Occupation vs. Normalization

By Samia Khoury
Friday, April 5, 2002

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. (Mark 14:34)

Ever since I can remember, I never missed going to church on Palm Sunday. This year was an exception, although the church is down the road from our house. But a lot was going on in my head, and somehow I kept looking for reasons to justify my staying at home.

Maybe it was too festive of an occasion for me during these difficult times. Or maybe it was too early for Easter, since the Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated in the Palestinian Territories, is not until the 5th of May. Or worse yet, maybe I was losing the hope of the Resurrection.

The more I reflected upon that, the more it worried me. Hope is all that is left for us to hold onto in order to be able to keep going. And Easter has always been a meaningful season for us because we relate so much to the suffering of Christ and His triumph over death by His Resurrection. But the temptation of losing hope is so great when so much injustice continues to prevail, and the voices against injustice get silenced in the process.

The invasion of Ramallah, and in particular the headquarters of Chairman Arafat did not at all help rekindle the hope in my heart. On the contrary, Good Friday — which in Arabic we call “Sad Friday” — was truly a sad day. Not only because of the devastation and the danger facing the Palestinian Authority, but because violence and vengeance won over the peace offering.

Mr. Sharon missed a golden opportunity as he shunned the Arab Summit initiative, and chose the option of violence; the same option that suicide bombers chose to protest against the occupation. But there is a difference. Mr. Sharon has all the powerful cards in his hands, and can afford to make a sensible choice; whereas the suicide bombers have been driven to desperation by a brutal and humiliating occupation which has deprived them of their humanity and any hope for a brighter future.

The people of Ramallah and other Palestinian towns and refugee camps had hardly overcome the Israeli military incursions a few weeks earlier when the whole of the Palestinian Territories turned into a living hell. We in Jerusalem, although not physically hurt, were indirectly affected. To start with we were emotionally drained, worrying about our families and friends. Many could not reach their work, and children could not get to school. The way of the cross has become our daily walk. How can we maintain our hope under such brutal circumstances, especially when Israel justifies all this in the name of its security, and gets away with it?

Then Mr. Anthony Zinni [the U.S. envoy to the Middle East] was back in the country. “Ahlan wa Sahlan” — welcome to the land of paradoxes and lopsided logic. His mandate is to end the violence. But how can that happen when Israel is at the doorstep of the Palestinian Authority again? And in spite of all the terrorizing of the Palestinian population, and of Chairman Arafat and his entourage in particular, Mr. Colin Powell seemed to justify these actions, without even condemning them.

To add insult to injury, the U.S. administration continues to adopt the Israeli line that the Palestinians must end the violence. That phrase has become such a meaningless cliché. It sounds like a broken record when the needle stops at the crack, and the music gets repeated on and on without moving forward. Ending the violence will not be possible without restoring justice.

That is why ending the violence will not be possible without ending the Occupation. For as long as there is occupation there will be resistance. It is not a Palestinian innovation; it is a legal right to resist an illegal occupation. And all along history, liberation movements exercised that right through both violent and nonviolent means. Of course I continue to wish that resistance could be limited to nonviolence, but that also seems to be unacceptable to Israel as its military forces continue to brutalize both local and international demonstrators. Even after Mr. Arafat declared his willingness and determination to stop the violence, it did not work out because it is a lopsided formula. With occupation there can be no security or peace. It is the violence of occupation, and not the violence of resistance, that makes the formula of peace and security lopsided.

In two consecutive days the Israelis got a taste, and a bitter taste, of their own brutality against the Palestinians. The Israeli peace voices who have been crying out “The Occupation is killing us all” do not seem to have reached the ears of the Israeli leaders. Are the Occupied Territories and the settlements worth the lives of all those innocent people? Will the lives of Palestinians and Israelis continue to be shed for the sake of the greed, arrogance and ego of the Israeli leadership? The latest suicide attack was especially horrific because it was during Passover. But then, did not the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein gun down the Muslim worshippers at the mosque in Hebron also during the holy month of Ramadan?

The Palestinians are being condemned for targeting civilians, but then the victims of the Israeli military in the towns and refugee camps are civilians as well.

With the spirit of vengeance and determination for maintaining the Occupation, the cycle of violence will go on. The situation will become more desperate than ever, one which has even encouraged young women to join the queue of suicide bombers. This is a very alarming phenomenon, and that is why Israel must not lose this golden opportunity and accept the generous offer of the Arab Summit. That way it will not only be complying with UN resolutions, but will also receive an extra bonus of normalization with the Arab countries. Is that not what Israel has been yearning for? Let us pray for some wisdom rather than arrogance in its reaction to this offer, and let us hope that the USA and the international community will help Israel see the benefits of normalization.

As I conclude my reflection, I pray and hope Mr. Sharon will not interrupt our plans for the 50th anniversary at Rawdat El-Zuhur, which will take place on the 4th and 5th of April. The children have been so excited preparing for this occasion since September; it would be such a disappointment to deprive them of this pleasure. Those children need to be assured that there is a better future than all this devastation, brutality and killing.

I realize how important it is not to let that spirit of desperation and hopelessness get to us as we continue with the rehearsals for the anniversary musical. Thank heaven for music which lifts the spirits and puts such a joyful atmosphere around the school. The children will be taking home their chocolate Easter eggs, and “Inshallah” — God willing — I will be joining the congregation on Easter Sunday in singing “Al Maseeh Qam Haqan Qam” — Christ is risen, He is truly risen.

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