by Amira Hass
March 27, 2003
It has been almost a week since the United States and Britain launched the attack on Iraq, and the horror scenarios outlined by the Palestinians in recent weeks - concerning Israel's military policy toward them - are not coming true. These scenarios were drawn up by private individuals and official spokesmen or activists from various organizations. They warned that international attention would be focused on what is happening in Iraq, and under that cover, Israel would take advantage of the opportunity to increase its attacks.
But a full curfew has not been imposed on the West Bank territories. The internal closure has not been toughened. The frequent Israel Defense Forces attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, which took about 10 lives on each occasion, have not been renewed. And the horror scenarios of mass deportation, internal expulsion and a direct blow to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat have certainly not come true.
Cynics will say it is still early to breathe a sigh of relief at the non-realization of the horror scenarios. After all, the war in Iraq has only just begun. Perhaps if ultimately the Iraqis do try to attack Israel - the reaction will in part roll over onto the Palestinians. However, it could be said the warnings have been effective: The United States in particular, but also the European countries, have warned Israel not to escalate the situation at a time when the countries attacking Iraq need regional stability.
The alarm bells rung by the Palestinians before the war with Iraq could have created the impression that their lives were "back to normal" - a not unbearable routine. The proof: It hasn't blown up. Yet this is not the case. By any economic, sociological, historical and humane standard, about 3.5 million Palestinians are living in a catastrophic situation and constant disruption of normal life. Horror scenarios are in fact happening every day to every individual and community.
Vaguely, people in Israel are hearing about the chronic unemployment and the extreme poverty that would have unraveled the social fabric of any society with less solidarity than the Palestinian one. Only internal Palestinian solidarity and European and Arab philanthropy are preventing situations of mass starvation. Every day between 10 and 20 "wanted men" are arrested, according to reports from the IDF, which does not report how many of them were released a day later, or how many were arrested so they would become collaborators, how many were beaten, what their conditions of detention were in tents exposed to the rain and wind and how much time goes by before they are allowed to see a lawyer or their family.
The many dead have been mainly an opportunity to show more pictures of funerals accompanied by cries for revenge. The Palestinian wounded, among them many children - a huge burden on impoverished families - are an opportunity to point out the Iraqi money going to the terrorists. The limitations on Palestinians' freedom of movement are an opportunity to film wadis where Palestinians are trying to break the strict internal closure to get to work, to school and to their families. An opportunity to show how the security authorities have stretched their limits to the breaking point.
Anything else, anything that has to do with the individual, is of no interest: hours of delay at the roadblocks; routine beatings; harassing drivers; confiscating taxicabs; fines imposed on drivers; sick people and elderly people transferred in ambulances over muddy slopes. What is being felt every hour of every day by hundreds of thousands of relatives of people who have been arrested, wounded or killed and high-school students who break the closure and pass under the wide open eyes of the guns on tanks and armored personnel carriers - has made no impression at all on Israeli and Western consciousness.
The routing of the separation fence will be changed in accordance with the recommendations of the lobby of the Jewish settlers in the territories. In Israel in any case people do not want to know that this means a broad battery of a variety of types of fortifications, at the expense of Palestinian land, the livings of tens of thousands of Palestinians, Palestinian freedom of movement, the Palestinian gross national product and the possibility of a viable state. The bottom line is that Israel, the IDF and its soldiers are waging a war every day against 3.5 million Palestinians. In Israel, they are convinced this is what needs to be done to stop the terror. It is a fact that the terror attacks have lessened.
The Palestinians' need to be wary of disasters and horror scenarios even worse than the current situation derives primarily from the recognition that this disastrous status quo of theirs is not succeeding in shocking the policy makers in the influential Western world. Not the way a single terror attack on Israeli civilians influences them. The drawing up of frightening scenarios - that are also based to a large extent on the experience of the not-too-distant past - is a desperate way to break the routine of impotence, the slowness of response and even the indifference on the part of the Western countries to the speed with which Israel and the Palestinians are losing any chance for a fair resolution of the conflict.
Amira Hass is an award-winning Israeli journalist who lives in Ramalla in the West Bank. She is author of Drinking the Sea At Gaza: Days and Nights In A Land Under Siege (Owl Books, 2000). She writes for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, where this article first appeared (http://www.haaretz.com/).