The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Amira Hass: Explaining the occupation to the occupier

Allen Ruff, Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA), 12 Oct 2003

Amira Hass, the author of the article below, will be appearing in Madison on October 30th as the second speaker in the “Reporting the Middle East” speakers’ series produced by the Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA). Hass will appear at the Morgridge Auditorium, Grainger Hall (Brooks & University) at 7:30 on the 30th.

(The first speaker in the series, ROBERT FISK, will be at the Union Theater at 8:00pm on the 23rd. Hass will be followed by Ali Abunimah of the “electrinicintifadfa”, on Novemebr 6th at MATC-Downtown , Rm D240, 7:30. A’sad AbuKhalil will speak on November 13th in the Great Hall, Memorial Union.)

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Jewish Peace News

Last week, a Palestinian woman working with Islamic Jihad carried out a horrible suicide bombing that killed 19 people including 4 children, and wounded many many more in a joint Arab and Jewish owned restaurant in Haifa.

It is both natural and appropriate to wonder how anyone could commit such a vicious act, an act that was intended to ruin and end the lives of so many innocent people. Amira Hass guides us through the pitfalls of this question, with characteristic intelligence and candor. She points to two types of answers, one acceptable to the Israeli political establishment and one not. The acceptable type of answer involves demonizing Islam, attributing Palestinian criminal behavior to fundamentalist tendencies in the Muslim religion, real or imagined. The unacceptable answer involves pointing to the acute and growing despair of the Palestinian population in the territories, who daily experience the humility of the occupation, their land being stolen and destroyed, their children being starved, and their loved ones being shot and incarcerated.

It is certainly much easier to blame Islam (or the Palestinian educational system for that matter); and people reeling from the trauma of a gruesome terror attack are experiencing enough suffering without adding the pain of self-critique. But if the imperative is to stop these horrible attacks from happening again, and this should be the immediate imperative of the Israeli government, looking honestly and critically at the effects of the occupation has the very great advantage offering an immediate solution to Israel’s crisis of terror. And after a suicide bombing, what could be more important than this?

Explaining the occupation to the occupier

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 8 October 2003

How can a tiny Palestinian organization like Islamic Jihad produce so many walking bombs, suicide bombers who choose babies in strollers and their grandparents as targets? And how does an organization that once declared it would only target soldiers send its latest suicide bomber to a mixed Jewish-Arab city, to sow death and sorrow in a restaurant whose owners, workers and customers are Jews and Arabs, old and young.

Intelligence experts and Arabists on our side say it’s because of Islam, which sanctifies wars, that there is unceasing incitement in the mosques, that Iran and Syria are behind it, that the suicide bombers and those who send them are out to destroy the State of Israel, that the people who blow themselves up are animals and that Arafat encourages terror.

There’s a concept behind all these explanations, in which this sickening form of the Palestinian struggle has nothing to do with the occupation, that Israelis should not believe Palestinians who say there is a connection to the Israeli occupation. The concept says there is no connection between the proliferation of suicide bombings and the prevailing view in Palestinian society, which is that Israel, as a military and nuclear power, wants to squeeze a surrender out of the Palestinians that will legitimize the Israeli takeover of land in the West Bank and Gaza.

In other words, the concept is that the historical, political and geopolitical connections, the sociological and psychological ramifications – none of it is relevant. The concept is that there is something inherent to the heritage of the suicide bombers and those who send them that is to blame, because the Palestinians won’t give up their dream of destroying Israel and that Muslims only believe in the most radical interpretation of their religion.

Israeli society can accept this insane situation – investing billions in something called “defense” and then being afraid of primitive walking bombs made up of a few kilograms of explosives and nails – because of a belief in the Israeli intelligence apparatus and the “objectivity” of its information. After all, the intelligence officers are fluent in Arabic, they analyze the speeches of every imam, they watch all the Arab TV stations that broadcast incitement, they get their hands on texts that are barely known to Palestinian writers and their audiences, and they have personal human intelligence from all sorts of collaborators and informants.

Indeed, from Islamic Jihad’s perspective, now is a good time to intensify the sense of chaos in the country and region. As a tiny group, it is able to disregard and scorn the condemnations and warnings of the Palestinian Authority; it isn’t looking for an electoral constituency. But that perspective does not explain why Islamic Jihad, despite the blows it suffers from the army, is able to find candidates to conduct a policy that is dictated from abroad and is foreign to the Palestinian longing for normalcy. Yes, only the Israeli occupation can explain that. All the rest of the explanations are appendices, marginal footnotes.

So, how does one explain the occupation to the occupier? The knowledge of daily life of 3.5 million people, whose future offers no chance of normalcy: the daily experience of the land of their grandparents and parents falling prey to this or that army order, for some “public” expropriation or pirate outpost? How does one explain to the bulldozer what it means to live when the land is constantly shrinking under your feet, when across the way, meanwhile, some rich settlement of Jews grows and a brand new road is paved just for them? How can the paper on which the army orders are written know what it’s like to live for 37 years under the arbitrary rule of the representatives of the foreign occupation, many of whom are residents of the settlements, who make arbitrary decisions about who will be able to travel and who won’t, who will get medical treatment and who won’t, how many inches a water pipe can have as its diameter, if and when a water tanker reaches the village, which tree will be uprooted and which won’t?

How to explain to the tanks and planes what a little boy’s fear is like – not the fear of 10 or 100 but hundreds of thousands, not once a month or every other week, but daily, for three years, and what happens to a daughter and grandmother whose loved ones, civilians, are killed in front of their eyes, not by the dozens but the hundreds. How to explain to Israelis, who get only the most partial of reports about the horrors of the military occupation, that the Palestinians also suffer daily from horrific scenes, indeed, from the very first day of the renewed clashes, when they were still only throwing rocks and not blowing up in our cities?

Yes, the suicide bombers feel they represent their society. That’s their strength. They represent their society’s sense that it’s no use living under the occupation, with the terrible weakness against the Israeli military power, the impotence as they watch their land vandalized and degraded, the rage over the stupidity of the Palestinian leadership. They are willingly represented by the vengeance.

Israel tends to blame those who demand to explain the phenomenon of the suicide bombers in the context of the occupation, as if they understand and even justify the terrorist means. That might be understandable for a developed society, but it does not help Israeli society when dealing with the threat of the terror.

Jewish Peace News (JPN) is an edited news-clipping and commentary service provided by A Jewish Voice for Peace. JPN’s editors are Adam Gutride, Amichai Kronfeld, Rela Mazali, Sarah Anne Minkin, Judith Norman, Mitchell Plitnick, Lincoln Shlensky, and Alistair Welchman. The opinions expressed by the editors and presented in the articles sent to this list are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of A Jewish Voice for Peace.

A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a San Francisco Bay Area grassroots organization dedicated to the human, civil and economic rights of Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples in the Middle East.