CHRIS WOOD April 18 1988


CHRIS WOOD April 18 1988



In its UO-year history, Israel has fought and won four wars against combined Arab armies. But a four-month-old uprising by Palestinians on the Israelioccupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has presented the country's leaders with a unique problem: how to deal with a civilian revolt spearheaded by rock-throwing boys. Israel defends its right to use force to control what it considers a serious security threat. But Palestinian critics say that the Israeli government's tough policy—including the use of live ammunition—has only fuelled the rioting. Maclean’s Senior Writer Chris Wood spent two weeks among the residents of the occupied territories, exploring the Palestinian view of the rebellion and its roots. His report:

The stones of the land they call Palestine are the color of old bone, sharp-edged when they shatter, and plentiful. For the dozen youths wreathed in the smoke of burning tires at a barricade outside the Christian Arab village of Beit Sahur, they provide both ample ammunition and a symbol of their passionate nationalism. “They took our land,” shouts one, a stone gripped in each hand, eyes burning behind a black hood.

Adds another, whose mask is green, red and black in the colors of the outlawed Palestinian flag: “We are fighting for our land. We will fight until we die.” Then the soldiers come, two of them walking down the road from nearby Bethlehem.

The shebab—the children of the stones, as they are called by their people—defiantly hurl their shards at the advancing figures in olive fatigues. The stones fall short, and then the soldiers begin to shoot at them, firing across the barricade. The youths scatter.

Deployment: The scene is played out on a Sunday morning at Beit Sahur, just after services at the town’s squaresteepled Anglican Church of St.

George. And despite the massive deployment of troops, identical confrontations have erupt-

ed almost daily since December in the sand-blown streets of the seething Gaza Strip and in the towns and villages of the West Bank. So far bullets, billy clubs and tear gas have killed an estimated 135 Palestinians in an unsuccessful Israeli drive to restore order. Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir describes those involved in the unrest as “rioters, murderers and terrorists who want to wipe out any trace of the people of Israel.” But to the 1.5 million Palestinians of the two occupied areas, they are martyrs in an overdue intifada—literally, a “shaking off” of two decades of occupation. Said one 45-year-old shop clerk watching the Beit Sahur demonstration from a side street: “This should have happened long ago.”

That it has happened at all is the result of a new confidence among Palestinians—and a perception that Israel’s handling of the lands it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War in an attempt to enhance its security from Arab attack has become increasingly harsh. The fact that the uprising continues after

more than four months of often-brutal attempts to bring it to an end has farreaching implications for the volatile Middle East. In Israel itself, the Jewish majority has begun to look on the 700,000 Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship as a possible internal threat. And in the Arab world, where many regimes clearly sustain themselves by intimidating their own people, the Palestinian tactics of unarmed resistance offer a potent—and potentially destabilizing—example to other restive populations.

Provocation: As the corrosive exchange of stone and bullet, provocation and retaliation, continues, attitudes are hardening on both sides, and the room for diplomatic manoeuvre is shrinking. Israeli leaders say that they will not make concessions because of pressure from stone-throwing rioters. But some Palestinians claim that Israel’s preoccupation with battling the uprising in the streets has obscured the real prospects for peace in the region. “In the long run we are neighbors,” observed Aowa Shawa, a rumpled, weary-looking Gaza Strip businessman who owns a vegetable farm and a supermarket. “But the Israelis do not realize this. Instead of trying to cultivate our friendship, they are turning us into bad neighbors.”

Beyond Shawa’s heavily grilled win-

dow, 650,000 Gaza Strip Palestinians— 450,000 of them refugees —inhabit sometimes-squalid, densely populated areas. Last week in Gaza City, the commercial centre of the brooding 45by-eight-km strip, broken pavement and blown sand blurred the edges of empty streets, the shops were shuttered, the beach-front hotels were closed and silent. Open spaces were strewn with rusted metal and household garbage. Barbed wire was laced across intersections at Israeli army roadblocks. But even in that atmosphere of sullen watchfulness and evident resentment, children were enjoying moments of innocent play. Along an unpaved street in the Jabalya refugee camp, a handful of barefoot youngsters flew tiny white kites folded from single sheets of used notepaper.

