After nine months of a seemingly endless funeral march for more than 500 of their sons, daughters, fathers, sisters, brothers and mothers, Palestinians are now being told to “stop the violence“ in the latest US-mediated agreement. A taxi driver delayed at the Qalandia checkpoints sums up Palestinian frustrations: “We are supposed to stop shooting our pathetic guns so their bulldozers and tanks can continue to rip through us without a scratch.”
The agreement, brokered by CIA Director William Tenet, effectively calls on Palestinians lay down their arms–including stones– while Israel continues the occupation of their land. Palestinians, besieged by grief, anger and humiliation are rightfully angry that their leader, Yasser Arafat, agreed to such a one-sided US-Israeli maneuver to quell the uprising.
Although Israel has refused even to halt expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements on expropriated Palestinian land, Palestinians are told not to exercise their internationally recognized right to resist occupation by any means available, including armed struggle.
Israel’s commitment to the cease-fire is conditioned on Arafat‘s behavior. The PA must participate in joint security measures, collect all mortars and arms from the Palestinians; prevent arms smuggling and halt incitement to attack illegal settlements that are built on their land. Above all, they must arrest Palestinian activists whose names are dictated by Israel.
On the other hand, Palestinians have little say in what measures Israel must take. Sharon‘s government is not obligated to freeze settlement construction, a minimal gesture of good faith. Israeli soldiers and settlers who have killed innocent Palestinian civilians are not to be arrested. Israel is not required to collect the Uzis from the settlers who regularly go on rampages into Palestinian villages nor are they required to stop anti-Palestinian propaganda (in Israel or the US).
While I was in the occupied territories last week, I saw two Israeli soldiers beat a peace activist and break her arm. She had no weapons and was not resisting arrest. I watched an IDF jeep ram a Palestinian car, meters away from me. The soldier pulled its driver out of the car and beat him. A news clip of two soldiers beating a Palestinian young boy who appeared to be no more than 10 years old is an example of the daily suffering of the Palestinian people. Human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases depicting such excessive Israeli brutality in the face of unarmed protestors.
At a demonstration in Al Khader village, where Israel is expanding an illegal settlement on land taken from the villagers, I saw soldiers shoot at civilians armed only with stones that never reached their target.
At checkpoints, I watched Palestinians in one car after another surrender their color coded Israeli ID-cards for soldiers to inspect while they were forced to wait under the sun just to pass from one Palestinian town to another.
In the last nine months, Israel has used sharpshooters, assassinations, Apache helicopter gunships, tank missiles, and F-16 fighter jets against a principally unarmed civilian population sinking further and further into the quick sand of poverty.
Add to this the demolition of hundreds of houses, which has left thousands of Palestinians homeless. The uprooted olive trees, the kids who languish in Israeli detention centers without charge or trial, the thousands who cannot work, go to school or step outside of their homes are muffled by the official Israeli rhetoric of “self-defense“ as though they are not really a ruthless occupying power that has been condemned repeatedly by the international community.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch the UN Commission on Human Rights and more have demanded that the international community intervene, at the very least, to provide an unarmed “observer“ force in the occupied territories.
Yet Israel categorically rejects international presence and accordingly, on March 28th, the US vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have backed the creation of an international observer force to help protect civilians. Just days before that, on April 18th, the US was the only country to vote against a Resolution “expressing grave concern at continuing Israeli settlements.“ (Still wondering why the US was voted off the UN Human Rights Committee?)
And now we arrive at yet another US-brokered document that undermines the basic rights of a people struggling for self-determination and freedom. The Tenet cease-fire agreement worked not only to twist Arafat into submission, but also to deflect attention from the Mitchell report that called for a freeze in settlement construction on Palestinian land, something Sharon rejected outright.
I think Palestinians should take the Tenet cease-fire, put it with the Mitchell report, the Sharm Al-Sheik documents, Camp David, Oslo, Wye and all the other agreements in a big pile in the middle of Ramallah. They should add to the pile all of their color coded Israeli ID-cards and burn them to ashes. After they dance around the bonfire, they should walk to Qalandia checkpoint, unarmed (not even stones) and keep walking on their own land to keep their intifada alive. They should walk for their collective past and rich history; for the future of their violated children; for their stolen farms and their thwarted dignity. And when they can‘t walk anymore they should stop and hold elections for a new leadership that will stop signing documents that do little more than undermine their basic human rights.