Reading through the archives

We all suffer from a short memory. Reading and listening to media reports about the anniversary of the second Intifada, it seems that this only includes ‘suicide bombers and incursions’, as was said on International Correspondents, a CNN program, yesterday.

It’s not only the past week, or past month, or past year that fuels Palestinians to continue resisting oppression. It’s the collective memory. If one adds up the atrocities and keeping sanity, one would be adviced to contact the nearest menthal health hospital.

Yes, we can remember the atrocities of April and May 2002 but do you remember the headlines of Newsweek on April 5, 1982, exactly twenty years before that?

‘The West Bank: Israel Cracks Down’
Newsweek, April 5, 1982

A friend recently sent me a copy. The article, written by Mark Whitaker and Milan J. Kubic, reported about the ‘fiercest wave of violence to sweep the occupied territories since Israel seized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War’. It reported that the ‘Israeli army had flooded the area with armed patrols, smashing locks off shop doors to break the strikes and answering hails of stones with tear gas and bullets’.

No surprise, the same names appear: Ariel Sharon, at that time Israel’s defense minister and Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who was the West Bank’s military governor until December 1981. Interestingly, Newsweek’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Milan J. Kubic spoke with Ben Eliezer about the future. She asked: ‘What will happen in another ten, twenty years?’ Ben Eliezer answered:

‘The mix of the Israeli and Palestinian societies is bad for us. There is a big problem in giving a gun to a young soldier and telling him to keep order in the streets. I once saw a paratrooper after such duty, and he cried - he was taught to fight the enemy, he told me, and not to do this bloody business of breaking up demonstrations’.

Twenty years later, Ben Eliezer did not give guns to young soldiers, but sent Israeli tanks into Palestinian refugee camps and had Apache helicopters and F-16s bomb Palestinian homes.

In that same interview, Ben Eliezer said: ‘If there is violence, we should punish only the guilty individual, not the whole community’.

Twenty years later, Ben Eliezer ordered Israeli soldiers to blow up homes of Palestinian families, imposed round-the-clock curfews on the whole population, and ordered the deportation of Palestinians. Ben Eliezer ordered the punishment of a whole community for resisting Ben Eliezer’s oppression of Palestinians.

A 21-years old Israeli lieutenant, who was on reserve duty in the West Bank in April 1982, said: ‘When we march down the streets enforcing a curfew, we’re not proud. The Palestinian kids are our enemies - and yet they fight for freedom and for their national cause, and those are values we have been educated to admire.’ Most probably, today, at the age of 41, this reserve officer is back in the West Bank, ordering his soldiers to do what he had to do.

Pictures in Newsweek’s April 5, 1982 edition show Israeli armored personnel carriers and tanks. Twenty years later, driving through the West Bank, the same pictures could be taken.

Even, Israel’s intention on crushing any local Palestinian leadership, at that time, the 22-member National Guidance Committee, consisting of elected mayors, trade unions, women’s organizations and others, is not something different today. At that time, Israel expelled several mayors and detained others, some of whom had already been severely maimed as a result of car bombs placed by militant settlers, backed by the Israeli occupation army, in June 1980.

Then, as well as today, most Israelis support a hardline approach on Palestinians and the occupied territories. Then, as well as today, ‘the aggressiveness of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories has driven many Palestinians to despair’ (Newsweek, 5 April 1982). And, then, as well as today, the Israeli government argues ‘that many of their harsh measures in the occupied territories are justified because of the legitimate need to stamp out Palestinian terrorism and ensure Israel’s survival’ (Newsweek, April 5, 1982).

The story ends with: ‘Such arguments don’t convince the Palestinians, and their current mood suggests that they wll not simply knuckle under to occupation or annexation indefinitely’.

Ben Eliezer, twenty years ago, was not sure. He said: ‘We can’t withdraw one milimeter unless we have total guarantees of our security. We can’t let the Palestinians have their state, because it would have only one dream - to destroy us and take over all of Palestine. So we can’t compromise, and in a few decades we may become a binational state. We’re in a trap. Perhaps there is no solution’.

Unlike Ben Eliezer, I think there is a solution. Reading Newsweek of April 5, 1982 that most Palestinians remain determined not to be driven from the land they own, shows that twenty years have not changed the conviction of Palestinians today.