ISRAELI SOLDIERS CONFRONT PROTESTERS AT A WEEKLY DEMONSTRATION IN MA’SARA VILLAGE (IMAGE BY EDRA ARB)
By Edra Arb
Are all Palestinians criminals; making mass imprisonment and the surveillance of everyday life necessary? Are they terrorists, murderers and oppressors who must be erased as a nation and as a people? Are all people on Earth worth fundamental Human Rights?
Our global world still consists of racist structures that put people in different categories; disfavouring those standing lowest and favouring those on top. Since prejudices justify the oppression of the lowest standing, it also helps those who are on top to remain there. The world media portrayal of a Palestinian (or maybe even an Arab in general) could be described roughly, as: crazy, murderous terrorists and Islamic extremists who have no respect for women. All these statements have been used, directly or indirectly, as justifications to continue the inhuman occupation of Palestine. The whole population is judged to be “legally incompetent”: not able to speak, move, vote or even live freely. My assignment for this article was to give my honest experience of living in the area as a foreigner, since most of the information about Palestine seems to come from sources other than Palestine itself.
Firstly, I would like to discuss the prejudices about violence, terrorism and murder. Since I came here I have not seen any type of violence. That does not mean that it does not exist – we are in the middle of a conflict zone. People here have seen and experienced more violence and death than I can ever imagine or understand. Soldiers with loaded machine guns are simply a part of everyday life, sitting in corners eating pizza or surrounding peaceful demonstrations. They don’t usually shoot, but the threat is always present.
It is hard to find statistics about how many Palestinians have killed Israelis and vice versa during the whole conflict. According to the Israeli Human Rights Organization, almost five times more Palestinians than Israelis were killed during the period from 1989 to 2009. The question then is why Palestinians in the media are almost always described as the violent ones. Why does Israel always insist that the Palestinian Authority do more to stop Palestinian violence before there can be any peace solution, when most of the violence is perpetrated by the Israelis themselves?
According to what I have found out here, the most common violence committed by Palestinians against Israelis is throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, especially near the wall or settlements. Israel uses this to justify arresting Palestinians and giving them year-long detention and shooting at them. But why throw stones at armed soldiers? I asked a Palestinian who was active in the second intifada: “It is just the feeling. I am not stupid enough to honestly think that they will give us freedom because of that, but in some way I have to take a symbolic action to show that I have not given up.” All kinds of violence is a crime, though it is hard to compare stones and bullets. Settlers have had impunity in almost all cases, including killings, according to Amnesty International in their Annual Report 2011. No one here would be surprised if a settler who shot a stone-thrower directly at their body escaped all legal sanctions.
I have been speaking with many Palestinians about this prejudice against martyrs and terrorists. They are repeating a main message that should be too simple to bear repeating: Palestinians are, as everybody else, in almost all cases filled with feelings and hope for a long, healthy life. They do not want their kids to die or become terrorists. All they want is to live in peace, but without humiliation and more losses. No fair peace could be gained if there is no justice between the two parts.
The next prejudices to discuss are the religious issues. Firstly, the common opinion that the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is all about religion is simply wrong. It is all about politics. I have never heard any Palestinian say that he or she hates Jews, but I have heard a lot of that said about Zionists. Zionism is a political ideology about the right to a Jewish state where Palestine once was. In the West Bank, Muslims, Christians and Palestinian Jews live together on the same land. On the same square where the worldwide important Nativity church is in Bethlehem, there is also a mosque. I have been as much with Christian friends as with Muslims, and there have not been borders between us because of different beliefs. This conflict is a struggle between ideologies and culture; about power, money and land. Not about religion.
The oppression of women is another famous prejudice. I was warned before I came here that “In those countries the women are only like possessions of men. Western woman especially are seen as prostitutes.” My experience has not proved this statement; on the contrary, it has been very easy for me to get around here.
I do not like to compare Israel and Palestine in unessential issues in order just to make one country seem better then the other, but it is important to open up the debate about these things – there are almost twice as many women in the Palestinian parliament as in the Israeli parliament Knesset. This does not demonstrate a perfect situation for women, but it may prove the way that we are judging people, nationalities and cultures without facts or experience. There are probably oppressed women in both Israel and Palestine. And why should oppression because of nationality decrease the oppression of women?
It is important to point out the difference between individuals in this issue as well. A Palestinian woman tried to explain the difference between families, villages and society here. How a woman can live, dress and behave is very different depending on which norms they were raised with. This is not only a religious issue; Christian women and Muslim women are in a very similar situation since they are living in the same society. Some families or areas are more conservative than others, and vice versa. As always, norms and life are affected by culture, but depend on individuals.
The worst and most important part of this is how prejudices and global social status is affecting Palestinians’ access to Human Rights and their ability to live a life in freedom. Since the image of them as a “dangerous”, “Islamic extremist” people has been spread over the world, the fact that they are now imprisoned inside a wall and are everyday victims of crimes against Human Rights has not yet generated as much attention as it should. What if Germany or the USA was inside a wall, with no full right of movement or expression? Would the world accept that? Absolutely not. Would the UN give Switzerland to the Armenians if they needed a land? Definitely not.
14 countries voted “no” for a Palestinian membership in UNESCO. The US, Canada, Germany and Israel were some of the countries. Sweden also said “no” to Palestine’s UNESCO membership, one of the arguments was the following: “We cannot disregard that almost half of Palestine is ruled by a party that we find terroristic (Hamas).”
However, it might seem a little bit contradictive to have this argument and promote democracy. Hamas was elected in 2006. They were not able to rule in the West Bank as the US and the EU froze their grants if Fatah did not rule anyway. Palestinians are under occupation, and they are not even seen able to elect their own government. Why didn’t the EU just invalidate George Bush when he attacked Iraq or started the Guantanamo base? No, he got support. The Hungarian government has recently adopted several laws that are seen as undemocratic, why does the world not oust them?
Nevertheless, Palestine was backed by 107 countries in the UNESCO. Just after, when Israel had “condemned the rudeness all these 107 countries had committed”, they exacted this revenge: to build 2000 more houses for settlers inside “The Occupied Palestinian Territories” and to temporarily freeze the transfer of Palestinian taxes to the Palestinian Authority. Nothing has been done about that. This is the imperialistic structure of the world; how some states can occupy territories. How some states can deny others rights when others cannot. What if Palestine occupied and imprisoned Israel? What if Iraq attacked the US? According to The Lancet’s survey, the occupation of Iraq has led to 655,000 Iraqi deaths. To spread democracy?
Prejudices are making the Palestinians suffer, both as individuals and as a people. They give them less human rights and humiliate them. The Palestinians are not the only people in the world who suffer from prejudices that both exclude them from power and dignity. I have not experienced the normal Palestinian as a terrorist. I have experienced a country full of individuals who for more than sixty years have suffered more than they deserve. I have experienced a welcoming country where, if not for the occupation, it is easy to travel within and to feel comfortable. Crimes are committed here, and Palestinians are victims of crimes.
If we are going to continue to judge people due to their ethnicity or nationality we might as well agree on the following facts:
Blondes are in almost every case, stupid
Jews are without many exceptions, greedy
Immigrants (in every country) are criminals
East Europeans drink vodka for breakfast
(english.pnn.ps / 26.01.2012)