Two Viewpoints: Palestinian & Israeli

It’s hard to get a good understanding of what’s happening right now in the Middle East from following the US press. We’re inundated with the Israeli viewpoint and given some complaints from Palestinian negotiators removed from all context. Most of the coverage is of the violence–the bulk of it from Israeli military sources.

Below I’ve quoted three writers at length; the quotes are from articles that have appeared in the foreign press.

Amira Hass is a reporter for Ha’aretz, a Jerusalem daily newspaper; she’s virtually the only Israeli correspondent who lives among Palestinians, interviews them regularly, portrays the conditions of their daily lives, and reports on Palestinian issues. In her many articles, Hass had denounced the fact that Palestinians are subject to checkpoints and must get special permits to travel in and out of East Jerusalem and between

the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while Israeli Jews can travel wherever they wish, including on lands expropriated from the Palestinians. Hass has also documented that Palestinians are subject to water rationing in the summer, while Jewish settlers are not. Said Hass, in an article from Le Monde (reprinted in the Manchester Guardian Weekly, 12/28/00, p. 19): “Palestine has not suffered the horrors of Chechnya, but there has been a form of apartheid here for 33 years, and the Oslo accords did nothing to change that.” She goes on: “My hair stands on end when 40,000 people are cooped up at home for a month like animals.” In October, Hass wrote a scathing editorial on the curfew in Hebron; on October 31, the Israeli army responded by partially lifting the curfew. On November 1, she wrote: “How perfectly natural that 40,000 persons should

be subjected to a total curfew for more than a month in the Old City of Hebron in order to protect the lives and well-being of 500 Jews … and that Palestinian children … should be imprisoned and suffocating day and night … while the children of their Jewish neighbors are free to frolic.”

Alain Gresh, a French correspondent, recently wrote an analytical piece for Le Monde Diplomatique, entitled “Fighting for a proper peace” (12/8/00, p. 8). In this extended quote, he gives more information on the Palestinian position than any 50 articles from the New York Times or the AP newswire: “Day after day new settlements gnaw away at Palestinian land. They receive special protection in the form of thousands of Israeli soldiers, endless checkpoints at which Palestinians are routinely humiliated, and bypass roads reserved for settlers. In short their very existence makes any idea of a viable, sovereign, independent state seem like pie in the sky. “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, like each of his predecessors, approved

new housing–$500m was earmarked for settlements in the 2001 budget–even as he was declaring his wish to sign a lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples… “These settlements, all within territory which in international law is unquestionably Palestinian, encapsulate the most explosive points of friction in the new Intifada. For its first message is clear: Israel must choose between peace and settlements–settlements that the International Criminal Court statutes, adopted in Rome in July 1998, described as a war crime… “In all events, the political objectives of the Palestinian leadership and the intifada are the same: the return of all the land seized in June 1967, including East Jerusalem. No more, no less. [Footnote: The Palestinian negotiators at Camp David did, however, accept the idea of an exchange of territories. If Israel wanted to annex lands with the highest concentration

of settlers, they should cede an equivalent amount to the Palestinian state.] The Palestinians say they have made a historic compromise by giving

up 78% of historic Palestine, and they refuse to give up more. So they are invoking international law–United Nations security council resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 and recognition of the Palestinians refugees’ right of return–plus a new mechanism for negotiations. As Marwan Barghouti, one of the key figures in the uprising, explains, there is a need to end Washington’s monopoly of the talks and to hold a ‘semi-international conference,’ mainly under UN auspices, in which the major powers and Israel, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon would take part… “Palestinian organizations and insurgents make the same answer to Israeli demands to end violence: there can be no return to the situation before 28 September, when the clashes began, because it was precisely that situation which created the conditions of the current explosion.” Linda Grant is a British novelist who has visited Israel several times recently to research her latest book When I Lived In Modern Times, recently published by Granta. She wrote an opinion piece for the

Manchester Guardian Weekly (11/2/00, p. 22), in which she described the attitudes of Israelis towards the Palestinians: “The first, and easiest to explain is the mentality of the religious right.

In the past month I have read time and again the assertion that the Jews stole the Palestinians’ country. To Orthodox Jews the facts are the exact opposite. They have the deeds to the country. You probably have a copy in your home. Take it down from the shelf. It’s the first part you want, the Old Testament, and the first chapter, Genesis, which contains the world’s first recorded real estate deal: ‘And I will give unto thee and to thy seed

after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.’ And if you want to know where that is, here

are the ground plans, the map: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.’ “As far as Orthodox Jews are concerned they are bunkered down in a tiny portion of what is rightfully theirs. As for how they defend what they have, and get their rightful due, the God of the Old Testament who visited 10 plagues on the Egyptians, including the slaying of the firstborn, is beyond the jurisdiction of Amnesty International… “On the first three of my visits to Israel, before last year’s elections, the Orthodox were what everyone wanted to talk about. The religious right had assumed too much power and was interfering in the everyday lives of secular and moderately religious Israelis … in opinion poll after opinion

poll about 70% of Israelis said repeatedly that they believed there would be a Palestinian state. They didn’t necessarily say they supported it, but they agreed on its inevitability. “And here, I came to think, was the heart of the Israeli mentality. Ordinary Israelis are sick of wars, sick of sending their teenage sons to the army, but they are deeply insecure about whether they can risk peace. It isn’t the memory of the Holocaust that drives them; it is the memory of more than 50 years of Arab nations telling them they will “drive the Jews into the sea.” The Israeli terror is that in delivering the justice to the Palestinians that the world demands, they may be signing their own death warrants … As though looking into a fairground distorting mirror, the world sees Israel as a giant, a monster–but the Israeli sees a tiny, cowering figure, the puny kid walking to school, tormented by bullies. He needs to make himself stronger, not weaker… “…The ugly truth, I think, is that what Israelis feel for the Palestinians is contempt, that they are losers, and this instinct is built into the founding ideals of the first Zionists. “Deep in the Jewish psyche is the legacy of cutting your losses, moving on,

reinventing yourself to survive. Deep in the Arab psyche is attachment to the land, to patience and endurance.”