From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
[PCUSANEWS] Grayed expectations
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
21 Feb 2003 08:16:18 -0500
Note #7602 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Palestinians live in dread, sense that the worst is yet to come
by Alexa Smith
BETHLEHEM, West Bank - In a tiny shop whose walls are plastered with
photographs of very young, very dead Palestinians, 16-year-old Abdul Rahmen
doesn't mince words: He isn't much worried about a possible U.S. attack on
"If the U.S. hits Iraq, then Iraq will hit Israel, sure," he says. "I'd be
worried about my Arab brothers and sisters in Iraq, yeah; but all the time,
Israel is hitting us. I'd be happy."
Rahmen rests his arms on a tiny table ringed by teenagers in Hussein Arij's
falafel joint inside the Aida Camp, a makeshift town on the edge of Bethlehem
that is home to Palestinian refugees who lost their land in 1948 and again in
What if an Iraqi Scud missile misses Jerusalem and lands here instead?
"No problem," Rahmen says. "Death is normal for us here. Every day we're
He tips his head slightly, indicating a picture on the wall of the camp's
latest martyr, Tarek Mahmoud Abu-Jado, who was 19 years old when he was
killed. According to Abu-Jado's mother, the young man had gone to fetch his
brothers home from a rock fight with Israeli soldiers, and was hit by a stray
Rahmen's nonchalance brings a burst of invective from Arij, the proprietor;
it is in Arabic, but no translation is necessary.
Two of Arij's brothers died young, failed suicide bombers. A third brother,
the non-political one, 35 years old, was killed in the street outside his
shop less than two years ago when Israeli soldiers strafed the camp from
Arij launches into a lecture, telling Rahmen that a war would only make life
worse in Aida Camp, where it' s pretty awful already, what with random
curfews that keep civilians inside their homes for days at a time, nighttime
raids on the homes of Palestinians, detentions, arrests without trial,
suspects held indefinitely on the whim of a senior army officer. (This month
the number of Palestinians in custody reached 1,000; last year it was 36.)
Not to mention the destruction of Palestinians' property, the closings of
universities, the lack of work and the resultant lack of income.
And that's how it is now, with much of the world keeping an eye on the
Israeli-Palestinian situation. Who knows how things would change if the world
turned its eyes away from Israel to Iraq?
Rahmen's big brown eyes widen as he listens to the tirade from Arij.
"For sure, it could be worse," he concedes.
The same gloomy conversation is going on all over the West Bank. What will
happen next? How much worse can it get?
There certainly was no reassurance for the Palestinians in the resounding
re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the endorsement of his
Whatever comes, the Palestinians say, they won't be shocked. Who ever thought
was has happened could happen? What Israel calls defense against militants
looks to them like attacks on civilians. If the world goes to war, there is
plenty to fear, and nothing much that ordinary people can do.
The most unthinkable idea is transfer - the deportation of West Bank
residents, prisoners, refugees or troublemakers, or all of the above, from
supposed hotbeds of resistance like Jenin and Tulkarem. Transfer is the
"wannabe" policy of Israel's far right that has spawned bumper stickers that
read, "deportthe****ers.com" and "250,000 Already Gone." It's also becoming a
popular topic of polite newspaper debates.
It is also a topic with which Palestinian President Yasser Arafat seems
obsessed. Transfer would give Israel a way of avoiding a resumption of peace
talks and conversation about an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied
territories. It also would help Israel side-step another debate, about simply
annexing the territories and making Israeli citizens of three million
Palestinians; that idea is gaining support among West Bankers. But annexation
would nullify Israel's identity as a Jewish state and create a messy,
multi-ethnic democracy; the idea gives the jitters to right- and left-leaning
While reasonable voices on all sides say that transfer can't happen - that
Palestinians cannot simply be loaded into trucks and toted over the border to
Jordan or Lebanon - many seem to be warming to the notion.
"Everything is possible here now," says Dr. Madhi Abdul Hadi, director of the
Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA).
"Nothing is impossible. No one thought Israel would blow up houses. No one
thought they would assassinate (political) leaders. They are doing
"And the world does not contain or restrain the Israelis," adds Hadi, a
Harvard University graduate who represents Palestinian moderates.
Hadi says conspiracy theories and rumors abound because people feel helpless
in the face of political havoc that all too often allows the unthinkable to
"We've been bleeding here, painfully, for the last 28 months, physically,
mentally, psychologically," he says, noting that even the Arab states have
done nothing to bind the Palestinians' wounds.
Art Gish of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron, an international
group of pacifists that tries to intervene in violent situations, says a kind
of internal transfer is under way already - many residents of Hebron have
been forced to move to survive.
For 70 days, Palestinians in the city's center have been under virtual house
arrest, with occasional breaks to buy food. More than 2,500 shops are shut.
Palestinians are subject to frequent detentions. The produce market is now a
convenience for the 400 Israeli settlers who have moved into the largely
Palestinian town and the 1,500 Israeli soldiers who came along for
"Palestinians are not explicitly told they have to leave Hebron, but the
effect of all these restrictions and abuses is to empty the area of
Palestinians," says Gish. "We must ask the question of whether the Israeli
government has started to implement clear, explicit plans for removing all
Palestinians from a large area of Hebron."
He calls it "ethnic cleansing," whether by "design or effect."
Gish says that the settlers' belief that all of Israel/Palestine "belongs
only to Jews" is dramatically evidenced by recent Israeli confiscations of
large tracts of land.
He says the Palestinian part of Hebron's Old City is looking more and more
like a ghost town.
Yoni Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, says the idea that
Palestinians could be transferred is "ludicrous." He points out that it is
illegal and impossible, despite the wishful slogans of the Israeli right
wing. Deportation is a process that involves court cases and years of trials
and appeals, he says.
But Peled's assurances don't mean much to two young men talking politics in
an East Jerusalem coffee shop on the eve of Sharon's re-election. Curfews
were in effecdt in West Bank towns, and soldiers were stopping Palestinian
men in Jerusalem, demanding to see their ID cards. (Non-residents are usually
not allowed in the city after dark.)
"We're very worried about what's going to be and sure there's going to be
something," says a twentysomething man who hasn't had work for five months.
"They could transfer people, attack Villages, attack Gaza, deport Arafat.
And we cannot do anything. The Palestinian Authority is in a bad situation.
"So, we'll just have to be patient and wait," he says, taking a drag of his
cigarette. "Israel is doing whatever it wants here. The world community says,
'You should not do this,' after Israel has done it. The world doesn't stop
Doug Dicks, a Presbyterian Church (USA) mission worker, is nursing his own
case of post-election blues. He says it was a vote for more of the same: More
hard-line policies that will only worsen the conflict and add to the general
"There will probably be more curfews, probably more closures, probably
reoccupation of the West Bank with tanks and jeeps," he says. "When you throw
transfer into that mix, you think, 'Why not?'"
Jamal Jamil, a 31-year-old resident of the Aida Camp, feels much the same
way. He worked in a casino in Jericho until the Intifada erupted two years
ago and has been out of work ever since. Like a lot of other young men he
knows, he's thinking about leaving the country in search of a job. He has
heard a rumor that the Israelis will be rounding up men who were arrested in
the first Intifada, and that makes him a little nervous, because he was
jailed four times for pelting soldiers with stones, and while in captivity,
He says of the Israelis: "They can do anything."
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