An Arab Perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict By Rachida El Diwani

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An Arab Perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

By Rachida El Diwani

Scholar-in-Residence, Chatham College

Woodland Road, Pittsburgh PA 15232

  1. Origins of the hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis as seen by the elders of Israel

The Israeli general Har Kali, reflecting on the nature of the confrontations with the Palestinians in 1973 said: “Because we took their land, this gives us the image of being bad, of being aggressive. The Jews always considered that this land belonged to them, but in fact it belonged to the Arabs. I would go farther: I would say the original source of this conflict lies with Israel, with the Jews – and you can quote me. But our attachment to this land is too powerful. The big problem then is to find out “where do we go from here?” (Quoted in “Peace won’t be a plane ticket to Cairo”, in Armed Forces Journal International, Oct. 1973, p. 30; cited in Chomsky Peace in the Middle East, 1996, p. xvi (Foreword).

General Moshe Dayan was reported to have said to a group of high school students in Haifa in May 1973 that the establishment of the Jewish state had been at the expense and displacement of the Arabs (as reported in AP Hamish mar, June 18, 1973, cited by Chomsky, Ibid).

In the same year, in a lecture given at the Israeli Technological Institute in Haifa, he said: “We came to this country, which was already populated by Arabs, and we were establishing a Hebrew, that is, a Jewish state here. In some areas of the country we bought the land from the Arabs. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages, and you do not know even the names of these Arab villages, they are not there anymore” (Haaretz, April 4th 1969, cited by Chomsky, Ibid).

It must be noted, however, that neither Dayan nor other Israeli officials have made comparable statements in their many fund raising trips to the U.S. If this is regrettable it is hardly surprising. If one wishes to preserve a conception of Israeli history in which the Palestinians appear as the personification of evil, it is precisely this kind of caricature, which so often seems to dominate the American treatment of the conflict. And this, in turn, has made Palestinian grievances appear to be fundamentally unsound and historically unjustified. As long as such an image persists, a resolution of the present deadlock seems difficult to conceive.
II. Recognition of Palestinian identity by the elders of Israel
Arie Eliav, one of the former secretaries general of the Labor Party wrote in 1968: “Our relations with the Palestinian Arabs constitute the most important element of our relations with the Arab world as a whole…The Palestinian nation is identifiable as a national identity by national consciousness, by continuous territory where most of the Palestinians live, by a history of several decades replete with battles and wars, and a Diaspora which maintains a link with the Palestinians’ homeland” (New Targets for Israel, E. Lewin Epstein Publishers, Jerusalem, 1968, p. 16).

These statements are impressive if one compares them with the abridged and edited versions of Palestinian realities that many Americans accept. They also suggest that Israelis have forgotten what earlier generations could not deny.

But on the extreme right, we find Menachem Begin in 1969 warning a Kibbutz audience of the danger inherent in recognizing a Palestinian people. He told them: “when you recognize the concept of “Palestine”, you demolish your right to live in Ein Harroresh. If this is Palestine and not the land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not the tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came. Only if it is the land of Israel do you have the right to live in Ein Harroresh. If it is not your country, your fatherland, the country of your ancestors and of your sons, then what are you doing here? You came to another people’s homeland, as they claim, you expelled them and you have taken their land (Yedot Ahranot, Oct. 17th 1969, cited in Chomsky, op. cit., p. 21).

An Israeli writer like Amoz oz in 1969, for whom the abandonment of the Jewish state “is a concession we could not make and shall never be able to make,” can nevertheless appreciate the absolute validity of the right of the Palestinian Arabs to national self-determination in Palestine: “this is our country; it is their country. Right clashes with right, “To be a free people in our land” is a right that is universally valid, or not valid at all.” He sees the conflict as a tragedy, a “clash between total justice and total justice…we are here because we can exist nowhere but here, as a nation, as a Jewish state. The Arabs are here – because Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinians, just as Iraq is the homeland of the Iraqis and Holland the homeland of the Dutch. The Jews have no objective justification other than the right of one who is drowning and grasps the only plank he can. The Palestinian Arabs understand the meaning of Zionism too well. They regard themselves “as the despoiled owners of the whole country” (Meaning of Homeland, New Outlook, Dec. 1967, cited in Chomsky, op. cit., p. 53).

