Remembering May 15 and June 5

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, June 13, 2002

These have been very hard times for us in the Palestinian Territories. But then when has it ever been easy for us since our dispossession in 1948, 54 years ago, when three-quarters of the Palestinian population turned into refugees almost overnight. We continue to commemorate Al-Nakbah every year on May 15, lest we or the whole world forget this glaring injustice which was inflicted upon the Palestinians with the blessing and continued silence of the international community. The refugee camps are a constant reminder of that injustice and of the unimplemented United Nations Resolution 194 for their right of return. It will not be possible to forget, but we certainly have shown every willingness to forgive. For if we cannot forgive, there is no way we can move ahead.

I was in my early teens at boarding school in Birzeit when the first stream of refugees from Ramallah and Lydda started arriving into town. They had been driven out by the Zionist underground forces at gunpoint and had been walking for miles before arriving in Birzeit and Ramallah which they thought would be a temporary shelter. Even the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is still considered a temporary structure. It was only logical to consider it temporary, for who thought at that time that such a human tragedy would be allowed to linger for over half a century? Yet the situation was further exacerbated by the June 1967 War when the rest of the Palestinian Territories fell under Israeli Occupation.

Again I was in Birzeit, but this time I was married and worried to death about my two little children who were six and four years old at the time. Of course I thought an occupation cannot last for more than a few months, and I would not need to worry about bringing up my children under occupation. By November the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 242 calling on Israel to withdraw from terrritories occupied in the course of the War of 1967. Thirty-five years later I continue to worry about my children and grandchildren, especially as they try to make it through checkpoints on the way to work or to school every day. The pleasant experience of going to school for Palestinian children has turned into an agonizing Via Dolorosa.

From our experience with the impotence of the United Nations and the international community, there was no real reason for us to be optimistic and to think that Israel would comply with Resolution 242 when it had defied all previous resolutions. But we kept hoping, since the United Nations seemed the only logical and legitimate point of reference. And unlike 1948, we were sure there was more awareness in 1967 regarding human rights violations. So again the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 338 in 1973 calling for an immediate implementation of 242, but to no avail.

Therefore, for the sake of peace and for the sake of sparing our people further suffering, we made a historic compromise in 1988. And in spite of all the injustice, we relinquished our legitimate right to 78% of historic Palestine so that we could establish an independent Palestinian state on only the remaining 22% of Palestine — the territories occupied in 1967.

Although Palestine was under the British Mandate until 1948, it had the potential of becoming an independent secular state for all its citizens: Muslims, Christians and Jews. I was there, and we had Jewish neighbors in Safad and in Upper Bakaa in Jerusalem. But with the support of the British and through the Balfour declaration, the Zionist ambition was fulfilled and a Jewish state was established on the ruins of Palestine.

It was the Zionist underground forces that terrorized the British and the Arabs out of Palestine. So it is ironic that some of the leaders of those forces, like Begin and Shamir, who were labeled terrorists by the British Mandate, were received at 10 Downing Street in London as official guests of the British government in their capacity as prime ministers after the establishment of the state of Israel. And now it is the Palestinians who are being labeled terrorists by those same terrorists of 1948. The state terrorism of the Occupation is at the root of all the violence in our region, and until the Occupation comes to an end it has become very clear that peace negotiations cannot be resumed. There will be another futile process which will lead the area into more frustration and more violence.

The Oslo accords have become a form of history since the new Intifada started. With every new round of talks, the Palestinian negotiators were forced to make more compromises, while the Israelis were creating new realities on the ground and inventing new myths to justify all the aggression. The whole Palestinian question seemed to have boiled down to the Mitchell Report and the Tenet plan, irrespective of all the United Nations resolutions.

The closure of Al-Quds (our East Jerusalem) was like cutting off the main artery between the north and south of the West Bank. The city has become like a ghost town, and the victim of a political accomodation imposed by Israel’s claim that it was the united eternal capital of Israel. We felt abandoned not only by the Western world, and by international organizations, whose aid to the city was often restricted by Israeli pressure, but also by the Arab and Muslim states, in spite of their everlasting commitment to salvage Al-Quds.