Among the young Palestinian demonstrators, older professionals and

businessmen, farmers and refugeecamp dwellers, it is not difficult to find people who say that they are moderates. Many interviewed by Maclean’s seemed to share the view

of Maher Abu Khater, a 33-yearold American-educated editor of the weekly English-language edition of the Arabic daily Al-Fajr. “People in refugee camps still long to go back to

the old house and the old fields [in Israel],” said Abu Khater. “But they recognize that there is something called Israel, and that there is nothing they can do about it.”

Although he clearly harbored strong emotions of resentment and dislike, unemployed construction worker Joel Haaq, speaking in the sparsely furnished apartment in the Christian Arab town of Sahur that he shares with his wife and four children, said that he was ready to make peace with Israel. “If they want to stay, okay,” he said, “but give us our freedom, give us our dignity.” Still, as he spoke, his son Peter, 2, brandished a plastic pistol in the presence of a visitor and burbled in Arabic, “I want to kill Jews.”

Death: In the hilltop village of Silwad, death had already come to the Mahmoud family. Silwad, 40 km north of Jerusalem, looks across a terraced valley softened by the grey-green foliage of olive trees to the Jewish settlement of Ofra. In mid-January, Silwad villagers told me, an armed settler shot a vil-

lage boy. They said that Mohammed Mahmoud, 24, volunteered to drive the injured youth to hospital but was stopped, pulled from his car and beaten unconscious by Israeli soldiers. He died five days later. After three days neighbors and family came to the Mahmoud house to drink the bitter local coffee and pay their respects.

In an upper room, the men reflected on the uprising. Despite the occasion, there was a note of moderation when talking to an outsider. Said a family member, translating the thrust of the conversation, “Once we have a country, we want to live in peace with Israel.” But downstairs in the courtyard, the dead man’s widow, Rahma, declared, “I hope my children grow up and take revenge for their father against the Jews.”

Calls for control of their own lives, as much as for the return of their lands and homes in Israel, seem to be at the centre of the Palestinian uprising. Successive Israeli governments have refused to declare the West Bank and Gaza formally occupied territories, a status that would grant their inhabitants the protection of international law. At the same time, while 122 Israeli settlements housing about 54,000 Jewish settlers have sprung up in the two areas since 1967, Israel has balked at formal annexation—a step that could force it to grant citizenship rights to the residents of the territories. And Israeli leaders remain divided on the future of the territories—some saying that the Palestinians should be offered a degree of selfgovernment, others saying that loss of control would seriously threaten the country’s security.

Families: Bassam al Shaq’a, the former mayor of Nablus, 50 km north of Jerusalem, and a member of one of the West Bank’s wealthiest business families, does not rise to greet visitors to his elegant hillside villa—parts of both his legs were blown off by a car bomb set by Jewish terrorists in 1980.

But he is forceful in his denunciation of Israeli attitudes toward the occupied territories.

“From the beginning the Israelis considered that they had liberated the area,” said Shaq’a.

“They thought the land belonged to them. They played a dirty game.”

Critics such as Shaq’a say that Israel has governed the territories in ways that promote its security and other in_ terests. By late last year, they | note, Israelis had taken over 8 more than half the land of the 2,280-square-mile West Bank, g either for Jewish settlements S

or for government agencies and military installations. Israelis also claimed about one-third of the 144-square-mile Gaza Strip, adding to the resentment of the overcrowded Gaza’s 650,000 Palestinians. Opponents say that Israel has been even more confiscatory with the arid region’s second-most-valued resource, water. According to the authoritative West Bank Data Base Projject, run by the Israeli former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, 95 per cent of the water drawn from West Bank reservoirs is pumped across the 1967 borders into Israel. At the same time, adds Benvenisti, Israel has taken at least $566 million out of the two territories in taxes over the course of the occupation.

