by Ran HaCohen
July 26, 2003
The Palestinians have now reached a so-called Hudna, or internal cease-fire. Armed resistance to the occupation, as well as terror attacks on Israeli citizens, have fallen to a minimum: there has not been any massive terror attack since the 11th of June, considerably longer than the "seven days of quiet" demanded in the past by PM Sharon as a precondition before demonstrating his promised "painful concessions".
The Hudna is not a new idea: the Palestinians and Egypt have suggested it several times before. Whenever the Palestinians came close to signing it, the Israeli army initiated a major escalation – usually an assassination with extensive "collateral damage". Last year, when Israel's President Moshe Katzav asked to go to Jordan to discuss a Hudna initiative, PM Sharon vetoed his trip.
This time, even the Israeli assassination attempt of Hamas leader Rantisi failed to do the trick: the Hudna is a fact, and, given the masses on the streets, a paper signed between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Islamic Jihad seems to give Israelis much more security than one of the strongest armies on earth has been able to. Following years in which Israel did its best to pulverize the Palestinians physically, politically and institutionally, one is astonished by the almost absolute obedience to the Hudna on the Palestinian side.
The truth should be said: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from ending. The parties' visions and expectations are incommensurable. In the long term, the Palestinians expect the evacuation of Israeli settlements; Sharon – take my word for it – will never dismantle a single settlement, and won't even freeze settlement activity; he says it over and over again. But even in the short term, the Palestinians expect the release of all Palestinian detainees, whom they consider prisoners of war; Israel, though it often also claims "there is a war going on" in the territories, might release some 300 detainees: just 5% of the 6.000 Palestinians arrested in Israel, and probably less than the number of those arrested in the past few weeks alone. And even this symbolic release has been postponed over and over again. Add to it new Israeli provocations, like opening the Temple Mount for Jewish zealots to visit, and you don't have to be a prophet to see that peace is not where we are going to.
Most readers probably take me now for a hopeless party-pooper. After all, it all sounds so good in the main-stream media. Okay: I won't argue. Just listen to two marginal, insignificant stories. Then draw your own conclusions.
Israel 2nd Channel Evening News (21.7.03) described renewed efforts to enforce traffic laws in Gaza. The Palestinian Police is again in charge, trying to control the 1,5 million Palestinians who (with some exceptions, as we shall soon see), for the first time since September 2000, enjoy the luxury of free movement in two-thirds of their 50 km long and a few km wide Strip (a third is taken by Israeli settlements, army bases, and roads for Israelis only), with nothing but an electronic fence to limit their freedom.
Commenting on the pictures of Palestinian policemen training in destroyed police bases in Gaza, the Israeli News expressed hope that stolen Israeli cars would soon be returned to Israel. Indeed, stealing Israeli cars was a prosperous Palestinian industry. Car thieves used to steal thousands of cars, taking them to the Occupied Territories to be re-sold or broken down for spare parts. Almost everyone was happy: the thieves enjoyed a good income, the owners bought new cars paid by the insurance, the State enjoyed the high taxes on new import cars and had little motivation to stop the thieves. There are about 12.000 stolen Israeli cars in Gaza, 5.000 of them used by Palestinian security forces. Now, thanks to the re-emerging Palestinian Police, Israelis hope to get their stolen cars back. Why not? In times of peace, stolen goods should be returned.
Now read the following short report, published on page 12 of Ha'aretz on the 6th of July:
"Elite units of the Israeli army have received for operational use 23 high-priced jeeps of the Palestinian Police, seized by Israel during fighting in the territories. Last year, during the siege on Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah in Operation Defence Shield, a commander of an elite unit detected 23 Land rover jeeps. The British manufactured jeeps cost hundreds of thousands of NIS each. Thanks to their design, they were especially suited for that elite unit […] Ever since, several elite units have competed for the vehicles, all eager to get them. It now turns out that the army has decided to give the jeeps for the use of several elite units; among those enjoying them is probably the unit whose commander seized them in the first place."
Israel is outraged by a recent change in US policy: starting this month, Israelis need to apply for a visa to get into the States. Since its announcement, this issue has been constantly in the news. Having to apply for a visa, which includes such draconic measures as "a personal interview with a consular official in English"(!), as Ha'aretz (9.7.03) notes, is conceived as a slap in the face to those tens of thousands of poor innocent Israelis who just want to spend a few thousand dollars on a trip to the other side of the world. Israelis feel insulted, humiliated, criminalized and violently curtailed in their freedom of movement, all in the name of "security reasons" (what an excuse!). As Ha'aretz put it, in a passionate editorial devoted to this outrageous American step:
"[W]ith all due sympathy, especially in Israel, for the American need to tighten its homeland security, it was correct for the foreign ministry to express its reservations about the hard line the U.S. is taking with Israelis who want to visit. Israel and the U.S. have a very close strategic relationship in security cooperation. Is the relationship only meaningful in the political and military sphere? Is there no civil dimension to this intimacy? […] And now, with the need for personal interviews at American consulates for anyone between the age of 16 and 60, there is real concern that the waiting list will grow ever longer and many will miss the dates of their planned journeys. […] Hopefully, the U.S. authorities will find a way to ease the way for Israeli citizens seeking to visit their country and help make tangible the special relations between the two countries." (9.7.03)
What a scandal indeed. Israelis might be late for their planned summer holidays abroad. Now read the following excerpts from a long article by Amira Hass on the small agricultural village of Seafeh in the Gaza Strip – some 180 people, after more than half its families left it – locked in between expanding Jewish settlements and surrounded by an electronic fence. To get out of their village, the people of Seafeh need neither a visa nor an interview in English.
"A gate has been set into the fence. It is locked during most of the day, and is officially opened only to residents of Seafeh, and only from 7 till 9 in the morning and 2 to 5 in the afternoon. Every morning and afternoon an armored personnel carrier arrives there: After a search the soldiers open the gate and the armored personnel carrier supervises the pedestrian traffic from afar. Officially, that is. But often the soldiers are late, and the gate opens way after the designated hour. Yesterday, for example, it opened at 7:40 in the morning. During the school year, the schoolchildren are regularly late for class. As are the inhabitants who work outside their village […] Entry to anyone who is not an inhabitant of Seafeh is prohibited. […] Palestinian medical teams always encounter difficulties trying to enter. […] The easing of movement in the Gaza Strip after the hudna has skipped Seafeh: In fact, regulations have become more severe. […] All of a sudden, after the hudna, carts were prohibited from exiting every day, and the exit of tractors was prohibited entirely. About two weeks ago, the inhabitants were told that henceforth they would also be permitted to take out agricultural produce only on Monday and Thursday. Why? They were given no explanation. […] The inhabitants of Seafeh are forbidden to go down to the seashore. People sit in their houses, 300 meters from the beach, and sigh, 'How I miss the sea.'"
Ran HaCohen teaches in the Tel-Aviv University's Department of Comparative Literature, and is currently working on his PhD thesis. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. HaCohen’s semi-regular “Letter from Israel” column can be found at AntiWar.com, where this article first appeared. Posted with author’s permission.