LEGACY OF DESPAIR
In a musty, dimly lit room near the centre of the West Bank town of Ramallah, a small, quiet Palestinian Arab boy named Mohammed sat fidgeting with the zipper on his grey corduroy jacket. He had soft brown eyes and curly black hair, which he covered with a black-and-white checked kaffiyeh draped loosely over his head in traditional Palestinian fashion. At IK, Mohammed is already a veteran of stonethrowing assaults on Jewish settlers who have established themselves throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In the
past two years he has spent a total of 7V2 months in prison for taking part in such demonstrations. “I feel I must resist the occupation with all of my strength, ” Mohammed said calmly between sips of hot, sweet Turkish coffee. “If I can kill one of the Jews, I will do it. I don 1 believe anyone is innocent if he comes to take my land. ”
Mohammed is a Palestinian who has spent his entire life under the Israeli military government that has ruled over the West Bank for the past 20 years. His generation—both in the West Bank and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip—is driven by a volatile mix of anger and frustration, envy and resignation. Some, like Mohammed, were born into the relentless poverty of one of the 27 United Nations-sponsored refugee camps scattered throughout the occupied territories—centres of militancy and despair that have become the training grounds for tomorrow’s terrorists. Others have grown up in dusty rural villages tending flocks of sheep and goats, while a privileged few belong to the small but comfortable Palestinian middle class.
But regardless of their backgrounds and social position, an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians have had daily experience of living under military occupation. That life may include not only constant petty harassment at the
hands of Israeli authorities but also arbitrary searches and arrests, physical and psychological ill-treatment, sometimes torture, and detention without trial for up to six months at a time.
Often their hatred and resentment burst out in violent confrontation. Indeed, Israeli observers say, the wonder is not that such disturbances take place but that so few of them have fatal consequences: in 1987 so far, according to the Israeli army, violence in the occupied territories has claimed 16 Arab and Jewish lives—including that of an eight-year-old Jewish boy who was found with his head crushed last week in a West Bank cave. The reason the death toll is not greater, experts say, is that Israeli security is so tight that guns, ammunition and explosives are almost impossible for Arabs to obtain. Instead,
Palestinian youths generally demonstrate their resistance to the massive military occupation by throwing stones and, less frequently, home-made fire bombs.
In recent years such attacks have become more common. According to a report by a private Jerusalem-based research unit, the West Bank Data Base Project, the number of acts defined by the Israeli authorities as “violations of law and order”—including illegal demonstrations and stone-throwing incidents—has risen to a current level of more than 3,000 a year on the West Bank from about 400 to 500 a year in the late 1970s. The report, written by Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, concluded that the growth in the number of random acts of violence in the occupied territories “may be seen as a new phase in Palestinian resistance.” The report added,“These acts are carried out not by organized groups but by youths who were born and grew up during the Israeli occupation.”
A few kilometres south of Jerusalem, the modern urban sprawl of apartment towers and self-serve gasoline stations suddenly gives way to a landscape of rolling, rock-strewn hills and terraced olive groves. There is no sign by the side of the highway to mark the so-called “green line”—the imaginary boundary that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. Indeed, even many of the road maps sold in Israel make no distinction between the country as it existed prior to 1967 and the territory that it captured in the Six Day War, as though the continuing debate about the future of the occupied territories had already been settled.
Still, the transition from a modern, Western-style state to an underdeveloped region under military rule is impossible to overlook. Israeli troops in rumpled olive-drab uniforms stand alone or in small groups along the shoulder of the road, conducting frequent spot checks of Arab-owned cars bearing blue West Bank licence plates—
easily distinguished from the yellow plates on the Israeli vehicles.
