Archive for February, 2005

Will Abbas Need a Magic Wand?

February 4, 2005

By Samia Khoury
Friday, February 4, 2005

Ever since 1948, when my family had to leave our beautiful cozy home in Upper Baka’a in West Jerusalem, my dream as a young person was to have a magic wand to carry me back there just to see what had become of our neighborhood. When I watched UN cars driving through the Mandelbaum gate, which separates the east side of Jerusalem from the west side at a point right behind the East Jerusalem YMCA, I wished I were invisible so that I could hide in one of those cars. I wanted so badly to see home again, especially since I was in boarding school at the moment that my parents left, and I did not get a chance to have a last look and collect whatever I thought was precious at that time.

How ironic that my dream was realized not by a magic wand, nor by the mystery of the “invisible creature,” but by the war of June 1967, which created a new reality for us overnight. That war further dispossessed us of our rights and cut us off — through bridges and checkpoints — from the rest of the Middle East region. Yet at the same time, it opened up the borders that had been placed between us and the Palestinians who had stayed in Israel after the creation of that state on Palestinian land — and also opened up a path between the West Bank, where we lived, and the Gaza. These were bittersweet connections and it was ironic that the occupation made them possible, I thought, and comforted myself by thinking that it would soon be over and we would have a state for all the people of the land.

In the excitement of checking out the country and the different cities, the Palestinians who lived in the Galilee assured us that we were still in the “honeymoon” stage. They knew what they were talking about, since they had gone through all that before us. They knew what it meant to lose their property under the absurd and illegal “absent present law.” They knew what it meant when property was seized for security reasons, and they knew how frustrating it was to try to get a permit to move from one town to the other. They knew how it felt to be strangers in their own country, due to the racist laws that were passed by the new state to legalize all action against them as aliens in a Jewish state.

Sure enough, it did not take long for our “honeymoon” to be over. The Israeli colonies started mushrooming all over the Occupied Territories, and my dream for one secular state for all the people of the land soon diminished. The so-called “security wall,” which is still snaking through more Palestinian areas, has not only deprived people of more land, but it has made it almost impossible for them to have access to their basic daily needs and services.

Yet in spite of all that we have been subjected to, we seem determined to make the best out of a bad situation. One more time, the Palestinians wanted to give peace a chance, after the passing away of Mr. Arafat. Seven men ran for the presidential elections. Although it was very clear from the start, and from the polls, that Abbas was going to win, it was a democratic process, and the runner-up had a very professional campaign. Despite the occupation, and the obstacles imposed by the Israeli forces to disrupt the whole operation — especially in Jerusalem — the elections did take place as planned on January 9, 2005. Except for minor infractions, which did not spoil the excitement, the elections went smoothly. About 71% of those eligible to vote actually voted, and the newly elected president Mahmoud Abbas got 62.5% of the vote while the next candidate Mustafa Barghouti got 19.5% of the vote. The international observers were very impressed and vouched for the transparency of the whole process, and the ink on our thumbs, an added security against possible repeat voting, is still a reminder of that historic day.

The new president was determined not to let the people down, and he meant to make peace his business right from the beginning. He was elected shortly before Eid El-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, yet he announced that he would not be receiving people on that occasion. He was too busy reconciling the various factions of the Palestinian population and putting the Palestinian house in order. Another welcome gesture was a request not to publish congratulatory wishes on his election in the local newspapers. If he could set a model, it would be a blessing to do away with the over-exaggerated phenomenon of “congratulations, thanks and condolences” through the papers.

Will this round of talks with Israel be a repeat performance of previous endless talks, or will there be genuine goodwill gestures to get a serious process going, with the purpose of ending the occupation? The Palestinian people might be oppressed and might be helpless, but we are certainly not na├»ve. We have a saying in Arabic: “A person cannot be bitten twice from the serpent’s pit.” That is why the Palestinian factions are apprehensive about committing themselves to a period of calm. Yet after serious negotiations with the new president they did commit to this calming period, but Israeli aggression did not stop. Every night there is an invasion somewhere. Curfews continue to be imposed, and land continues to be confiscated for the wall and settlement colonies. It is probably part of a provocative plan, to foul up any possibility of peace talks.

Not only humans are being harassed, but lately the dead as well. Families who have relatives buried at the cemetery of Arab El-Sawahrah have been ordered to remove their remains because an Israeli company claims it owns the property of the cemetery. That should be just as embarrassing for Israel as the law that was passed in July 2004 considering the property of Jerusalemites living in the West Bank as “absentee property.”

Indeed, it was not a wise step on the part of Israel to revive that law at this moment. Even the U.S. administration, despite its unwavering support to Israel, could not turn a blind eye to it when all the focus is on a new era of peace talks. So perhaps the Israeli Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz did not have much choice but to admit the error, to apologize and cancel the expropriation decision which he claimed had gone through the cabinet without being brought to his attention. Of course, we all know by now that Israel goes ahead and does what it pleases and gets away with it. I was inspired at one time by the famous song “Whatever Lola wants Lola gets” to write an article about Israel’s attitude regarding UN resolutions and international law. Let us hope that this “land grab” incident will be an eye-opener for the U.S. administration and a starter to stand up against Israel when it defies international law. Dare we raise our hopes again? Or will Mr. Abbas need a magic wand to bring peace to the region and an end to the occupation?