April/May 1994, Page 9
Seven Views: Reassessing Declaration of Principles of Peace in Light of the Hebron Massacre
Hope Turns to Disappointment, Despair and Desperation
By Edna Homa Hunt
Since the Oslo agreement, headlines in the international media keep focusing, and very superficially so, on negotiations. But on the ground lies the continued—indeed, deepening—anguish and despair of daily life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Where at first there was hope and, most significantly, palpable expectations for alleviation of generation-old oppressions visited upon ordinary people, there spread disappointment that quickly became desperation.
I have spent a month moving about the population centers of the West Bank and Israel. I chose not to go to Gaza because I do not know the area or its people well enough to gather meaningful impressions from a "flying visit."
It is from the Palestinian people's vantage point that I have observed the Israeli occupation, felt and empathized with its tragedies. I myself am Palestinian, though not Arab. Mostly, I am just a human being.
I spoke with friends of many years' standing and others I sought out. Over the duration of my stay, I learned that reactions were less about endorsement or rejection of the agreements than skepticism, fear and, from many, disillusionment with and undisguised anger at Chairman Yasser Arafat and his close entourage in Tunis.
Mention of Arafat's fall from adulation, an adulation so long felt and expressed by an overwhelming majority of the men and women in the street, brought tears to the eyes of some with whom I spoke. Where oh where is there a hero to rally around, a symbol of hope aroused and held in abeyance, a leader who could redress the debilitating discrepancy between Israel's power and Palestinian weakness?
Paradoxically, while suffering under Israeli occupation and opposing it, there was hope! Someday it would end. Even a year ago when I was there, no one could specify an end-point. But in the very vagueness of entertaining hope there was comfort, strength, an emotional life raft. Now, Palestinians were in a straitjacket fashioned by the leader they had trusted, and others who articulated reassurances that a significant, real shift had taken place. Of course, only time will tell...
There also were suspicions expressed about the motives of an older generation of "insiders" quickly appointed from Tunis to directing positions in various economic and administrative "coordinating" committees. Many of these "bodies" were still "ghosts," with no more than a name to denote future functions. But already the broader disenfranchised public saw in them an exacerbation of known corruption and a deepening division between "haves" and "have-nots. "
Almost everywhere in the West Bank I saw the physical manifestations of a quarter of a century of human suffering and emotional despondency. I noted the absence of tended plantings; too many piles of rubble; city-centers that long ago bore the signs of civic pride and prosperity now were just there, too painful for me to characterize.
Crossing over from East to West Jerusalem was like entering another universe. Teddy Kollek to the contrary, Jerusalem remains a divided city: socially, economically, culturally and, above all, emotionally.
The contrast with West Jerusalem was too agonizing for me to bear: wide streets, carefully tended parks, gleaming stone buildings, glittering lights, opulent shops. Life was being lived to the fullest, the most optimistic. If there was grief anywhere, it was private; not transformed into enduring physical reminders. Even the settlements that encircled all centers of Palestinian habitation exuded the power of long-term presence, the strength of permanence.
I was in Ramallah the day after 15-year old Rami Ghazzawi was killed by Israeli soldiers in his school yard! In response, that day, the population erupted in furious protests. But, the day after, silent grief fell all over the town. The graffiti-defaced shutters of stores were down and a grim expression seemed to distort the face of the handsome taxi driver as he took me to the home of my friends, a Bir Zeit University professor and his family.
The Bir Zeit community was in mourning, as hundreds, perhaps thousands of other Palestinian communities have been, when their children, mothers and fathers were killed or maimed by Israeli soldiers, death squads, jailers and interrogators. I felt privileged to be able to share their grieving, this time in person.
Later I learned that a "senior army officer" called at the Ghazzawi home to offer his apologies for the "regrettable incident. " I ask all who read this who are fathers and mothers to see in your mind's eye, to feel what it might be like to be offered an apology in place of a son or daughter.
