Thursday, October 10, 2013

A little girl and a little boy and 120 years of history

Psagot is an Israeli settlement created in 1981 at the top of a mountain overlooking the twin Palestinian cities Ramallah and Al-Bireh. The settlers came and made an accomplished fact placing mobile homes at the mountain. The Palestinian landowners turned to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem but their appeal was rejected. Since then, the settlement has developed and grown and nowadays some 300 families live there. All of them are national-religious families who believe that the whole of Eretz Yisrael was promised to the Jewish people and that it is the right and he duty of Jews to settle in any place of it.

Many times the settlement of Psagot was the focus of violent confrontations, during the first Intifada and the second one, and also in between, continuing after the Oslo Agreement and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The inhabitants of Ramallah, the PA capital, can see from far Psagot on the mountain top, surrounded by high fences and guarded by soldiers.

Last weekend, a hooded Palestinian cut the fence and entered into Psagot. He encountered a 9-year old girl, named Noam Glick, who was playing in the backyard, and wounded her. The girl cried out and the Palestinian escaped. The girl's father, Israel Glick, who is among the founders of the settlement, told the media representatives who had immediately arrived: "My daughter is a heroine! She saved all of us." The girl was taken to hospital and her wound fortunately turned out to be light.

This case is known to everybody in Israel, even to those who give the news only a brief glance. It was the banner headline in all the papers. In Yediot Aharonot, the whole of the three first pages were devoted exclusively to the heroic child-victim Noam Glick and the anger of her parents and the other Psagot settlers, and the settlers in general, and the right-wing politicians who immediately demanded far-reaching measures against the Palestinians, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Also the international media, especially the American, took up this news item.

On exactly the same weekend there was another event, also centered on a child - at the entrance to the el-Fawwar Refugee Camp south of Hebron.

The  el-Fawwar camp was created in 1949 to shelter  Palestinian refugees from Bait Jibrin and Beersheba. Now about seven thousand people live there in crowded circumstances - the original refugees and their descendants. Like other Refugee Camps, el-Fawwar had always been a focus of agitation and militant Palestinian nationalism. Often, the camp youth confront Israeli soldiers who pass at the main highway near the camp, or penetrating into it. So also in recent months. There is certainly felt there the general warming up of the situation in the occupied territories. The same escalation about which Israeli experts again and again make statements such as: "It is not (yet) a third intifada."

Also on this weekend a confrontation developed between soldiers and stone-throwing youths at the gate of el-Fawwar.  The soldiers blocked the gate and started shooting tear gas as well as what is called "rubber bullets". In fact these bullets are of metal, covered with a layer of rubber and - when used   at short range - could be lethal.

On this occasion the range was not that close. Some 40 meters separated the soldiers from the Sarahneh family who were returning home to el-Fawwar after visiting relatives. The 6-year Musab Srahneh was holding his mother's hand when the rubber bullet hit him directly in the eye. He was immediately taken to hospital, but the eye could not be saved. "I still can't believe it. I went out of the home with a child, whole and healthy, and I come back with my little son having to live with only one eye until his last day," said the father to the Palestinian Ma'an press agency. The Palestinian media was the only press reporting on this case.

Two days after the weekend that the Israeli girl and the Palestinian boy were wounded, the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, delivered a speech at Bar Ilan University. He had once before spoken at this same location - four and half years ago. The 2009 Bar Ilan speech was the occasion where Netanyahu uttered for the first time the words "a Palestinian state", without specifying where it would be and what would be its borders. Also in the 2nd Bar Ilan speech, of this week, Netanyahu did not disperse the fog. He did present a long and substantive list of pre-conditions which Palestinians must meet before the possibility of creating their independent state comes on the agenda. They must give up the Right of Return, and agree that Israel has wide and deep security arrangements within the territory of their state, and of course "recognize Israel as a Jewish state".

Netanyahu drew his arguments from how he sees the history. "The conflict started in 1921 when Arab Palestinians attacked the Immigrants House. That was not because of occupation or territories but because they opposed the immigration of Jews into the country."

The above, at least, is how these lines were translated into English. But it is an inexact translation, since the Hebrew which Netanyahu used included terms whose connotations cannot really be conveyed in any other language. It was not "the immigrants house" but "the house of the Olim", not "immigration of Jews into the country" but "Aliya to the historic Homeland". The term "Aliya" means that a Jew who moves to this country from any other place has ascended upwards, performed a virtuous deed deserving  praise. This good deed can only be performed by a Jew. For example, Jews who came here from Egypt are "Olim" (i.e.: they came back from exile to the land of their ancestors). On the other hand, Muslims or Christians who did the same track from Egypt to here are not considered such. By this ideology, they are considered as "invaders, and unwanted guests in the Jewish ancestral land."

