How two truths make one tragedy

The Arab View
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The Independent Online

As the violence continued last week, Palestinians could be divided into two groups - those who feel that if they don't fight they will be overlooked, and those who feel that to resort to violence is to undermine their human dignity.

As the violence continued last week, Palestinians could be divided into two groups - those who feel that if they don't fight they will be overlooked, and those who feel that to resort to violence is to undermine their human dignity.

But what is the same for all Palestinians is that they have sustained a major blow. Any sense of security they could have entertained has faded. "El-hamdillah ala Salamtak" ("Welcome back to safety") has replaced the more traditional greeting "Salaam aleik'um" ("Peace be upon you").

As people adjusted to the upheavals of the past three weeks they started to leave their houses. In a state of shock they wandered around, searching for familiar faces, reassuring themselves that life still went on, that our city was still there and that others had survived the disaster.

I remember the night, three weeks ago, after Ariel Sharon, the Israeli opposition leader, had visited the Muslim shrine the Haram al-Sharif. Violence had broken out. I went into the old city to visit my neighbours. All my friends had survived the ordeal unscathed.

"Did you go and defend the Haram al-Sharif [Temple Mount]?" I asked. Ghassan, a friend and once an activist, said: "If Arafat needs martyrs, the politicians ought to send their own sons. I am happy my son is in medical school in Cairo. Before, I would gladly offer my children as martyrs. I would still offer them provided the leaders stand with their children next to us."

Everyone I knew faced things with disengaged interest. The "stone throwing" was seen as a political contrivance to prod the stalling peace talks. The news leaked out that the Israelis were planning to take over a part of the Mosque as a synagogue. Danger threatened our Haram al-Sharif. The Palestinians split into two groups. As I waited in line to buy bread, I overheard a middle-aged man lecture a youth. "If we do not protect the Dome of the Rock," he said, "who would?" The young man answered: "A good Muslim is one who does his Muslim duties and stays alive." The older man explained: "This is not a question of nationalism, it is a matter of faith." The young man retorted. "The Noble Sanctuary has a God to protect it." Before the Oslo peace talks everyone would have rushed to the Noble Sanctuary. Most people I ran into had turned sceptic, suspicious of dubious politics and apathetic.

At this critical point the picture of Mohammed el-Durrah came into the foreground. This was the boy whose father, trying to avoid the fighting at Natzarim, led him home from school through a short cut, only to get caught in the crossfire. The sight of the boy being shot dead hit a deep chord.

The Oslo agreement has actually made it worse for Palestinians, because it appeared to the outside world that we were enjoying peace. All that has happened is that Israeli occupation has become the status quo. Palestinians continue to suffer - they are harassed, their travel is restricted, their land confiscated, unemployment is high, salaries are low.

It was after the burial of one of the Palestinian martyrs that "the lynching" took place. Two Israeli soldiers were caught and it was immediately assumed that they were "Arabists" - Israelis who disguise themselves as Arabs and infiltrate the protesters, planting bombs, shooting and killing. The soldiers were escorted to the police station past the funeral parade.

My friend Khalil was horrified. "It is not Muslim, it is not Arab, it has nothing to do with our culture," he said. Victims to the mob, victims to corrupt leadership, victims to military occupation; blind hate triumphed momentarily.

Remorse followed. In Ramallah vigils have been held for the past two nights. Candlelit "peace parades" have taken place in which people walk mournfully past el-Manarah square. A voice mumbled: "But no one cares about our hundred martyrs. Settlers attack helpless farmers. Last week they stoned one to death." Another voice answered: "It is our dignity as human beings that we must struggle for."

Israeli occupation puts the Palestinian in a dilemma: if he is quiet he is overlooked; once he expresses resistance he is condemned.

 

Dr Ali Qleibo is a lecturer at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and the author of 'Before the Mountains Disappear', a description of traditional Palestinian life during the Intifada, and 'Jerusalem in the Heart', a cultural-historical introduction to the Holy City from an Arab perspective.

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