necessarily (as a) collective measures." (Ephrime Sneh, former Military Governor of the West Bank) "The past year has shown that the more the Intifada is suppressed, the more it spreads. It is impossible to contain a particular outbreak of rebellion by constantly changing in accordance with its needs and possibilities. Most of the means of suppression employed were not only ineffective but actually boomeranged and inflamed the Intifada. The punishments in general, but specifically the collective punishments, drew more and more Palestinians into the cycle of resistance, broadened it and deepened its roots. (MKs Yossi Sarid and Dedi Zucker). "The Arabs all say they identify with the cause, so let them all suffer for it." (MK Gela Cohen)( "Every one who wants the Intifada eliminated must understand that there are only three ways to this: by transfer, starvation, or physical elimination, that is - genocide." (Chief of General Staff Dan Shomron") Two phenomena emerged during the Intifada. One was inside the POT and the second in exile. First, the emergence of political Islam represented by different factions within the Intifada. This has significantly changed the character of the political atmosphere in Palestine.
In a book I published in 1981, "The Indigenous Problems of Palestinian Institutions of Higher Education," I revealed the collusion between some fundamentalist Islamic factions and Israel. These political Islamists were used by Israel against the PLO. The Israeli Occupation supported them financially and politically. Under the protection of the Israeli army, a leading fundamentalist led a demonstration in Gaza, under Israeli protection, and physically attacked secular institutions and supporters of the PLO. The Red Crescent Society in Gaza, presided by Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, was attacked. Its library and part of its archives were burnt. These same Israeli-backed Islamic fundamentalists attacked secular students in universities. One student jumped from a second floor to flee attack.
The Jordanian-Palestinian Joint Committee financed the establishment of 11 Islamic colleges to teach Shari'a and to graduate A'imma (the sheiks who lead prayers and preach) that would later control most of the mosques in the POT. During the twenty years before the Intifada the Moslem brotherhood (Hamas) and other Islamists never were involved in the national struggle against occupation.
The second phenomenon was a strong anti-corruption and pro-democratic movement that won public significance amongst those in exile. I was one of the first voices to publicly denounce corruption and the non-democratic PLO patriarchal system. In my view, the department responsible for implementing PLO policies inside Palestine could not run a grocery store. The department lacked human resources, a strategy and a program. Democratization and anti-corruption became the slogans of many other leaders, especially those in the Fateh movement. Unfortunately, Arafat opposed these reforms and continues to, without avail. Arafat found salvation in the Intifada and also a justification for surrendering very important issues. The Intifada gave him a bargaining card. He had recognized Israel when he was still in exile and had condemned armed struggle as terrorism. The first agreement he reached with Israelis had as it's main theme a functional role for the Palestinian Authority (PA); controlling the Palestinian people to guarantee Israel's security. This included ensuring the security of colonies built on stolen Palestinian land and protecting collaborators that had been recruited by Israel, among them many killers. All Palestinian natural resources including water and land were now under Israel's control. None of these agreements were ever presented to the PNC or PLC, much less discussed or voted upon by the people. Palestinian's freedom fighters, including pacifists who had spent the prime of their lives in Israeli prisons were not part of the peace process. Prohibitions against economic development were re-imposed. In effect, Palestinian control of natural resources such as land and water was denied. Palestinian investors were driven out by Israeli restrictions.
The "peace" that was agreed upon was one-sided. The pacifist Palestinians who celebrated peace by putting flowers in the barrels of Israeli soldiers' guns became disheartened by frustration and later economic hardship. Under the guise of re-employment, the USA supported Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars to build by-pass roads. The declared purpose was to avoid Israeli colony traffic passing through Palestinian cities. The result was the fragmentation of Palestine into islands surrounded by Jewish colonies. By doing this, Israel also prohibited the natural growth of Palestinian villages and townships. The fragmentation had already made geographic contiguity impossible. The farmlands outside Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps would now be controlled and utilized by Israeli colonies. Palestinians would be deprived of a means of earning their living and habitations would be strangled. If the Israeli markets for Palestinian labor were to be closed, the only option left for Palestinians would be "voluntary" transfer. With Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement of humans and goods, abetted by PA corruption, impoverishment reached unprecedented levels. Peace had become a curse against Palestinians. Israel did not respect the agreements and did not implement 35 major obligations. Referring to two as examples, I believe, will give the reader the dimensions of such disrespect. Israel should have dissolved the Civil Administration and withdraw its military government (MG) from the West Bank (article 1, paragraph 5, Transitional Agreement). The PA should have replaced both. This did not happen. Another example was refusal to implement the withdrawals referred to in the Hebron Memorandum that the Israeli government refused to implement.