Similarly, General Moshe Dayan in 1969 speaks quite clearly of the justice of the Arab position: “It is not true that the Arabs hate the Jews for personal, religious or racial reasons. They consider us – and justly, from their point of view – as Westerners, foreigners, invaders who have seized an Arab country to turn it into a Jewish state.” (Le Monde, weekly selection, July 99-16, 1969, cited by Chomsky, op. cit., p. 53). Speaking at the funeral of a murdered friend, just before the Sinai campaign of 1967, Dayan said, “We must beware of blaming the murderers. Who are we to reproach them for hating us? Colonists who transform into a Jewish homeland the territory they have lived in for generations.” (Cited in Chomsky, Ibid, July 16, 1969).
III. Military occupation, Human rights violation and violence
There is too much violence today between Palestinians and Israelis. The crucial point is that Israel has been in illegal military occupation, since 1967, of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is the original and continuing violence against which all the Palestinian acts of violence have been directed. To make things worse: the word “terrorism” is being used to blot out legitimate acts of resistance against military occupation and any causal or even narrative connection between the dreadful killing of civilians and thirty-five years of collective punishment is proscribed. Every Western pundit or official who pontificates about Palestinian terrorism needs to ask how forgetting the fact of the occupation is supposed to stop terrorism.

The great mistake of Arafat was to make a deal with the occupation. The discussions were all to do with the Israeli security: Nothing was said about Palestinian security, and the struggle of his people to achieve an independent state. Israeli security, to the exclusion of anything else has become the recognized international priority that allow everybody to preach the Palestinians about non-violence while remaining totally silent on the occupation itself. The Israelis’ mistake has been to imagine that by conning Arafat and his coterie into interminable discussions and tiny concessions it would be a general Palestinian quiescence. But it did not work that way.

Israel is now waging a war against civilians, pure and simple, although you will never hear it put that way in the US. This is a racist war, and in its strategy and tactics, a colonial one as well. People are being killed because they are not Jews. What an irony! Yet the media almost never refers to “occupied territories”, but rather to “violence in Israel” as if the main battlefields are the concert halls and cafes of Tel Aviv and not in fact the ghettos and besieged refugee camps of Palestine that have already been surrounded by 150 illegal Israeli settlements. For the past ten years, the great fraud of Oslo was foisted on the world with hardly an awareness that only 18% of the West Bank were given up, and 60% of Gaza.

The “Mid-East violence”, the catch all word for the ethnic cleansing that Israel is wrecking on the Palestinians in their ghettos and camps, is the expression used in the American media to talk about the problem. Nobody, in the media, has ever tried to point out the difference between an attacking army fighting a colonial war on the territory of the people it has occupied for 35 years, and the people defending themselves against that butchery. Of course not, nobody in the media bother to say honestly that there is no Palestinian occupation, there are no Palestinian F-16’s, no Apache helicopters, no gunboats, no Merkava tanks, in short, no Palestinian occupation of Israel.

The picture you are getting here is that Israelis are battling for their lives instead for their settlements and military bases on the occupied lands of Palestine. No maps have been run for months in the American media.

Nothing is said about the hell Palestinians have been living for 35 years of military occupation, villages and towns are undergoing sieges with 24-hour curfews, electricity and water cut-off, systematic round-up and removal of young men, the wanton destruction and smashing of refugee houses, wholesale destruction of property (and I am not talking of night clubs or sports facilities but of shacks and lean-tos that furnished twice displaced refugees with hovels for bare subsistence), and limitless cases of sadistic cruelty to unarmed and undefended civilians who are pushed and beaten and left to bleed to death, women allowed to give birth to still born babies while they wait needlessly at Israeli road-blocks, old men and women made to strip and take off their shoes and walk barefoot by a gum-chewing 18-year old Israeli soldiers waving around an M-16 that American taxes pay for.

The uncounted death and wounded, the unburied and unassisted, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of lives maimed, distorted, catastrophically marked by wantonly caused suffering, all of it ordered at a safe distance from the action in leafy, calm West Jerusalem by men for whom the West Bank and Gaza are distant holes filled with insects and rodents that must be “subdued” and driven out, taught a lesson in the accepted jargon of Israeli’s superb military.

