Letter from Ramalla, Palestine

BY Fouad Moughrabi
       Trying to record one's thoughts under siege is something new to me. I usually write in the comfort of my home or office. Today, however, as I write in my office in besieged Ramallah, I have this strange feeling that these could well become my last words. Living in such circumstances makes things clearer in one's mind and yet, words do not come easily. Language does not fully capture what one sees and what goes through one's mind. The images are so horrendous, evil so great and injustice so stark that words simply cannot measure up. Most of the time, I look at pictures on television, in the newspapers or in real life and I am totally stunned and speechless.

The ongoing tally of death and injury inflicted on the Palestinians is totally incommensurate with the perceived level of threat resulting from rock throwing.

        I cannot get out of my mind the picture of 12-year-old Mohammed Durra lying dead in the lap of his father, his body riddled with bullets. To me, this picture is exactly like that of the Vietnamese child whose body was burned by napalm and who was running terrified....

       We have begun to hear stories about children's reactions to the events: a five-year-old kid was putting on jewelry and girls' clothing in his parent's bedroom. Asked by his mother what he was doing, the child said that the Israelis only shoot boys and he does not want to be a boy any more. In a first grade classroom, a six-year-old says to his teacher: "We are nice kids, so why are the Israeli soldiers trying to kill us?"

Panic on October 12

       On Thursday, October 12, panic hit the city following rumors that Israeli soldiers had entered the city. When I reached the school to fetch my six-year-old to take him home, the kids were in a state of shock, crying hysterically and saying that the Israeli soldiers and the settlers were coming to kill everyone.

People are still under illusions fed by sophisticated propaganda machines and readily accepted by a pliant international press corps.

       For several days already, Jewish settlers in nearby settlements had gone on a rampage, with the help of Israeli soldiers, destroying Arab homes and property and killing people. On the road to Birzeit, Jewish settlers killed a man, after torturing him, breaking his arms, gouging his eyes, fracturing his skull and burning him. Two days later, on that fateful Thursday, Israeli undercover soldiers were caught in the heart of Ramallah with weapons and were killed by an angry mob. What were these Israeli undercover agents doing near a crowd getting ready for the funeral of 11-year old Sami Abu Jezar, who had been shot in the forehead two days before by Israeli soldiers? How could they have entered a city that is so tightly sealed by Israeli tanks?

Laboring Under Illusions

       Nothing excuses the horror of death and mutilation by Palestinians or by Israelis. But it is quite clear that after more than 50 years of this deadly conflict, people still fail to understand the injustice in the Middle East. People are still under illusions fed by sophisticated propaganda machines and readily accepted by a pliant international press corps.

       As usual, there are still a few voices that have the courage to tell the truth. Amira Hass, an Israeli correspondent for Haaretz, (11October, 2000) chronicles the lies of the Israeli government and of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). She shows how official Israeli propagandists have succeeded in giving the false impression that Israel is "being attacked, besieged, victimized and humiliated" and that Israeli forces are acting in "self restraint." One hates to think what they would do if they were not so restrained„or that Israeli soldiers "shoot only when they are shot at." Was Mohammed Dura shooting at Israeli soldiers as he and his father were cowering in fear behind a short concrete block?

       Israelis, we are told, only want peace. The unruly, riotous and murderous Palestinians, solely to blame for the death of nearly a hundred of their own, only understand violence. Last night, an Israeli military spokesman said that force "is the only language these people understand." To the West, Israelis like to say: this is the Middle East. We are here, we understand them, and you don't. So let us deal with them in the only way they understand.

Unequal Forces

       One of the most dangerous illusions is the notion that this is a symmetrical conflict„army against army, extremists against extremists. Nothing is further from the truth. The State of Israel wields one of the most powerful, best-trained armies in the world today. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have nothing. Their policemen carry light weapons (approved by the Oslo agreements for the purpose of controlling their own unarmed population) that are totally ineffective against the Israeli army. The few shooting sprees carried out by some irresponsible Palestinian policemen were no more than a show, akin to the shooting in the air at weddings.

Rocks vs. Sharpshooters

       In most confrontations, one sees kids, mostly teenagers, throwing rocks at well-protected Israeli soldiers. I fail to see how throwing rocks from a safe distance can pose any serious harm to the State of Israel or to its well-trained soldiers. None of this justifies overkill„the use of tanks, helicopters and high explosives against civilians.

       The ongoing tally of death and injury inflicted on the Palestinians is totally incommensurate with the perceived level of threat resulting from rock throwing. In the majority of cases, Palestinian teenagers die from direct hits to the head and the upper body, indicating the presence, among the Israeli units, of well-trained sharpshooters with powerful guns and telescopes...

       As for the injured, now more than three thousand, nearly 80% were hit by deadly rubber-coated steel bullets and 20% by live ammunition. Here again, 78% of the injuries are to the head and the upper part of the body. Nearly 50% of the injured are under the age of 18. Furthermore, one must note that at least 20 cases of injury involve a direct hit to the eye by rubber-coated steel bullets. One can only imagine the level of training and the kind of equipment needed to be able to hit a moving target in the eye.

Oslo Peace Process Is Dead

       What lessons have we learned from all of this? For one thing, the much-touted Oslo peace process, so dear to the Clinton Administration, is now dead. Not because the Palestinians do not want peace, but because the kind of peace promised them is totally devoid of elementary justice.

       It was only a matter of time before their "deferred dream," to use Langston Hughes' apt words, was bound to explode. In the second place, for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or for those within Israel itself, the principle of coexistence with or within a Jewish State has become questionable. Only God knows what the alternatives are. In the third place, except for a few courageous Israeli individuals, there is no Israeli peace camp.

       Israelis on the left, the right and the center have closed ranks behind their leaders and demand an even tougher policy toward the Palestinians. In the fourth place, the gap between the people and their governments has become highly accentuated in all Arab countries, including among the Palestinians. Those among the Arabs who have hurried to normalize relations with the State of Israel, even before the latter showed any serious inclination toward peace, are now on the run.

       Finally, the true nature of a myopic and one-sided American foreign policy in the region has been revealed. The Clinton Administration is so committed to Israel's side that it can no longer claim to be an honest broker. Already, attacks against Americans and their interests are being launched and they appear likely to continue.

       Fouad Moughrabi, a political science professor (on leave), is currently director of the Qattan Center for Educational Research and Development, Ramallah, Palestine.


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This story was published on November 1, 2000.