The concepts "Aliya" and "Olim" and the ideology behind them, the Palestinians refused and refuse to accept - in 1921 and nowadays. Also in the year 2013 the Palestinians will not declare the Zionist project to have been justified all the way, and proclaim that it was by right that the Jews have come to inherit the lands where their biblical ancestors lived - even if the Palestinians do accept the accomplished fact, called "the State of Israel" and are willing to make peace with it in the borders which it had until June 1967.

The right-wingers, who had been a bit apprehensive, sighed in relief after hearing Netanyahu - quickly congratulating the PM for "good, strong, Zionist words." Only Yossi Beilin, of Oslo agreement fame, spoiled the party, delving deeper into the depths of Zionist history. In 1891, precisely 30 years before the attack on the House of Immigrants, there arrived in this country Asher Ginsburg, better known as "Achad Ha'am", who was among the founders and important thinkers of the Zionist movement. He visited the first Zionist colonies and was quite disturbed by what he saw. After going back to Russia, he wrote an article which was called "Truth from Eretz Yisrael." This article is usually not included in the curriculum of Israeli schools, which gives precedence to his less controversial ones. But Yossi Beilin took care to publish significant quotations this week:

"Abroad, we are used to believe that the Arabs are all desert savages, who don't see and don't understand what is going on around them. But this is a big mistake. The Arab, like all Semites, has a sharp mind and is full of cunning. The Arabs, and especially the city dwellers, see and understand what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve in the country. However, they keep silent and pretend not to understand, because at the moment they don't regard our acts as a danger to their future. But if the moment will come when the life of our people in Eretz Yisrael will develop to the point that we will displace, to a lesser or greater extent, the people of the land, these people will not easily make place. (...)

"This certainly we could have learned from our past and present, that we must be careful not to arouse the anger of the people of the land by despicable acts. We must be very careful in our behavior towards the strangers among whom we come back to live, behaving to them with honor and respect, and needless to say: with justice. And what do our brethren in Eretz Yisrael do? Precisely the opposite! Slaves they have been in the land of their exile. And suddenly they find themselves in boundless liberty, wild liberty as can only be found in such a country as Turkey. This sudden change has aroused in their hearts a tendency towards despotism, as always happens when 'the slave becomes a king.' They are behaving to the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, unjustly trespass on their land; beating them shamefully without any sufficient reason, and even boast of all these deeds. There is nobody to stand in the bridge and stop this despicable and dangerous tendency. Indeed our brethren are right when they say that the Arab respects only who shows him strength and courage. However, this is only when he feels that his opponent is right. It is not like that when he has good reason to consider what his opponent does as outright injustice and robbery. In that case, though the Arab may keep silent and restrain himself for some time, he will keep the grudge in his heart and there is nobody like him to take revenge."

Hundred twenty two years after Achad Ha'am wrote these lines, Lior Dayan went to Ramallah. Lior Dayan, an Israeli writer and journalist, grandson of the general and politician Moshe Dayan, and son of the actor and film director Assi Dayan, has prepared an extensive TV reportage of what he has seen among the Palestinians in a city which is half an hour drive of the center of Jerusalem and which most Israelis never visited.

In addition to what was broadcast on TV, Lior Dayan expressed his impressions also verbally: In Ramallah I felt anger in the streets. Everywhere you get the feeling that you are on the threshold of a flare-up. My feeling, when I was there, that it is just a matter of time until the next Intifada breaks out. On the day when I came back from Ramallah, there already started stormy demonstrations following the hunger strike of the Palestinian detainees in Ofer Prison. Therefore there is in my eyes supreme importance to seeking an agreement with the Palestinians and moving to a two-state solution. That's what I understood in Ramallah: we live on boroughed time, we are two minutes before the next explosion. I saw it in the looks of the people, in the graffiti on the unpainted walls, in the eyes of Arafat and Abu Mazen which looked to me from framed photos everywhere where I entered; from the despair of the taxi driver who told me that his two sons can't find a job.

It is important to admit that this fury has good reason. To go through the Qalandiya checkpoint is as enjoyable as going through a meat grinder. From day to day there are more settlement buildings on the Ramallah horizon, and on the way to Ramallah you pass Refugee Camps which provide the human eye with unendurable sights."

The similarity to the warning of Achad Ha'am, not heeded by his generation, may not be accidental.