Hunger Strike, Turkey
"The gulf between the Israelis and the Arabs is getting bigger", aPpalestinian doctor in Jerusalem confirms. "Before there was a barbed-wire fence between the two sections: the Jewish town and the Arab town. They pulled it down".
"But now the "wall" is much worse", said another Palestinian -- a member of the old Municipal Council of Jordan in Jerusalem (which was dissolved by the Israeli authorities, but whose members still try to maintain a facade of existence).
"How do the Israelis live? I do not know and I dont want to know", exclaimed a Christian from the old town. "We have no contact with them... We do not go into the "Jewish Quarter" -- even though it is our home -- if we have nothing very important to do there. I have been there perhaps two or three times in 11 years. I have two houses on the "other side" but I have not even been to see how they are or what has become of them. To go to the cinema to the other side? It is out of the question".
"The thing that frightens us most are those new buildings, that whole belt around Jerusalem. You cannot even see between them; there are only walls and more walls. We are afraid; if anything ever happens they are going to crush us. When we stay at home we forget we are occupied, but when we go out -- it is awful."
"An American psychiatrist advised us to co-exist", said the Palestinian doctor, "in order to make our daily life a bit easier, to have the means for good schools, sufficient water... but our answer is "no", we want only one thing: that the Israelis get out".
"We do not give a damn about politics -- an incident with King Hussain, with the PLO, with Idi Amin Dada or with Mobutu -- just as long as the Israelis get the hell out".
All these are the reactions of Palestinians from a certain age group in Jerusalem, officials from the old Jordanian set-up to whom the idea of armed resistance is alien, but who are nevertheless reacting just like this doctor who said: "When they stop me on the road to examine my papers I have to try to keep calm. It is difficult, emotionally... I really do hate them".
For the 95.000 or so Palestinians living in Jerusalem the situation is quite tragic. According to the Israelis they are not "occupied" but "living together", but in fact they are purely and simply annexed. And like this old man they can often do no more than cry out in vain: "I am desperate. The Jews will never go back on their own accord. They want land and peace at the same time. We do not exist for them. They pretend that the country has been theirs for the last 2.000 years. So where did we come from"?
But for the Palestinians in the rest of the West bank the situation is clearer; in their area they live under an official Israeli military occupation and there is no question of "co-existence".
"Before", said Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel, "there were regular daily crossings by Israeli Jews into the occupied territories in Nablus and Hebron; now nobody goes there. No Jew in his right mind would go shopping in Nablus; there have been too many accidents and killings. They have succeeded in cutting off the Jews in the large Palestinian towns. Now they venture out only in Jericho and around the Dead Sea area. Myself, I would not drive a car with Israeli number plates in the occupied territories".
Their total refusal to accept the idea of "co-existence" is a way the Palestinians in the occupied territories can prove that they are indeed living under occupation.
It is certainly a subtle form of occupation. Overseas journalists are free to roam around the whole West Bank and meet prominent Palestinians openly. Professors from the university of Bir Zeit -- one of the forefronts of Palestinian nationalism -- can spend hours in the garden of the Grand Hotel in Ramalla analysing the political situation with them, without any fear -- something out of the question in France, for example, during the German occupation.
On a physical level, the Israeli occupation is equally discreet. The 2.200 or so Israeli soldiers stationed in the area are rarely seen, especially during the day. Their job is essentially manning check-points for identity control and, in the middle of each town, police stations and prisons are surrounded by barbed wire, each with an Israeli flag flying over it.
During the day there is almost nothing to show tourists that they are in occupied territory. At night, however the occupation is more visible. The inhabitants go home immedtiately. Nablus, for example, a town of 85.000 people, is dead by 8pm. Practically nobody ventures out except Israeli patrols, armed jeeps and armoured trucks protected against molotov cocktails or grenades.
"It is really a very sophisticated form of occupation", a Ramalla lawyer commented. "They try as much as possible to avoid turning the people against them and do not interfere in their daily lives, so as not to exasperate them".
"But they control the economy -- in fact every important aspect of life, and above all they do their best to keep people apart, to exaggerate their differences in order to prevent any feeling of nationality or unity. They play up the differences between Christians and Muslims. They talk about Judea and Samaria, but not about Palestine. They say we are Jordanians, or Arabs, but not Palestinians. But the occupation is encouraging a feeling of nationalism among the people and so the Israelis do all they can to prevent this sentiment from becoming something real and concrete. The things that do not have continuity do not bother them. Our discussions do not bother them. On the contrary, because we talk we ease our tensions. What they will not tolerate is anything that looks like organised. The things which could change this situation are, lets say, intangible".
A member of the Municipal Council in Nablus, who like most of his colleagues has spent a few months in prison, said that when he was released an Israeli intelligence officer told him: "Go along, bark as much as you like, but be careful not to bite".
The relationship between the mayors of the West bank and the Israeli military authorities is a perfect illustration of the method used by the Israelis.
Karim Khalaf, Bassam Shaka and Fahed Kawasma, the mayors of Ramalla, Nablus and Hebron, the three main Palestinian towns excluding Jerusalem, are in agreement. "until very recently the miluitary authorities forbade everything, everything, absolutely everything".
Then all three were allowed to make trips to a number of Arab states, bringing back huge sums of money given to them by the Gulf rulers, Algeria and Iraq: $10 million for Ramalla, $14 million for Nablus and a large sum for Hebron which Fahed Kawasma would not disclose exactly but said it was "enough to develop our town".
(The Middle East magazine, Excerpt, November 1978; Le Matin de Paris, 6 septembre 1978)
Tower Bridge, London
Droits de Reproduction strictement réservés © Chris Kutschera 2002