Besides symptomatically revealing the workings of an obsessed mind, bent on destruction and sheer hatred, Sharon’s words and acts indicate the failure of reason and criticisms loosen on the world since 9-11. Yes, there was a terrorist outrage, but there’s more to the world than terror: there is politics, and struggle, and history, and injustice, and resistance and yes, state terror as well. Many in the West have succumbed to the promiscuous misuse of language and sense, by which everything the politicians do not like has become terror and what they do is supposedly pure and simple and good… fighting terror, no matter how much wealth and lives and destruction is involved. Swept away are all the Enlightenment’s precepts around which was based the Western modern culture, replaced by a disproportionately orgy of vindictiveness and self-righteous wrath of the kind that only the wealthy and the powerful, it would seem, have the right to use and act upon. No wonder Sharon feels entitled, by emulation and derivation, to do the same.

Israelis, Arabs and Americans are told that love of countries requires such expenditures and such destruction because a good cause is at stake. Non-sense. What is at stake are material interests that keep rulers in power, corporations making profits, people in a state of manufactured consent, just as long as they don’t get up one morning and start to think about where, in this mad technological rush to bomb and kill, we are going.

Since 1948, now for 55 years, never a narrative of Palestinian suffering and heroism had been allowed to emerge. Palestinians are depicted in the Western media as violent fanatic extremists who are little more than the terrorists that the American officials have imposed on the consciousness of a stunned and systematically misinformed population, aided and uncritically abetted by an entire army of commentators and media stars.

IV. Military Occupation is Terrorism
Military occupation is terrorism. It targets not merely combatants, but civilian populations. Its maintenance is a willful act, not one that is committed by accident. It has, in the case of Israel’s prolonged occupation, a decidedly political and wholly unjustifiable – both legally and morally – goal of allowing forced colonization (or, as it is euphemistically called, “settlement”) on an essentially imprisoned people. It is, in Israel’s situation, a system of institutionalized and premeditated violence that has intentionally targeted not merely some individual Palestinians, but an entire innocent civilian population of several million human beings.

In addition to the enormous devastation that it has brought to the living, because Israeli occupation’s maintenance is deliberate, regardless of whether violent actions to maintain it have purposely targeted the innocent for death and occupation and those who have worked to preserve it bear responsibility for them. And so because Israel’s military occupation of Palestine has intentionally inflicted fear and death on innocent Palestinian civilians for political purposes, that occupation can, with the highest accuracy, be termed a terrorist activity. And because it has existed for more than a third of a century and has, over countless objections of the world community, routinely violated basic standards of decency in human behavior as expressed in international humanitarian and human rights law, it is terrorism of the most hideous and uncivilized sort. Unfortunately, it is not so described by US government officials and media.

Instead, only violent Palestinian reactions to this system of terror are termed terrorist. Only when Palestinians reprehensively, indefensibly and, in the end foolishly inflict horror on innocent Israelis has “terrorism” been said to occur. A Molotov cocktail thrown at an occupying Israeli soldier is an “instrument of terror.” Even a Palestinian youth throwing a stone at a heavily armed, occupying Israeli soldier is described as committing an “act of terror.” These acts are never depicted as misguided retaliations for 35 years of the terrorism of occupation and colonization, in which Palestinians’ homes have systematically been destroyed, their land ruthlessly colonized, their property confiscated without due process, they have been taxed without representation, they have been deprived of rights to their land’s water and natural resources, and they have been widely humiliated for no good reason; rather, they are mindless “violence” unexplainable but for “ancient hatreds” and “fanatical Islam.”

And so when the Ariel Sharon led Israeli government violently struggles to preserve its 35-year military occupation, it is not maintaining a system of terror, but, absurdly, is somehow “fighting it.” It is, as Mr. Bush put it, only “defending itself.” Or, even more ridiculously, according to the US media, it is “retaliating”. This despite the fact that retaliation implies some proportionality in response, which has clearly been lacking in almost all Israeli attacks and despite the fact that Israeli attacks are more accurately understood as the systematic destruction of the possibility of Palestinian statehood and civil society than they are retaliation. Yet the fiction persists.

