The struggle has been not to become a bomb

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Let’s start with a question: How does someone become a suicide bomber? Perhaps before answering this question in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one must ask first what it means to be a Palestinian.

To be a Palestinian today means to have been deprived of the elementary right to live in one’s own country. It means having been displaced, from one place to another, and under conditions of complete destitution. It means having lost one’s property, the plot of land which was cultivated, and the home. To be Palestinian means belonging to a family which has been broken up and scattered to all corners of the world.

You know that to live under occupation is amongst the worst of fates. But what do you think of living under an occupation that lacks regard even for those laws governing occupation? Isn’t this to live under a regime that totally scorns human rights and denies the natural rights of a society to live according to its internal laws and traditions?

Wouldn’t you agree that any person living under occupation as the right to struggle for liberation? Don’t you think that the struggle for one’s freedom is a cause stemming from the inherent rights of every human being?

Would you go out and protest the occupation? Do you know that you might be shot by live ammunition, rubber coated metal bullets, teargas and that you might be beaten by clubs? You would hear shooting and shouting. You may see your neighbor, your friend, or even your relative lying prostrate on his right side with blood flowing from his mouth, nose and right eye. Blood would cover flow and cover his face. Remember what the universal declaration of human rights said?

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. What about the Convention? The one that covers the protection of civilians under occupation? Weren’t the following acts prohibited at any time and place whatsoever with respect to protected persons: violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture?

Can you imagine being arrested and interrogated by the Israeli occupation? The occupation forces kick down your door at 2am and arrest you. They take you to a cell where you are held for a week, without trial, without access to a solicitor, without the right to even one phone call.

Perhaps you awoke from a restless sleep, the wounds of yesterday’s interrogation session still burning. In all, you counted thirteen deep cuts, seven electricity burns and four large blue-colored bruises. And all this because you did not talk. “Who were you working with? What is your code name? From whom did you receive your orders?”

A million questions but no answers. A slap for each unanswered query, a kick for every group of ten, and something special for every fifty moments of silent fear. You perhaps think “solitary confinement is better than the interrogation cell, at least it is quieter”. Your interrogators didn’t want to kill you, they just wanted to see you dead.

Or maybe, just maybe, your torturers decide to let you go. On one condition: You must report to the police station once a week. And once a week, when you show up, you’re beaten again. Or they pay somebody else to beat you up. Or they follow you everywhere. Or you and your family start to receive death threats, by post and phone. When does the torture stop? It doesn’t. They could kill you at any time, but they don’t. First they want to make an example of you. Torture you psychologically, terrorize your children, harass your family, threaten your friends. Make your life a living hell.

Imagine the hunger and suffering with which you would have to contend. How does it feel to have the pangs of hunger mix with the fear of a lunatic soldier with his finger on the trigger. When he shoots, the media would claim that he was mentally unstable and his victims would be forgotten. What about the endless “security” procedures, such as the prisoner count, designed to crush your dignity to dust every day.

Can you imagine that you would have brothers who would be also imprisoned, whom are sick and sentenced for life? Would this suffering be worth of media coverage? Perhaps you would feel the dying of a thousand deaths during your mother’s visit as tears run down her face like knives cutting into your heart?

Would you think that you would deserve at least the right to be heard?

A million questions but no answers. Imagine that your eight-room house was dynamited by the occupation forces. Even in times of so-called “peace” the occupation forces continue to demolish homes, not only in the territories occupied in 1967 but also within the Green-line. Since the “peace process”, the secret deception, about 750 Palestinian homes were destroyed, over 400 since 1997, and 175 since Ehud Barak came in power.

Imagine that your home and its remaining contents, along with a number of goods placed within the vicinity, were destroyed or irreparably damaged. Just think about it. You would be left, including your family, on the street to fend for yourself.

Perhaps you experienced enforced isolation through measures such as curfews, closures, and sealing. Almost every Palestinian living under occupation has been confined to his or her home on at least a number of occasions. Almost every Palestinian living under occupation has also been subjected to prolonged curfew as well, in many cases repeatedly so. Did you know that the effect of closure and curfew has been not only a complete disruption of daily life and near-catastrophic economic losses, but also wide spread hunger and medical emergency?