May 31, 2002 offers the memory of the untimely death of Faisal El-Husseini one year ago. We realize how much of a vacuum his death has caused. He and the Orient House had been the symbol of Palestinian presence in the city. Now they are both gone and even the abandoned street of the Orient House can vouch for that great loss. Faisal had held the portfolio of Al-Quds and was a moderate national figure, loved and respected by all, but never compromising on our rights. The residents of the city looked up to him as the source of hope for salvaging Al-Quds, the love of his life. He had so many dreams and hopes for the city which hopefully will materialize one day.

As Israel continues to enjoy the privilege of invading the Palestinian towns and camps whenever it pleases, and to impose curfews for as long as it is necessary to achieve its goals, it has become very apparent that there is a plan to cut off the Palestinian towns from each other. I still remember when some of our Israeli Arab friends from the Galilee came to visit us after 1967 and told us that we were still enjoying the honeymoon of the Israeli Occupation. They had been through it all as of 1948. Nowadays their words ring a bell in our ears, and make us wonder whether we are going through the ugly procedures before the unavoidable divorce, or whether this will be an everlasting hell of a marriage.

We must remember, Mr. Sharon never agreed to the Oslo agreement and the peace negotiations. He never stopped expanding the Israeli settlements. And the transfer of the Palestinians has always been a very serious option for his government. So he thought that under the guise of this “war against terrorism,” which was so well timed to suit his purposes, he could really bring about another Palestinian exodus. But not this time. Nobody was going to leave their towns or homes in spite of all the suffering and the devastation, especially as the memories of 1948 were relived during the most recent incursions of the Israeli Military Forces into most of the refugee camps.

From Deir Yassin to Jenin; from Qibya, Kufr Qassem to Sabra and Shatilla, the list goes on, and the nightmare of the Nakbah is not over. That is what the Intifada is all about, and that is what all the violence is about. It is a cry against injustice. It is a cry of desperation against a brutal occupation. But Israel does not listen either to the voices of the oppressed or to the voices of the conscientious objectors. Of course the unwavering support of the U.S. — both the Bush administration as well as the Congress — is what has encouraged Israel to defy all United Nations resolutions with impunity. In fact Israel has made a mockery out of the United Nations, and the USA has acted likewise by hijacking the role of the United Nations. It has appointed itself as world police determining the fate of nations and using double standards in the exercise of its veto power.

Just like previous envoys, Mr. Burns could save his energy unless he has a definite timetable for ending the Occupation. And why create a new framework for an international conference when the Madrid conference was already agreed upon as the basis for the negotiations? Again Israel is stalling, and getting away with it. And again it is putting conditions for the reform in the Palestinian Authority.

We certainly do not need either the USA or Israel as guardians to tell us what we should be doing. We are very well aware of the necessary reforms, and the Palestinian Authority needs to be accountable to its constituency. But how can any reforms take place, let alone elections, with all the closures and the travel restrictions as well as the insecurity as a result of the daily incursions into Palestinian towns? Every aspect of our lives has been disrupted, and we have not been able to lead a normal life either at home or at work.

In spite of the anger, the animosity and the frustration which mounted immensely during the last three months, nobody can deny that the Palestinians and the Israelis are destined to live side by side. Eventually when this nightmare is over, and they have their breathing space each in their own separate state, hopefully both of them will restore one secular state in this region. The Israeli myth that we are going to throw them into the sea does not hold water any more. And they are certainly not going to transfer us to the desert, no matter how difficult life becomes.

The percentage of Palestinian people leaving the country as a result of the harsh measures would probably have an equal number of Israelis emigrating as a result of the instability and the lack of security which Sharon had promised them. But Mr. Sharon needs to be reminded continuously that JUSTICE is the prerequisite of security and peace. For the umpteenth time we continue to ask: “Until when will Israel be allowed to trample over international law and to enjoy immunity from criticism and sanctions for its non-compliance with United Nations resolutions? Until When??”


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