The reality, however, is that for the last 35 years Israel’s government has been engaged in a systematic campaign of institutional terrorism against a captive Palestinian civilian population. It has, in full contravention of international law and the will of entire international community, militarily occupied the Palestinian people’s collective space and consciousness, destroyed their homes, trees and livelihoods, denied them all of the basic rights entitled to human beings, and kept them from resisting this state of affairs with enormous physical force (even employing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in this latter effort), all to further invade their land with outsiders, which Mr. Sharon openly continues to insist upon. A generation of Palestinians has literally been born into the world as victims of terror and they are now rebelling in kind. Their considerable and easily comprehensible rage is even though blamed.

V. The Suicide Bombers
Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist, commissioner of citizens’ rights, and an awardee of Physicians for Human Rights, explains this phenomenon of Suicide Bombers shocking the world. I’ll quote him lengthily: “Why do Palestinians kill themselves and Israelis in such a horrific way at the bus stop or in a crowded market? Do you really care to know? Well, let me try to explain:

It is an act of absolute despair and a very serious stage of the seemingly perpetual conflict. Since the uprooting of the Palestinians in 1948 triggered by Irgun Jewish terror under the leadership of Yitzak Shamir and Menachem Begin, we have tried everything. We have tried the United Nations and its Security Council, which by the way have made excellent resolutions on our behalf. For example, Resolution 194 calling on Israel to allow us to return to our homeland, but to no avail. So we kept wandering around, between airports and refugee camps, waiting for a hero or an earthquake. All we wanted was to go home. But our story was getting worse and grew bitter as we heard that Jew from Poland would be declared a citizen of our country – a country now called Israel. We were told that officially we were stateless with undefined nationality. In 1967 war, we lost Gaza and the West Bank. We had to live under Israeli military occupation. Do you know what does it mean to live under Israeli military occupation? Do you really care to know? Let me tell you few things:

You are given an identity number and a permit to reside. If you leave the country for more than three years in succession, you lose that right to residence. When you leave the country on a trip, you are given a laissez-passer, a traveling document, valid for one year and it tells you on its records of your particulars that you are of undefined nationality.

Israeli occupation means that you are called twice a year by the Intelligence for routine interrogation and persuasion to work as an informer on your brothers and sisters. No one is spared. If you are to be a member of a political organization you will be sentenced for ten years. For a military action you will be sentenced to life.

To survive under the Israeli occupation you are given the chance to work in the jobs that Israelis do not like, sweeping the streets, building houses, collecting fruits or harvesting. You will have to leave your home in the refugee camps in Gaza at 3am, go through the road blocks and check-posts, spend your day under the sun and surveillance, returning home in the evening to collapse in bed for a few hours before the following day.

We simply became the slaves of our enemy. We are building their homes on our villages, and we clean their streets. Do you know what it does to you when you have to be the slave of your enemy in order to survive? No, you will never know how painful it is unless your country is occupied by another force. Only then will you learn how to watch in silence, pretending not to see, the torture of your friends and the humiliation of your father.

Do you know what it means for a child to see his father spat at and beaten before his eyes by an Israeli soldier? Nobody knows what happened to our children. Our children, the children of the stone as they became known, tried the Intifada – the Uprising. Seven long years our children were throwing stones and being killed daily. Nearly all our young men were arrested, the majority were tortured. All had to confess. The result was everyone suspected that all people were spies. So, we were exhausted, tormented and brutalized.

What else could we do to return to our home? We had almost forgotten that and all what we wanted was to be left alone.

What else could we try? Oh yes, peace. When the news came that Arafat had signed a peace treaty (with Rabin) in Washington we were jubilant. At least we thought we were to get rid of that miserable life of military occupation, at last. So we had hope. Then came Binyamin Netanyahu. He refused to meet Arafat and was clearly forced to shake hands in obvious disgust. He refused to free our prisoners, to have a safe passage for us to move between the West Bank and Gaza. He even surrounded our towns and villages with his tanks and arrested our policemen. Then he went after our holy places and opened a tunnel under our holiest mosque. Tens of our children and also Israeli soldiers were killed because of that tunnel, but he went on insulting us and driving out our sanity.