At the Dehaishe refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem, about 10 km south of Jerusalem, Akram Attallah remembers the first time he saw an Israeli soldier. It was June, 1967, and Attallah was a boy of 7 playing with his friends in the narrow alleyways that serve as the camp’s main roads. “All of a sudden a rumor swept through the camp that the Israelis were invading and that they were going to massacre us,” said Attallah, now 27, a carpenter with a bushy moustache and unshaven black stubble on his cheeks. “Some of the people fled into the mountains or headed east to Jordan. But the rest, including my family, decided that we couldn’t run away again, like the Palestinians did in 1948 when Israel was cre-
ated. My own grandfather said, ‘If they want to kill us, let them kill us in the camp.’ ”
Fears of mass killings proved to be unfounded, but the Israelis took over the West Bank in that invasion and set up a military government over it. Attallah grew up despising the occupying forces. For most of his life he has longed for the day when the Palestinians would be strong enough to reclaim their homeland. Those feelings were reinforced by a visit he made to the village where his parents had lived prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, a small farming community called Zakariya, about 40 km southeast of Tel Aviv. “My father took the whole family there in 1969,” Attallah recalled. “He told us, ‘This is where our house used to be, this is the hill where our friends lived, this valley belonged to my uncle,’ and so on. So now, if I go to the village, I know exactly where everybody lived and who owned what piece of land. Even the little children know this. My sister has a son, only three years old. If you meet him he will say, ‘My name is Rams Attallah, and I come from Zakariya.’ ”
At one time or another in their lives most Palestinians have made the pilgrimage home —the home of their parents, now owned by strangers. Inevitably, the journey implants in them a powerful sense of outrage at the treatment of the 700,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israel during the 1948 war. Izziyeh Abu-Saud, an attractive 20year-old English student in the West Bank town of Nablus, 48 km north of Jerusalem, was 13 when she first saw her parents’ former home in Beit Dajam, a small town near the Israeli coastal city of Jaffa. “One day our teacher took the whole class on a bus trip to see our parents’ villages,” said AbuSaud, who was six weeks old when the Israelis captured the West Bank. “Everyone was feeling sorry because we knew that it was our country and that we were only allowed to visit it. So during the bus ride home we tried to raise our spirits by singing Palestinian songs.”
Not long after that experience, AbuSaud said, she and her classmates began to demonstrate their support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by throwing stones at Israeli-owned cars that passed by the school on their way to Jewish settlements in the nearby hills. “Our headmaster used to clear all of the stones out of the schoolyard because he was opposed to our activities. So the pupils divided into groups. Some of us would smuggle stones into the school in plastic bags, while others would carry onions and water to eliminate the effects of the tear gas that the soldiers would fire at us. Later on we would get together with our friends and trade clothes in case the army tried to identify us.”
More recently, Abu-Saud’s activities on behalf of the PLO have brought her into conflict with the administrators of the a-Rawda Community College, the privately run commercial college that she attends. “The owners of the college are Palestinian businessmen who don’t want any trouble from the authorities,” she said. “When they found out that I
was writing poetry that expressed the nationalist feelings of the Palestinians, they told me to be careful or else the Israelis would interrogate me. They also accused me of inciting the other students, and they warned me that if I made trouble it would harm the reputation of the college.”
Despite her feelings, Abu-Saud admitted that she had encountered some Jews
whom she genuinely liked. “The problem is trying to figure out who is good and who is bad,” she said. “For example, one day my little sister fell off the roof of our house and hurt her leg. We took her
to a government hospital in Nablus, where all of the doctors are Arabs, but they didn’t treat her well. Finally my parents transferred her to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where she got well quickly. The Jewish doctors were very nice to her.”
From the front door of her father’s two-storey concrete house on a hillside
in East Jerusalem, Nisrin Abu Saloum can look out across the old walled city to the brilliant gold Dome of the Rock, built by Moslems in the seventh century to mark the place where the prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. She is 10 years old, a pretty girl with short brown hair, dressed in jeans and a beige T-shirt. Her father, an actor, was born in the house in 1953, five years after the end of the first ArabIsraeli war, which left the West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians under Jordanian rule. Then, on June 28, 1967, less than three weeks after the end of the Six Day War, the Israeli government decreed that from that day forward East Jerusalem was part of the Jewish state, although Arabs born in East Jerusalem would remain Jordanian citizens. The rest of the world, including Canada, does not recognize the annexation and continues to view East Jerusalem as an area under military occupation.
Nisrin is too young to understand the complex legal and political issues surrounding the status of the city that is her home. But when she is asked what she would like to be when she grows up, she does not hesitate to reply. “Either a lawyer or a fedayi [guerrilla],” she said, licking an ice cream cone. “I would like to kill the Jews, all of them. All of them are bad.”
