Raising the Stakes: Palestinians Refuse to Surrender (3/01)

Anyone who sympathizes with the Palestinian struggle during the current war for the end of occupation may feel rather disheartened seeing images of the struggle. Mothers cry, fathers bow their heads. There are so many funerals. Neither side will retreat and there’s no sign of a solution from any international leadership.

Certainly, press reports would have those who view the carnage from a distance believe that the Palestinians are vastly overwhelmed and becoming weaker by the day. The Palestinian economy is deteriorating, and unemployment is soaring. There are requests for outside medical aid, and now food supplies are dwindling. Local leaders and medical personnel send out appeals for assistance while political leaders call for an independent inquiry and an international police force to protect the vulnerable Arab population. The UN is unable to act, either as a negotiator or with a peacekeeping army.

Inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories, one can witness the pain and hardships firsthand. If anything needs to be added to the international picture, it’s that the Palestinians are more restrained than one might expect. The terror against them is fierce, and the might that they confront is truly formidable. Yet, their responses seem understated, and absent of rightful rage.

In homes and other meeting places, one hears stories of so many common injustices and atrocities that don’t reach the outside world. For example, a man was traveling to Hebron on the back roads, his pickup filled with 50 tubs of olive oil. This was his harvest from a year’s labor, his livelihood, and less than he deserves because of the lower incomes and declining living standards.

En route to the city, he was ambushed by a mob of militant settlers, all armed. They forced him at gunpoint to get out of his truck, then ordered him to open the containers and pour the oil into the ground. They warned they would shoot him if he didn’t obey. He was alone. He begged them to reconsider, and even offered to give them the entire shipment.

"Take it for yourselves. Here, use it. I leave it all to you. It is the best of the crop." He also may have thought, "Let them kill me." But how would that save his crop. As if striking his own child, he sliced open the containers and let the dark green syrup drain into the dusty roadside. After every drop of the farmer’s livelihood disappeared into the soil, the marauders allowed him to continue on his way. He wasn’t listed in the world press among the daily casualties.

Yet, even as this news and the details of other assaults spread, the morale of the people here isn’t waning. There appears to be more determination than ever to resist and try, however they can, to confront the soldiers and defy Israeli rule with all its subtle and violent strategies to subdue them.

Those prohibited from attending Friday prayer at Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem are joined by greater number of worshippers than normal at their local mosques. As deaths mount, no house or classroom is unaffected by the losses. Every family, street, and school shares the loss of a martyr. And with this common experience, resistance grows.

Newcomers and long-standing residents who may have travel papers are determined not to leave, despite the growing dangers and hardships. Palestinians everywhere share a sense of glory in the martyrdom that is impossible for Israelis and outsiders to understand. Professors and artists, human rights workers and doctors refuse symbolic shows of support from embarrassed, concerned Israelis. "Go and work with your own people," say the Palestinians. "Speak out to the world that you support Resolutions 242 and 338. Tell the world, not us, where you stand."

Boys and girls brought up in the US but living in the Occupied Territories have lost their initial fear and doubts. They recount stories of Palestinian bravery. Parents can’t keep their boys from joining other youngsters heading toward the Israeli checkpoints. All watch international TV news. Even at the tender age of 10, they recognize the cowardice and bias of the famous networks they once believed were professional.

Even though their resistance seems paltry compared to Israeli firepower, Palestinians feel they are moving forward. They are raising the stakes, even though none of their leaders has yet been able to negotiate new terms. The Israeli announcement that the Oslo Peace process is suspended doesn’t disturb people. The vast majority gained nothing from it; most lost. Using their newfound voices – and stones – they won’t allow their leaders to compromise further. Perhaps they will regain some of what was given away. Meanwhile, they are frightening the Israelis they confront, even though there’s no sign of Israeli retreat.

Roadblocks, intimidation, and threats don’t prevent college students from traveling to their classes, although the trip takes hours and can be hazardous. The closures and curfews don’t stop people from getting news through the community, and rushing to offer what help they can. New support groups have formed. When the expatriate schoolteachers and foreign NGO staff left, others stepped in.

More and more, Palestinians recognize that they’re on their own. Just as well, many believe. They can see the impotence of the last seven years of negotiations under US supervision. The world let them down. Now it is their chance to take the lead.

Barbara Nimri Aziz is a TF contributing writer, and a producer and host at WBAI radio in New York. She recently visited the West Bank.