Dissent: Palestinian dissent, meanwhile, has been sternly repressed. Israeli authorities have expelled more than 2,000 activists from the occupied territories. Hundreds more have been imprisoned under administrative detention without charge. Schools and universities have been subject to particular harassment. In Gaza, where the United Nations Relief and Works Agency operates 146 schools in refugee camps, the agency’s public relations officer, Christine Dabbegh, an Egyptian-born Palestinian, told me that Israeli authorities regularly confiscate up to one-half of the Arabic textbooks UNRWA tries to import from Egypt. Said Dabbegh: “You’re talking about math texts for the second grade that are deemed to be ‘inciting.’ ” Universities, which professors admit are nurseries for Palestinian nationalism,

have been subject to frequent military closures and sweeping arrests of students and staff.

Palestinians suspected of involve-

ment with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which openly favors the use of violence, have attracted harsher punishment. Soldiers have demolished the homes of hundreds of suspected PLO activists. Outbursts of violence aimed at Israelis have provoked collective community punishments, in defiance of international law.

Wounds: As the second decade of Israeli rule ended last year, the wounds of occupation had, in one way or another, touched virtually every Palestinian. “It was like a volcano ready to go off,” remarked Al-Fajr editor Abu Khater. Still, it took several sparks to ignite the flames of revolt. The fire began to smoulder, say most observers, when Arab leaders meeting in Amman in November all but ignored the Palestinian issue.

But even as Arab leaders appeared to lose interest in their problems, another event radically changed Palestinians’ views of their own power to challenge Israel. On Nov. 25 a Palestinian guerrilla used a motorized hang glider to cross Israel’s border with Lebanon and attack an army post, killing six Israelis and wounding seven others before himself being shot. “The Israeli media created of this one Palestinian a new Rambo,” said Elias Zan-

aniri, managing editor of the east Jerusalembased Palestine Press Service, which was closed late last month by Israeli police. Added Zananiri: “The psychological impact was that it showed Palestinians that the Israelis were not invincible anymore.” Conviction: Then, on Dec. 8, a truck driven by an Israeli settler slammed into a car in Gaza, killing its four Palestinian passengers. A widespread conviction that the crash was intentional provided the final spurt of anger that turned decades of resentment and grievance into open rebellion.

Israel’s ruling coalition government reacted with severity. Declared Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin: “The first priority is to prevent 9 violent demonstrations s with force, power and I blows.” Israeli troops z equipped with tear § gas, metre-long hardwood batons and automatic rifles have applied the philosophy with vigor.

In the mildewed, sour-smelling wards of Gaza’s 360-bed Shifa hospital—itself the target of several tear-

gas attacks—there is grim evidence of the physical effect of Israel’s determined campaign. In a spartan emergency room, a five-year-old boy lay crying on a bed, his left trouser leg split open and a fresh cast gleaming whitely from ankle to thigh. Said his father: “He was at the school, playing with five other children. The soldiers came. He made the ‘V’ sign. They beat him with a stick.”

A bare corridor, its yellow paint grimy and peeling, led to the ward where a 21-year-old youth, Fuad, lay. He said that in January a round from an Israeli rifle shot away his bladder and most of his intestines. Catheters led from the large bandage on his stomach to a plastic bag suspended near the floor. “We put some barricades in streets,” Fuad said. “Then the Israeli troops came. They sent six or seven tear-gas bombs. We were dizzy, and I was the last to run.” Further along the corridor was Abdul. He lay in a semicoma, eyes staring unresponsively while his arms, a mass of purple bruises from wrist to shoulder, twitched reflexively. According to his mother, the injuries were inflicted by soldiers as the 23-year-old teacher returned from work. Added a doctor: “We have had 10 cases like this [since December]. I have seen them at age 4.”

In nearby Jabalya refugee camp, few homes have not been visited by soldiers. In the neat, tiled courtyard belonging to the Najeh family, Zeinab Najeh, 47, a traditional Arab mother in white head shawl and elaborately embroidered dress, told her story. “They came at six in the morning. I was sleeping. They took me out of my bed and beat me,” she said. “They beat my nine-year-old son, Taiser. Now we sleep with our dresses on because we are afraid they will come in the night to take us.”