A million questions but no answers. And still you are labeled as terrorist. Yet, people don’t understand why there can’t be coexistence. Why people commit suicide and blew themselves up in crowded places. The struggle has been not to become a bomb and on some points the amazing thing is not the occurrence of suicide bombings, rather the rarity of them.

If people tell you that they understand, a culture-shock appears. It has been my understanding that the world out there will never understand. And who on earth in their right mind would understand terror and the killing of innocent people? Why do Palestinians kill themselves and Israelis in such an horrific way at the bus stop or in a crowded market? Does one really want to know? Do they want to come to agree that it is an act of absolute despair and a very serious stage of the seemingly perpetual conflict?

A million questions but no answers. Palestinians have tried everything. All they wanted was to go home. You are given an identity number and a permit to reside. Armed struggle, diplomacy, summits, resolutions, resistance, terrorism, resolutions, uprising, children of the stones, the intifada, summits, talks, declarations, strikes, demonstrations, stand-fastness, and apathy.

What else could we try? Oh yes, peace. The famous handshake on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993 marked the hopeful beginning of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and created global optimism. However, Palestinians realized that the agreements were more ink on paper and even on paper, the agreements were not providing the freedom they had struggled for. How can an occupied people guarantee the security of its occupier? Palestinians thought that the signing of the Oslo Agreement meant no more bloodshed. But two months after the signing of the agreement, Jewish colonists killed three Palestinians in Turkumia and Hebron. On 25 February 1994, a Jewish colonist opened fire on praying Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron under the protection of Israeli soldiers, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring 88 others. During the demonstrations, in the aftermath of this massacre, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 28 more Palestinians.

In September 1996 Israeli soldiers shot and killed 65 Palestinians and injured 1600 in various Palestinian cities. Palestinian towns and villages were surrounded and placed under siege. Cobra helicopters were used and many journalists and members of medical teams were among the victims. These massacres happened in the period of the peace process.

Exactly four years later, in September 2000 Israeli soldiers and settlers shot and killed until now more than 296 Palestinians and injured more than 12000. Do you really want to know how this insanity can be stopped? How could the Israeli imposed closure on the West Bank and Gaza, with the majority of villages isolated from one another, be lifted? How can the regular attacks by Israeli heavy machine gun and tank fire and helicopter missiles on residential areas be stopped? What needs to be done to prevent the killing of Palestinians with live ammunition, rubber coated metal bullets and high velocity bullets?

The tools of repression being used against Palestinians in the attempt to quash the intifada are many. The Israeli response to this uprising can be summarized in a few words: more of the same, but much more. Few of the repressive measures undertaken by the Israeli occupation since September 2000 were without precedent. These include regular attacks by the Israeli military with heavy machine gun fire, linked automatic 40mm grenades, tank fire and helicopter missiles on residential areas.

More of the same opening fire at mostly unarmed demonstrations, extra-judicial punishments like home demolitions, collective sanctions like prolonged closures, and other illegal actions which had been routinely meted out to the occupied population throughout the length of the occupation.

A constant feature before and during the latest escalation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people has been the sheer disproportionality in the Israeli response. What has changed is the scale of repression. More than 296 Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers since Sharon’s provocative visit to the Haram as-Sharif on September 28, more than 12,000 Palestinians were injured.

Reading through news reports, eye-witness accounts, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that there is a willing sadism on the part of the occupier, a perversity filtered down through their commanding officers from Israel’s bosses, from the smug self-satisfaction of the settlers. It does not seem enough to attack Palestinian men, women, children and the aged, one must also beat up the already injured, the ill, and the handicapped. It does not seem enough to close down Palestinian towns and villages, one must also shell neighborhoods and refugee camps. It does not seem enough to physically torture prisoners, one must also destroy them psychologically.

The standard of judgment is always one-sided. It is always the “purity of Israel’s soul,” never the illegality much les the immorality of occupation and apartheid. It is the smudge of Western civilization, never the occupier’s sinister claw on an anguished people made scapegoat for the sins of the West. If once Palestinians erred in desperation by aping their conquerors in resorting to violence, they nevertheless clung to the naive hope that justice will out.

No matter what Palestinians do, Israel continues its jack-in-the-box antics, popping up here with a new formula, there with a new demand, over there with a new excuse. Meanwhile, the brutality escalates sub rosa, and naiveté has its limits.

The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda) and ElectronicIntifada.net

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