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July/August 2003 • Vol 3, No. 7 •

Palestine’s Hounded Men

By Samah Jabr

I was in the staircase of a public building at a very early hour in the morning when a well-built, barefoot young man accosted me, club in hand. He was not any less astonished to see me than I was to see him. Unlike me, however, who was paralyzed with fear, he soon heaved a sigh of relief. The young man quickly apologized and disappeared before I could fully grasp what had happened.

Not long after that encounter he sent emissaries to inform me that he is one of the wanted Palestinians whose names appear on the “death lists” that are constantly being issued by the Israeli government. When he heard my footsteps he became terrified, and that was why he had raised his club at me.

This unusual encounter brought home to me the reality of the wanted Palestinian political activists and fighters whom the iron fist of the occupation is eager to crush. Living with virtually no food, in crippling cold with little clothing, these people are constantly in the shadow of death. Many of their friends and comrades have been assassinated and many live in dread, anticipating death at any moment. They hide in caves, old buildings and public places, not knowing where to go or whom to trust.

Israel has a long history of extra-judicial killings, a policy in direct and blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is being implemented, moreover, with complete disregard for the risks it poses to the lives of innocent civilian bystanders. The ultimate motive for this policy seems not to be the mere killing of Palestinian activists—although hundreds have been assassinated—but rather the “re-education” and intimidation of the entire nation.

The reality of occupation has changed the interests and life style of many of our brave, altruistic and responsible young men. Resistance has become their priority and, for many, liberation is the ultimate goal in life. Instead of being wanted for jobs, for dates, for social and cultural activities, they are “wanted” as objects of assassination or endless imprisonment in the springtime of their lives. They behold their blood and coffins wherever they go, and live with unbearable distrust of others. Wherever they turn they face danger. Parted from their families and wives, suffering hunger, cold, and homelessness, they never know in which car, or phone booth, or surroundings, or from what Apache helicopter gunship, ambush, or sniper’s fire they will meet their death.

Now that news reports are abuzz with talk of “peaceful efforts” at redrawing the Middle East map to suit Washington’s—and, it goes without saying, Israel’s—interests, few are paying attention to this latest malignant ploy, the consequences of which seem to be more latent than potent. Our revolution now is asked to destroy its own sons, or at least turn its back on them, leaving their future hanging in the wind. There is a false euphoria, a numbing, short-term anesthetic allowing us to excise this vital issue from public debate.

But the pain is sure to come. The road map is based on a virulent, extremely deep-seated hostility to Palestinian resistance, which it intends to oppose and fight in every way possible. The imperial policy of divide-and-rule informs this road map, which feeds on Palestinian fragmentation, moments of exhaustion, collective inaction and moral weakness. Its aim is to disfigure the commitment to national self-determination of those who fight for liberation, the cause we have passionately espoused and supported these past three years.

But those who are targeted for assassination are not the only “wanted” Palestinians. Some of us are needed for collaboration, some are harassed and chased by the intelligence agencies, deprived of jobs, travel documents and made to sign petitions in exchange for some basic rights. The whole nation is wanted—needed—to surrender to injustice.

It is painful to see those who claim to be our leaders embracing the Americans, when everyone from the political analyst to the falafel vendor is equally aware of the occupiers’ designs on our land. The youngest Palestinian child knows that the road map is designed to abort the Intifada, spark a Palestinian civil war and force Palestinian compliance with Israeli-American demands for “reform” in return for nothing much at all.

Such change can only be imposed by filling the pockets of the spiritually bankrupt few, whose assignment will then be to use force of arms to destroy Palestinian unity, thereby irremediably changing the foundation of our lives and aspirations.

Democracy threatens the occupiers, after all, and freedom might cost the governing colonial elite some favor with the imperial authority. The occupiers want for us a government of individuals scrambling for positions of authority and prestigious trips abroad to sign the sellout agreements. They want an impotent leadership that will never articulate the demands of the Palestinian people or fulfill our national aspirations. They seek a leadership that will create a rift between ruler and ruled and perpetuate public fragmentation and factionalism which, finally, will reduce us to a bunch of warring gangs whose first loyalty is not to their nation, but to our occupiers and their allies. They desire for us an authority that will serve as a local police force expected to carry out Israeli orders to arrest Palestinian activists and militants, while, in the name of security, Israel continues to politicize the criminal actions of its settlers and military commanders against our entire nation.

Despite their many divisions and disputes, the Palestinians are, in fact, one people. We are not a random collection of folk passively available to outside intervention and rule. Only a government representative of all our political streams—and one that protects all its citizens—will be capable of winning our approval, and honoring agreements made in our name.

Regardless of all political agreements, Palestinian fighters are alive in the nation’s heart. Ata Al-Zeer, Muhammad Jamjoum and Fuad Hejazi, the patriotic Palestinian heroes of the August 1929 Al Buraq Rebellion, rose against the British during their imperialistic mandate of Palestine and, as a result, were beheaded in the Akka prison on June 17, 1930. We never met the three martyrs, but their names and their devotion live with us, in our literature and traditional songs. All young Palestinians grow up having great respect and deep sympathy for those who die unjustly at the enemy’s hands.

Other remarkable Arab freedom-fighters like Omar Al-Mukhtar and Jamila Bu-Hraid have left a legacy of pride and implanted a tradition of steadfastness and staying power in their people’s hearts and minds.

Al-Mukhtar was the Libyan revolutionary who bravely fought for his country against the Italian occupation, and Bu-Hraid was the female Algerian freedom fighter who was brutally tortured in French prisons. Such fighters do not only live on with the younger generations of their people, but also have since gained the respect of their enemies. Jamila married her French lawyer and, recently, the Italian authorities gave the name of Omar Al-Mukhtar to a major street in Italy as an expression of regret for their colonial history and the public killing of Al-Mukhtar.

We must rise to the occasion and protect Palestinian society from its self-imposed standoff between rulers and ruled. This can be achieved only by welcoming democracy in the cause of freedom and self-determination, and inviting every citizen willing to be mobilized to join in a common front of resistance against the occupiers—and the occupiers alone. We need every intellectual and political force to bind us together and strengthen us in our struggle against the local and international imperial scheme to reshape our lives and destiny without our consent.

We shall not abandon our fighters and leave them disaffected and alienated, succumbing to helpless rage and marginalized reaction. We shall hold them dear in our hearts and minds, for that is where they belong and there is where they shall live forever.

Samah Jabr is a writer, a physician and an activist based in her birth city of Jerusalem. She can be reached at samahjabr@hotmail.com.

—Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 17, 2003





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