Her father, Ahmed, a small, bony man with horn-rimmed glasses and a wispy moustache, added: “This is not my point of view. My daughter does not dif-
ferentiate between the soldiers and the other Israelis. She is a young girl, and when she looks at the newspapers all she sees is ‘Palestinians killed, Palestinians killed.’ So her picture of Israel is very dark. She does not realize that some individual Israelis want peace, even if they do not agree with all of our aims.”
In Nisrin’s district there is a Jewish housing project less than 200 metres from her home. But the Palestinian and Jewish children do not play together. “We don’t go there, and they don’t come here,” she said. It is a self-enforced separation of which her father heartily approves. “I don’t exactly hate the Jews myself,” Ahmed explained. “But deep down I am afraid of what will happen to her mind if she becomes too friendly with them. Sooner or later the Israelis would try to explain the situation from their point of view, and that would be very dangerous to us.”
Among older West Bank residents, there is widespread agreement that the new generation of Palestinians is better educated, more politically sophisticated
and less respectful of Arab traditions than its predecessors. A 31-year-old English teacher at Dehaishe Preparatory School, who asked not to be named because the Israelis do not allow teachers to give unauthorized interviews to journalists, declared: “The children today are tougher than we used to be. I remember my parents used to teach me all the old Palestinian sayings, things
like ‘Walk close to the wall and Allah will protect you.’ The message was always that if you tried to challenge authority you would only get into trouble. And because of that, people convinced themselves that there was no way on earth they would ever be able to stand up to the might of the Israeli army. Well, young people today don’t accept that. It’s as if the whole style of thinking changed after 1967. We were defeated, and we suffered, and only then did we start to look for the reasons.”
Hanna Siniora, editor of the Arabic daily newspaper Al Fajr (The Dawn), agrees. “Young people don’t fear the Israelis the way their parents used to,” said Siniora, 49, in his office in East Jerusalem. “They’ve lived with Israel, and they know its limitations, and they aren’t impressed by the superpower image of Israel. And one result is that they are more uncompromising, more disposed to a military response.”
The father of three children, aged 11, 16 and 21, Siniora is clearly dismayed by the increasing militancy of young Palestinians. Although his newspaper editorially supports Yasser Arafat’s AÍ Fatah,
the dominant group within the PLO, he was one of five prominent Palestinians who in late 1983 published a statement condemning terrorist attacks on civilian targets. They did so in the wake of a PLO bomb attack on a Jerusalem bus in which four people died and 46 were wounded. “I preach tolerance, and I hope other parents do the same,” Siniora said. “But it worries me that nothing is being done to redress our problems. The young generation of Palestinians is being driven into a corner, and cornered people do not act rationally.”
It is late afternoon in Balata refugee camp, a labyrinth of open sewers and ugly, square concrete houses just outside Nablus, the largest town on the West Bank with 66,000 residents. On a side street, small children in ragged clothes laugh and chase a ball, occasionally darting to one side to avoid being hit by passing cars. Inside one of the houses, five young Palestinian men lounge on sofas, sipping Turkish coffee and smoking American cigarettes. “The older generation is tired and psychologically broken,” said one of them, a 24-year-old man who gave his name only as Ahmed. He recalled that after the Jewish victory in 1948, his parents’ generation was led to believe that they would soon return behind the liberating Arab armies. “Instead of supplying them with guns and ammunition, the Arab regimes deceived them,” said Ahmed. “So now it is our turn to fight.”
Together with his friends, Ahmed has been fighting the Israelis for as long as he can remember. As a small boy he and his schoolmates used to shout insults and throw stones at the Israeli soldiers posted outside the camp. When he was 15 he was arrested and convicted by an Israeli military court for failing to report alleged terrorist acts by other people in the camp. The penalty was six years in prison. Since his release he has been taken in for questioning five times, held for a week or two and then released without charge.
As often happens on the West Bank, his arrests seem timed to coincide with the administration of the tawejihi, a university entrance examination that Palestinian students must pass if they wish to study at a university in the Arab world. In 1983 a West Bank human rights group, Law in the Service of Man, accused the occupation authorities of deliberately rounding up large numbers of Palestinian students on the eve of the twice-yearly exams in order to disrupt their education.