When Israeli negotiators in Camp David II spoke of a Palestinian state covering 97 percent of the West Bank, they didn't, it seems, count the areas that had been previously annexed -- as in the case of Jerusalem or the Dead Sea. Palestinian neighborhoods, including Haram al Sharif, should have been left under Israeli sovereignty. Regardless of the unjust and unfair 9-1 land swap ratio, what resulted was a further fragmentation and lack of contiguity that divided the West Bank into four disconnected cantons. This fragmentation undermines the viability of any future Palestinian state. The refugee problem was solved by calling for a "satisfactory solution," but insured nothing of the "right of return." Arafat accepted major compromises: partition of the remaining 22% of mandated Palestine and the protection of Israel's demographic and security interests by limiting the number of Palestinian returnees. However, the path to peace was cut again by the Israelis. Sharon was allowed to become Prime Minister of Israel, though the Israeli high court disqualified him to be Minister of Defense. His declared agenda was to finish and complete Israel's war of independence. This was accomplished when about 250 Israeli military, economic, social, security and political Jewish leaders met in Hertzilya to assist Sharon in his mission. According to Shlomo Gazett, an ex-security chieftain, they reached a undemocratic solution to Israel's wars. Their solution to the Palestinian "problem" was a number of measures that would amount to ethnic cleansing. For the last twenty months, Sharon has been implementing these measures.
The problems that can result from advocating and attempting to carry out non-violent resistance were even further pointed out to me during exile. I convinced the PLO Executive Committee of the idea of a "Ship of Return." In 1979 the idea was approved. The idea was to fill a ship with Palestinians who had been expelled by Israel since 1967 and sail to Haifa. They would have been accompanied by a refugee families, international artists, peace activist, jurists and politicians.
Unfortunately, before it could be boarded, the Israeli Mossad destroyed the ship and killed the three Palestinians in Cyprus who had secured the ship. The two hundred passengers, including exiled Palestinians, refugee families, and international personalities waiting to board the ship in Athens, returned back to their places of exile or homes in frustration. This again proved to me that non-violence needs two parties. It needs freedom fighters who believe in non-violence, but it also needs a supporting government that believes in international law, and, above all, the belief that all individuals have human and political rights. The government must not believe that God has chosen one people to rule and another to be subservient. The colonizer must at least not be a racist nor allow racism to be protected by the state.
Unfortunately, Israel never dealt with Palestinian freedom fighters as prisoners of war according to the stipulations of the Geneva Conventions or accorded them the rights and protection that civilized countries afford their citizens. Political and conscience prisoners, advocators of non-violence, any person accused of any form of resistance to the occupation, were simply called terrorists and destroyers. Torture was - and is - still known to be systematically practiced in Israeli military and police interrogation facilities. I recognize that this is a serious crime to accuse a country of. I firmly believe, however, that the humiliation of the victimizers is much greater than that experienced by their victims, and I am no novice to such attacks. Concerning the current POT, a caricaturist drew an amusing portrayal of an Israeli check post, and included the caption "Operating Room." I believe he is right. The more than 250 military check posts or "operating rooms" that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pass through on a daily basis are as hellish as surgery. The Palestinians who are subjected to these horrendous experiences are ordinary human beings who are simply going to work, markets, schools, homes and medical clinics.
BACK TO NORMAL
The Palestinian public passes daily through a series of unforgettable experiences at Israeli check points. Humiliation is one primary but systematic curse of the Occupation. Pregnant women are murdered by keeping them waiting, laboring in pain, appealing in cries, for permission to pass a check point while passers-by cannot complain or help. Some have been left to die, we are told, to remind the Palestinians that an Israeli soldier can control the life and death of mothers, brothers and sisters. Many of us have seen wounded Palestinian left bleeding until their death. These events eclipse the normal banalities of students waiting under the heat of the sun or under rain for hours until his/her classes are no longer in session, or fruit and produce rotting in trucks until they are inedible.
Racists, fanatics and extremists with orders to harass are often employed at Israeli checkpoints. Only one visit to a checkpoint is needed to understand this reality. A sadistic portion of the Israeli population seems to be posted here; it is a training ground for people who do not value the dignity of life. For the last 35 years, I believe that the integrity of the Palestinian youth is besieged whenever they confront an Israeli soldier, mainly because of what happens at checkpoints. U.S. reality TV would do well to monitor such "interaction."