Arafat called for patience and we were patient, then Netanyahu started to build settlements in Jerusalem and drive the remaining Palestinians out. Settlers in Hebron spat on our prophet (Peace Be Upon him) and called him a pig. All in the name of peace we were humiliated, even arrested and tortured by Palestinian Forces to protect the peace. Our authority was turning against us to please Netenyahu.

I have told you a few things. Now do you understand why we have turned into suicide killers?”

This Palestinian psychiatrist explains the mind of the suicide bombers. They have a burning desire to kill Israelis who are humiliating and oppressing them. They have no other way to do it. They want to kill Israelis because they have stripped them from all their human rights. They have taken their land, and built hundreds of Jewish settlements on them. Israelis have bulldozed their houses, uprooted their olive groves and orchards, killed their men and humiliated their women and children. The United Nations has condemned Israeli actions again and again, but Israel – thanks to the support of the United States – flouts world opinion. Palestinians have suffered every form of dispossession and degradation short of extermination.

Any people with a grievance as deep as that wants nothing so passionately as to kill the oppressor. The desire to kill, to take revenge, becomes stronger than the desire for life itself. Since Palestinians do not have the tanks, Apache helicopters, and fighter bomber America has given to Israel, so they have to fight with the only weapon they have: their bodies.

But why do the Palestinians kill civilians? Because they cannot take on the Israeli army. They cannot reach the men in the tanks and fighter-bombers, so they kill their fathers, mothers, wives, and children instead. It is an ugly way to fight but that is how the Allies fought the Second World War, and the US did the same in Afghanistan and Iraq, looking for Ben Laden or Saddam Hussein.

VI. Call for Justice
The key to peace in the Middle East is not in Jerusalem. It is in Washington. It is the American government that empowers the Israeli government. People should take Israeli Prime Minister Sharon at his word. He has made it clear in many interviews; there will be no permanent agreement with the Palestinians; all Jewish settlements remain; The Golan and East Jerusalem belong to Israel; and no Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return, or to be eligible for compensation.

So what is going to happen? It is simple. The Palestinians will continue to suffer and die and will continue to try to kill as many Israelis as their limited means permit. What you have is the military occupation by a regional superpower of a largely unarmed population. Palestinians, like people everywhere and for all times, have the right to resist military occupation by a foreign power. What you are seeing are the final acts of European colonialism being played out in Palestine, which was never Europe’s to give away in the first place.

This state of things will continue until Sharon’s need for enemies provokes a regional war or until the conscience of individual Americans is aroused. It is sad to say, but it is the American administration that empowers the Israeli government to defy international law and human decency. The Israelis would not last six months without American backing, and they know that.

To say that the Israelis and Palestinians must settle their differences themselves is just nonsense. It is an Israeli dictated ploy to make sure nobody interferes with their treatment of the Palestinians. It is the same as if the police told a child rape victim “go and work it out with your rapist.” Fair negotiations between a strong party and a powerless one are absolutely impossible. To pretend otherwise is to engage in public deception. Israelis have said, for years, that force is the only language the Palestinians understand. The Palestinians are saying now the same thing about the Israelis. It is an ugly stuff. You can watch them kill each other on Arab television indefinitely. The Arabs know that the Palestinians are killed by American arms given to the Israelis, with the silent acquiescence of the donors. That is how the hostile feelings against the American administration are built.

You may not like this, but the lives of 3 million Palestinians, many of them children depend on American people. Palestinians do not have the power to stop the Israelis from occupying their land and brutalizing them. Your administration and your congress do. Therefore, if American citizens do not give the American politicians some backbone by letting them know Americans do not want to be accessories to Israeli aggression, then Palestinians’ misery will be unending.

The Palestinian people do not deserve what is happening to them. Their plight puts the powerful of the world in the uncomfortable position of standing either by the innocent victims or by the oppressors. The most damned will be those who let their own fears and lust for the comfortable position condemn a whole people to a hellish existence when all along they had the power to relieve them without difficulty.

Ending the occupation of the “Occupied Territories” in Palestine is the condition to end violence in this area of the world. A peace, true peace can only be based on Justice and Rights of the Palestinian people to have a country of their own where they can enjoy freedom and dignity.

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