Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2009, pages 56-57

Waging Peace

Amira Hass Delivers Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture in Princeton

  • Amira Hass at Princeton University (Staff photo J. Adas).

“ONE OCCUPATION, Two Governments: The Onslaught on Gaza and the Palestinian Internal Rift” was the title of Amira Hass’ talk for the fifth annual Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture at Princeton University on May 19. Hass, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, has taken seriously her mother’s caution not to be a bystander. The only Israeli journalist who has chosen to live in the occupied Palestinian territories, first in Gaza and then in Ramallah, she is the author of the splendid Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege (available from the AET Book Club). She had been in Gaza since the end of the Israeli attack in January. Upon leaving Gaza to come to the U.S., Israel arrested her for “illegally staying in an enemy state.” She called her Palestinian friends with the good news: “You have a state!”

Hass likened Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank to two bald men fighting over a comb. Both governments, she explained, are under the same occupation and claim to represent the same people. While crediting Hamas with slightly more legitimacy and much greater efficiency, she called the split between Gaza and the West Bank “a major Israeli political achievement”—one Israel has been working toward since suppressing the first intifada through closure and limiting freedom of movement.

Hass posed the question of which Palestinian strategy will bring the U.S. and Israel closer to ending the occupation. She described two strategies used during Israel’s 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, which she called the Jenin and Dheisheh models. In Jenin, armed groups from both Hamas and Fatah, after evacuating women and children, united against the Israeli invasion. It was a real fight. Several Israeli soldiers were killed, but far more Palestinians lost their lives, and Israel bulldozed an entire neighborhood. Dheisheh, a refugee camp near Bethlehem, chose a different course by forbidding any shooting so as to deny Israel any reason to destroy the camp. Only a few houses were destroyed.

These two attitudes, Hass noted, do not belong to either Fatah or Hamas, but cohabit within the entire Palestinian community. Dheisheh logic, she continued, relies on people’s fatigue and thirst for normalcy.

During Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza, for example, the Palestinian Authority prevented demonstrations in the West Bank to avoid giving Israel a pretext to widen the conflict. This, however, made Fatah subject to suspicions of collaborating or being cowardly. Hamas claimed victory in January 2009 because they were not destroyed—leading an elderly Gazan to comment, “two more such victories and Gaza will be erased from the earth.” Israel, meanwhile, achieved what it wanted: to test weapons, especially drones. Of the 1,400 Palestinians killed, Hass reported, 512 were by missiles launched from drones operated by youngsters in computer rooms. Israel is now marketing drones to the world.

Neither the Jenin nor Dheisheh approach really works, according to Hass, because Bethlehem is still losing most of its land through expanding settlements, and neither strategy has brought about any change in Israeli policy. So, she asked, is there another way besides Jenin and Dheisheh? Hass concluded by saying that she had thought the message of Operation Cast Lead was that Israel will never be a good neighbor. But after spending four months in Gaza, Hass said, she was amazed to find people there ready to try again.

—Jane Adas