Fears: Similar fears seem to pervade the olive-growing West Bank village of Turmus Aiya. There, farmer Shukri Khalil, 40, recalled how Israeli troops and armed residents of the nearby Jewish settlement of Shilloh had broken into his house and taken two of his six children, boys aged 9 and 14, away for questioning. Said Khalil: “My older son saw the Jews and ran to the house because he was afraid. They thought he was throwing rocks.” Added his wife, Hosnia: “When they go outside now, I cannot sit inside. I am afraid the Jews will shoot them.”

No independent agency counts the victims of the shootings, beatings and gassings, but unofficial estimates put the toll of dead and injured at well above 3,000. At the same time, ar-

rests and house demolitions have increased. Israel’s Ansar II and Ansar III prison camps, fenced by coils of barbed wire, embankments and watchtowers in Gaza and the Negev Desert—as well as makeshift jails in West Bank schools—hold an estimated 7,000 prisoners.

But Israel’s crackdown has so far failed to extinguish the rebellion. Despite the arrests, the PLO-United Na-

tional Command of the Uprising—the shadowy group whose communiqués began appearing in mid-December— has continued to orchestrate Palestinian anger. Its directives have attempted to steer protest toward general strikes, tax boycotts and mass resignations from Israeli employment.

Resolve: In fact, Palestinian resolve appears to be stiffening. “They think by increasing the pressure, they will make us submit,” declared Gaza businessman Aowa Shawa. “They don’t understand. We really have nothing to lose.” Added east Jerusalem’s Zananiri: “People are getting radicalized as an inevitable result of the Israeli measures.”

One thing is clear: Palestinians of every class and political coloring say that they want the revolt to lead, at a minimum, to the creation of an inde-

pendent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank village of Turmus Aiya, local elder Mussa Jaber, 80, said, “We would like to have our own government.” And in Gaza’s Shira hospital, the wounded Fuad declared, “We want only our rights, our freedom and our land.”

But the desire for an independent homeland exceeds even the most generous proposals being debated among

diplomats seeking peace in the region. U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz’s formula, for one, envisions confederation with Jordan, rather than independent statehood. But said Bir Zeit University political scientist Jamal Nasser: “The uprising has drawn minimum goals that even [PLO chairman Yasser] Arafat could not meet. Before, Arafat would have accepted something less than self-determination. That’s out of the question now.”

The rebellion has also dramatically increased the Palestinians’ estimate of their bargaining power. Many thoughtful Palestinians say that Israel should seek a settlement now, because later the balance of power may shift decisively in the Palestinians’ favor when more radical leaders will be less willing to coexist with the Jewish state. Added Zananiri: “The

next generation will not be that interested in a settlement.”

One development already increasing pressure on Israel is a growing activism among its own 700,000 Palestinian citizens. Those Arabs have become increasingly vocal in support of the uprising’s goals. Noted Israeli Palestinian Abdullah Jubra, 36, of Nazareth, a former teacher and now city clerk: “Our people have the right to a state in Gaza and the West Bank.” Interests: Meanwhile, Israel’s Arab neighbors may want an early end to the uprising in their own interests. Most of those states have autocratic governments and many harbor Palestinian refugees, said Mubarak Awad, the 44-year-old director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Centre for the Study of Non-Violence. Added Awad, whose ideas of civil disobedience have been reflected in the tactics of the uprising: “We are developing something that might spread around the Arab world.”

Last week there seemed little in the spring wind over the occupied territories to give hope that the two sides were even ready to talk to each other, let alone reach a mutually acceptable division of their shared land. But there was at least a glimpse late one afternoon of what peace between the neighbors might look like. On a sandy soccer pitch near the scene of several earlier demonstrations, a game was in progress. Most of the players were Palestinians, wearing shorts or sweat pants. A handful of others were in uniform—members of an Israeli police patrol, clubs and helmets temporarily abandoned in their parked blue-and-white van, who had joined the pickup game. And as the sinking April sun gilded the ancient stones of Jerusalem, the only shouts echoing in the street were cheers, as an Israeli pass, deflected by a Palestinian teammate, entered the waiting goal.

— CHRIS WOOD in Jerusalem