"And what about our [Israeli] victims of murder?" I can hear passionate Israelis throw in my face. "What about the young kindergarten teacher killed (by 'terrorists,' is the invariable description) in her car on the road, near El Bireh?" Indeed, a very short hour before I myself was to travel on that road, back to Ramallah for more conversations. Yes, I mourn for her too . But, on behalf of my Palestinian friends, I offer no apology, only deep regret. Both the deaths I have chosen to mention were grievously wrong, serving no purpose whatsoever—if the death of any human being ever does...
On the Use of Language
I am clearly not original in observing the use of language to create wide social acceptance of a policy of deliberate murder. But I have to register my feelings of offense and anger at the sight of a full-page photograph on the front page of the Saturday, Nov. 26 supplement of Yediot Ahronot of a seated young man, face masked by a red-and-white keffiyeh. Diagonally across the photo in large red letters was the caption: "Erased from the list." Beneath the photo the text read: "IDF this week eliminated the No. I wanted in the territories. " (Emphasis is mine.)
The photo was that of Imad Aqaal, a commander of several Hamas fighting units in Gaza. He was alleged to have killed 100 Israeli soldiers. But regardless of what he was alleged to have done, the description of killing him as "erasure" conveys dehumanization of a quality I have always associated with genocide.
Ultimately those using such language, accepting it as "appropriate," or reading it without attentiveness, will themselves become dehumanized. Ample signs in daily life in Israel itself already reveal that the process is well under way.
Death on the Road
The connection may be spurious, but I have wondered at the terrifying carnage on Israeli roads. During the first week of my stay in Israel, 28 people were killed in car accidents. Two weeks later, first four young men and then an entire family were killed all at once.
All manner of experts have been analyzing this death toll, ad nauseum. (One sample: The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Nov. 19, 1993.) The analysts are all "technical" people, all men. They mention the "human factor" last in a string of causal factors, but fail to delve into the depths, the intricate complexities of what this "human factor" may be about. Alcohol-die culprit in the U.S.-is hardly ever involved. Is it perhaps the disease I called "dehumanization" which has contaminated the nervous systems of Israeli men?
While the death of a single Israeli at the hands of Palestinians sends the whole country into paroxysms of hysteria, I wondered aloud to several Israeli acquaintances—after one particularly tragic accident—why this slaughter meets with public silence. Of all the answers I heard, one stuck in my memory: "We accept these deaths as we accept cancer—we can do nothing about it."
Headline in Yediot Ahronot as Prime Minister Rabin arrived in the United States: "The Road to Peace: Rabin will present in the U.S. the list of weapons required to defend the peace."
The Zionist Vision: Building!
Here we were, barely a couple of months after Rabin and Arafat had embarked on the road to negotiating details for implementing "self-rule"—of one sort or another—when there burst on the public scene, in Israel, the new master plan for a major and long-range building program: along a north-south axis of the inland ridge of hilltops, parallel to the coast, and stretching from northwest Galilee south to Beit Shemesh, due southwest of Jerusalem.
With settlements continuing to be built all around Jerusalem and major roadways being stretched north, south and east out of "greater Jerusalem" pulverizing Palestinian neighborhoods along the way, what will remain for the Palestinians to self-rule"? On top of that, comes another "wall" of Israeli habitation, based around three substantial urban centers—Modi'in, Yiron and Beit Shemesh—to accommodate 130,000 households.
Without much publicity or fanfare, the cornerstone for the largest of these cities—Modi'in—was laid in mid-December. It was planned for a day after Dec. 13, "W-day" (withdrawal day), the day that never was. But the cornerstone-laying was. The plan's implementation had begun.
While the Sharon-Shamir plan of the -20 Stars" had as its geopolitical objective the obliteration of the "Green Line," the declared objective of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the Labor government's housing minister, is to respond to Israelis' needs within the "Green Line."
I see nothing mutually exclusive about the two settlement-and-city-building strategies. Between them they will succeed in choking off any Palestinian state west of the Jordan.
These housing plans for the next millennium are based on assumptions of "peace," continued immigration and a target population of seven to eight million people. But not a word about the needs of the Palestinian population; their needs for space. What about space for growing food? For industry? For shade? And most crucial, who will have to give up water? You can guess.
Dr. Edna Homa Hunt represents the fifth generation of her Jewish family born in Jerusalem. A management consultant based in Winter Park, FL, she is active in Middle East peace efforts.