Roads Lead Nowhere for Palestinians
by Sherri Muzher
September 24, 2002
Is it just me, or does it seem that Palestinians are damned if they do and damned if they don't? When there's violence against Israeli civilians, the entire Palestinian population suffers. When there's no violence against Israeli civilians, the entire Palestinian population suffers.
The Israelis crowed about six weeks of no bombings. Six weeks of relative calm for the Israeli people. They patted themselves on the back since the tranquility was attributed to Israel's measures of curfew and continued siege on every Palestinian city. So the brutal measures continued.
And for those of us who advocate nonviolence against civilians as one strategy to winning Palestinian freedom, Israel essentially told us that calm for its own citizens wasn't enough. Israel didn't withdraw or pull its tanks back even a little. More than 75 Palestinians were killed in 30 days. Palestinian homes and buildings continued to be destroyed by Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, and people could only buy groceries when the Israelis allowed them to. Yet, our media and political analysts classified these six weeks as "calm."
When the two consecutive suicide bombings occurred, each Israeli spokesperson outdid himself in blaming the Palestinian Authority for the attack. They're just not trying to rein in the people, they claimed. The spokesmen cleverly invoked and manipulated the tragedy of Sept. 11, and discussed the fears of having to live next to Palestinian "terrorists."
In terms of control, the Israeli Defense Force has tanks in every town, and they control when people can even leave their homes for a breath of fresh air. They've destroyed virtually every remnant of Palestinian civil society, but somehow it is the responsibility of the army-less Palestinians to protect the Israelis who possess the world's fourth most powerful army. Palestinians can't even protect their own children, for heaven's sake. Only days ago, the IDF repeated a familiar scene by using live ammunition on young schoolchildren who protested a curfew. A little boy was shot and killed.
I immediately thought of an interview published earlier this year in Israel's Yerushalayim magazine. Renowned Israeli military expert and Professor Martin Van Creveld bluntly questioned the wisdom of Israeli military actions in the current intifada. "How can you be just when you are fighting against a five-year-old child?" he asked. "There is no such thing; regardless of how many times the Avigdor Liebermans and Benny Elons explain to us that we are just. We get up in the morning and can't look at ourselves in the mirror, and the refusing (to serve) – which by the way began in the Lebanon war – is testimony to this."
It's times like these I feel a bit hopeful that there is some realism and soul-searching in Israel. Most times, I'm not so sure. During the peace process, so long as Israelis were able to drink their coffee in peace, few were concerned about the suffering next door in the Occupied Territories. And ironically, many people didn't even use the word "occupation" until the suicide bombings became more regular. So, unwittingly, the Israelis have rewarded Palestinian violence by forcing the world to talk about a decades-long occupation only after such acts.
The Israelis justify the occupation of Palestine by saying that Palestinians force them to do it. This reminds me of the abusive husband who knows that hitting his wife is wrong but blames the wife for making him do it. "If only she would do what she's told!" Indeed, if only Palestinians did what they're told, Israel wouldn't be depriving them of basic liberties. And if only the Palestinians accepted Ehud Barak's "generous" plan that would have allowed for a Palestinian entity resembling Swiss cheese, everything would be fine.
But the Israeli occupation is 35 years old – the last remaining occupation in modern history – and there were no violent uprisings for 27 of these years. So why didn't the Israelis leave during these years of "calm"? And where were the world's accolades for Palestinian restraint under these dire circumstances?
Finally, what sort of message is Israel and the world sending to me and other Palestinian advocates of nonviolence against civilians? Because no matter what Palestinians do, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American lawyer, writer and activist based in Michigan.