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White flag is torn

vendredi 31 mai 2002, par Joëlle Palmieri

My hands feel tied, my body is paralyzed and my mind dulled. I can hardly do anything. For the past three weeks we have stayed home seated, listening to the radio and watching TV on all channels, attentive to all noises and frightened at gun fire and exploding bombs. Smoke is hanging over Ramallah. Tanks roll through the streets destroying everything in their way : sidewalks, stairs, power and telephone cables. They smash parked cars and fell trees.

They break through the walls of houses and blast open store entrances. All men over 14, shirts off or half naked, are driven to collection sites, and later to prison camps. Everyone is interrogated and beaten. Often they are released in the middle of the night, to make their way home in constant fear of being shot by a soldier.

Most of the prisoners are civilians, among them militant fighters, who see themselves as fighters for freedom, but are called terrorists by the Israelis. Many of the arrested are members of the police or the Palestinian autonomous authority’s security force. The latter often had believed in the peace process ; now they are among the first victims.

We want to help but feel powerless. We are in a constant state of alarm, confronted with the increasing tragedy. We tremble, thinking of the many dead and injured in the destroyed buildings or on the street without chance of rescue or medical care. Whoever tries to help risks their life. We heard of a group of ten women who, arms raised, begged soldiers to aid some helpless injured. Their leader, the physician Dr. Kadah, was killed, the other women severely injured. In many places people have been used as hostages by the fighting parties.

Often in the past I had summoned up the courage to talk with Israeli soldiers in very tense situations. In many cases it was possible to make human contact despite the uniform, and to separate again in peace. Today, attempting to approach soldiers is a deadly dangerous act.

History in ruins

With its charming old town, Nablus has been a center of crafts and commerce for centuries. Since these times the lanes and towers, courtyards and family dwellings such as Abdul Had, Al Agha, Tukan and Harat al-Yasmineh created something of a biblical atmosphere. They evoked the memory of the many cultures which were superimposed and rooted here, forming an impressive phase of history. Rockets and bombs have turned them into heaps of debris which passing tanks push to the side. Two factories, Kana’n and Rantisi, which for generations processed local olive oil into soap are destroyed. I had often visited them with relatives and friends : they were a piece of our history and tradition.

Palestinians remember their history often now – however not that of the flourishing times of Nablus. It is rather the nightmare, massacre and expulsion of 1948, the terror of organizations like Irgun, Stern, Hagana and Palmach which return to the memory, deep in our souls – and are documented by the surviving, the witnesses and the books of history.

Of course, the others have their own truths about events. In Israeli history books, until recently, nothing could be found about the 418 destroyed Palestinian villages, nothing about victims and refugees. The Palestinians, on their side, close their eyes to Jewish history outside of Palestine, excluding themselves from an historical tragedy which does not concern them. Their knowledge of Israeli history is concentrated on their own traumatic memory, which knows neighbors only as colonizers and brutal occupiers. Thus two different histories of sacrificed populations collide. Yet in the final analysis each of these histories deals with the same country, the same demand for the right to exist, and great suffering on both sides.

However the ones in power dominate the information and documentation. They determine what is said, known and thought and claim their right to the one and only truth. Today representatives of press and media have no access to Palestinian towns and prison camps. They were not allowed to become witnesses of history. The state of war serves ideological aims : the total control over our land. The structure and infrastructure of the autonomous government have been destroyed. A huge mass of documentation has been taken away, documentation which should have provided a material and mental basis for our existence as a community and a people.

Prospective disaster ?

We saw it coming. For the past 35 years we have lived under occupation. Actually it is hard to understand why we tolerated this, accepting the deprivation of rights and the suppression. Over the last eight years there have been so-called peace talks aimed at preparing the retreat from the occupied areas and the institutionalization of an independent Palestinian state. Now, after eight years of negotiations, we realize that the occupying force is more consolidated than ever, that Israeli settlements have grown and that the space where the Palestinians live is more torn up than ever. Economic development, education, medical care and mobility have been impeded in every way. Underground movements which opposed the policy of Arafat and characterized the peace talk as a trap, suddenly had access to weapons and explosives. In this commerce they were collaborating with mafiosi Israeli groups. There were talks about peace, but beneath this a situation was created ensuring a free Palestine would never be realized.

Bitter intolerable daily life became a breeding ground for radicalism and fanaticism. Suppression and humiliation destroyed every perspective for a future, causing inhuman traits in humans. They lost the sense of their own life and that of others : If I have to die, then they will as well – if my life means nothing to them, their life shall have no value in my eyes. Ten years ago there was not a single suicide murderer in our society. In the past year, there were dozens, tomorrow there might be hundreds.

Suicide murders are intensively discussed among the Palestinian population. An overwhelming majority considers attacks on civilian Israelis as criminal and abominable, but considers aggression against military objects in the occupied areas or against settlers as a legitimate act of self-defense, even a duty. As before, only a small minority agrees with assassinations of any kind, usually with the argument that the Israeli actions have reached the highest possible degree of violence and terror. Repayment in kind is the logic, even if this does not spare one’s own population.

This group will grow as long as there is no political perspective in sight. In the present situation it is difficult to follow the maxims of self-control and reason ; we are sick and tired of being told to break out of the cycle of violence and counter-violence. The occupation and the denial of Palestinian national rights are at the heart of the conflict : they should be the basis of worldwide appeals and actions.

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