The American revolution lasted only a few years against the British but led to the motto inscribed in the hearts of many generations of Americans (and inscribed on a state flag) "LIVE FREE OR DIE". Most Americans do not think the motto refers to pacifism. In prison, the Palestinian advocates of non-violence either lose their sanity, humanity or life. They enter young and leave the prisons old. They enter the prisons healthy and leave diseased in health and in mind. In their schools, in the hopeful sanctity of logic, their classes are rampaged by soldiers and the students are justifiably terrified.
The lesson of Israel is that they can kill us no matter how we act, that they as a sovereign state, as well as individual soldiers, have the power of life and death over every Palestinian, who have absolutely no recourse to even basic formalities of law and justice. When you say that non-violence should be tried, perhaps you have the wrong audience. The colonizers are allowed to steal fertile land, because they claim their God was a real estate dealer who gave them the land as his chosen children. The curfews and closures that kill active life and separate time from the Palestinians leave them living in a pre-industrial society and spread illiteracy and starvation. Palestinian days are not as normal days. Days have nothing to do with sunrise or sun set it is the whim of an Israeli soldier who marks their day or night.
Out of this prolonged morass of humiliation and insult arise martyrdom operations. But these operations are not against Jews, as Mr. Friedman claims, but against Israeli Occupation.
Martyrdom operations are not a source of dignity but a reaction against systematic humiliation, if you like Mr. Friedman, by Jews. These operations are the "product" of the process of land-grabbing that has gone on for 35 years.
These operations are the initiation party of graduation from infamous Israeli schools of violence. Israeli taught torture in prisons. Israel has a long record of non-conformity with Geneva conventions on prisoners, especially its denial of war-prisoners status. This translates into humiliation on check posts and Israeli raids of homes where young children find themselves unprotected. What is a child from five to 18 years-old to think when his or her home, birth place, where he or she studies, eats and plays with sisters and brothers, and her or his home in one second turns into a heap of rubble? Could any one of us imagine what the death of a brother or friend mean to a child of this age? What adult is this child going to develop into under curfews on Palestinian towns for days, weeks and sometimes months, under closures depriving the child from the dearest experiences of life? What ramifications are there for the forced colonization of Palestinian land that deprives the their families of their livelihood?
The narratives he hears about young children who throw stones and how they avoided being caught are his heroes to emulate. If he is the son of a refugee family then the sufferings are insurmountable. Three young generations grew under such horrendous crimes. A Palestinian historian told of more than 100 war crimes that our people are victims of.
In only one country of the world are governmental "death squads" allowed and encouraged. Only in one country are military officers allowed to call for air strikes against apartments because the death squad has targeted a person for killing. The world, by standing by and watching such behavior, seems to approve of government-backed assassination and ethnic cleansing. The world seems afraid to say what Israeli military operations really are; horrible state-sponsored "Death Squads."
The Israeli abuse of power against Palestinians is difficult to describe to those not seeing it on a day to day basis. Islam commands that individuals do not kill children, women, and old people, do not attack houses of God or its servants, do not uproot trees, do not burn harvests, etc. However, when Palestinian children are taught such lessons they look react contempt; detecting weakness in the face of abusive power.
The present Palestinian youth is the outcome of such horrible experiences and many of them find no reason to believe that there are such things Geneva Conventions. Who could convince them that there is such a thing and that the Israeli state is actually a signatory to the Convention? They question how this could be true with Israel violating these Conventions for the last 35 years?
Could any sane human expect from a young refugee living in one of these miserable camps, his family expelled from their town and the family materially dispossessed by the forces of Israel that are constantly around him - could any sane person expect the refugee to feel a moral concern for those who caused this to happen? Particularly when he knows that Israeli's kill without moral concern? A few calculated massacres will get rid of them," a Hagana Jewish officer declared. This declaration is included in a book by John Paggot Glubb, a British commander, titled "A Soldier with the Arabs." Six hundred thousand of them were driven out after a "few calculated massacres" were committed against them. Nevertheless, despite war crimes and bloodshed, there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fighting a daily, non-violent struggle - on their way to work, to hospitals and to school. Every day they must struggle their way across more than 250 Israeli military checkposts. Young and old are killed, humiliated wounded and suffocated by chemical gases on these check posts. But the indomitable will of the Palestinian people keeps them going. Unfortunately, these daily battles are not covered by the international media.
I believe that those individuals interested in a sustainable, non-violent peace in this region, they should work to support democratic and fair elections. The electoral process is the only option guaranteeing peaceful change, initiated and sustained by the Palestinian people themselves. A first step towards this end would be the establishment of a truly independent election committee.
Abdul Jawad Saleh, Member of the PLC, Ramallah-Al Bireh District, Al Bireh