Under an order of the military government, a suspect can be detained for 18 days before being brought before a military judge, who can then extend detention for six months before trial. Said Ahmed: “The people here are suffering a kind of slow death, and throwing stones is the only way they can resist. Of course, we know that a few stones will never defeat a developed country like Israel, a state that possesses nuclear weapons. But still the Israelis do not frighten us. Their machines and weapons are sophisticated, but their soldiers are cowards. How else can you explain the fact that when a boy of 10 throws a stone at a soldier, the soldier’s response is to shoot him with a machine-gun?” As he speaks, his friends nod silently in agreement.
Even though 92 per cent of the Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories are Moslems, the vast majority of young Palestinians are not strictly observant. Many of them are proud of the extent to which they have absorbed Western secular values, regarding themselves as more educated and cultured than their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world. But among a minority of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza, there are unmistakable signs of an Islamic revival.
An increasing number of young men wear beards while more young women than ever cover their hair with head scarves, to display a religious devotion that only a few years ago was out of fashion. And new stone mosques have sprouted up in refugee camps and towns throughout the area, from which the call of the muezzin summons the faithful to prayer five times a day.
Musa Darwish, director of public relations at Bethlehem University, one of five accredited universities on the West Bank, described the growth of fundamentalism as a “wave.” According to Darwish, the new Islamic fervor is partly a reflection of current trends throughout the Arab world and in Iran. But he also says that there are homegrown factors at work. “Basically, the fundamentalists believe that the reason we are suffering this occupation is because we have lost sight of what Allah told us,” Darwish said. “Their message is that if we go back to our Islamic roots, somehow we will all be saved. They criticize Arafat for being too secular, and they don’t believe that the PLO is the way to liberate the territories.”
The Islamic revival seems strongest in the Gaza Strip, a sandy coastal region along the Mediterranean only 45 km long and five kilometres wide. With a population of 510,000 Palestinians, the Strip is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. But although it was once an undisputed bastion of the PLO, in recent years it has become a breeding ground for fundamentalism. Israeli authorities have indirectly supported the fundamentalist movement—in particular the hard-line Moslem Brotherhood—
by allowing its followers to receive funds from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a strategy designed to undermine the rival PLO.
Wafa al-Reyyes, 25, is one young Gazan who opposes the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. The daughter of a prosperous landowner, she lives with her parents in a large, comfortable house that is an island of prosperity amid the squalor of one of Gaza’s eight refugee camps. Unlike most other women in the neighborhood, however, she refuses to wear an Islamic shawl in public.
“Until three years ago I used to be able to go jogging in the streets,” said Wafa.
“But now if I go outside the men will punch me or shout at me to go home,
because they say a woman should not be seen alone in the street. It’s killing. I wind up spending most of my time in my room, just reading.” Last year a mob of young fundamentalist men threw sulphuric acid in the faces of 16 girls at a local high school who had refused to cover their heads. Each of them is now permanently disfigured.
Within Israel, many people still cling to the hope that the level of unrest on the West Bank and in Gaza will subside as living standards rise and as Palestinians become increasingly well educated. It is possible that the young radicals of today will not be quite so militant when they get older. “By the time you get into your 30s your attitudes start to change, especially if you are poor,” said Akram Attallah of Dehaishe camp. “You get married, you have children, and all of a sudden you start to worry about making a living so that your family will not go hungry. Of course, most people in their 30s still talk about fighting the Israelis, about resisting the occupation, but that is all they do— talk.”
But there is another point of view, one that offers far less room for optimism about the future of the occupied territories. Such a view is held by Meron Benvenisti, who lives in a mixed neighborhood in East Jerusalem and who has been studying the Palestinian problem for almost 20 years. “What we are witnessing among the young generation is a powerful process of Palestinian nation-building,” he said. “Ten years ago people on the
West Bank still entertained hopes that
one day soon peace would dawn and the Israelis would pack up and go home. Now, most young Palestinians realize that the occupation is going to last for many more years. So they’re desperate, more willing to kill people with stones or petrol bombs. What the Israelis must understand is that this isn’t just some sort of organized terrorist campaign, something co-ordinated from above. It’s a manifestation of a widespread feeling of frustration and despair. And the situation is getting worse, not better.”