Occupation is the Cause
One day last week a spokesman for the Israeli army said it had struck a major blow against the Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It had brought charges in a military court against four Palestinians who he said were leaders of the uprising ”at the executive level.”
The next morning, before dawn, the army sent 30 border policemen to raid the village of Nahhalin, near Bethlehem. When the raid was over, five Palestinians were dead and 25 wounded.
Those two coincidental events, the military prosecution and the raid, define Israel’s policy toward the uprising. It is to suppress the Palestinians by force: by arrest, detention, beating, shooting.
And those events make something else clear. The policy is bankrupt.
The idea that the intifada is something managed ”at the executive level” is a grotesque misunderstanding of its character. It is a popular uprising – one that started spontaneously, according to Israeli experts, and that is fed by the frustrations of life under occupation.
Nothing is more likely to feed the intifada than a brutal event like the raid on Nahhalin. The deaths naturally arouse the emotions of Palestinians right across the West Bank and Gaza.
How could such an incident happen? To relieve the pressure on the army and its reservists, Israel has recently been using border policemen for occupation duty. This paramilitary force includes many Arabic-speaking Israeli Druse. It has a reputation for harsh treatment of Arabs.
Border policemen began patrolling Nahhalin about a week before the raid, after youths threw stones at Jewish settlers using a nearby road. Villagers said the policemen had taunted them and shouted obscenities at women.
At 3:30 A.M. on April 13 the force of 30 border policemen raided the village. The army said their mission was to gather intelligence and arrest anyone suspected of stone-throwing. They went that early because it is Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims rise early to eat breakfast before the daylight fast.
The people of Nahhalin were already angry at the behavior of the border police in previous days. Youths began throwing stones. Then, somehow, the police began firing live ammunition.
The army appointed a committee of senior officers to investigate. Exactly what happened may never be certain. But the incident in Nahhalin underlines what 16 months of the intifada have shown: that trying to suppress Palestinian nationalism in the occupied territories brutalizes Israel – and does not work.
Prime Minister Shamir has said repeatedly, most recently on his visit to the United States, that the West Bank and Gaza must remain forever under Israel’s control. It is that premise that requires the policy of force – to suppress the Palestinians instead of negotiating with them.
Israel’s intelligence and military chiefs argue with increasing force that the policy will not work. ”There is no such thing as eradicating the intifada,” Gen. Dan Shomron, the Chief of Staff, said in February, ”because in its essence it expresses the struggle of nationalism.”
The policy damages one of Israel’s precious values, its reputation in the world. After Nahhalin the International Red Cross made a rare public protest against ”violation of fundamental humanitarian law,” saying its private appeals to Israel had gone unheeded. It said the border police had fired ”without discrimination and without restraint.”
American friends of Israel are more and more aware of what the occupation is costing. Even the mainline leaders are speaking up. Two months ago Morris B. Abram, then chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said: ”The status quo is not indefinitely acceptable to American Jews. . . . The occupation is the cause of the disturbances.”
Exactly. Raids and repression cannot make the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza content with occupation. They want what Jews struggled so long to get for themselves: a place where they can control their own lives.
Passover, which begins this week, should be a time for reflection on the crisis of occupation. It celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from captivity in Egypt – and the establishment of Jewish national identity. The survival of the Jewish state today requires recognition that another people is entitled to its identity, too.
I happened to come across this op-ed (I don’t know why a 15-year-old was reading the Times op-ed page, but let’s not go there just yet). As a teenager, I wasn’t really listening to Lewis’ message. I was just tuned into what I thought was another piece of Israel-bashing, and I had had enough of it. I just couldn’t take it anymore! So, what does a teenage patriot do? He types a letter to the editor on his little computer (what was that in 1989, some kind of IBM compatible?), but of course! Here it is:
To the Editor:
(“Occupation is the Cause”, April 16), “The policy damages one of Israel’s precious values, it’s reputation in the world”. May I add – Mr. Lewis isn’t helping much either.
I am a 15 year old boy living in Haifa, Israel. I have much to say of the status quo in my “mischievous” little country, although a prestigious paper such as yours would obviously rather write “white lies” than print my insignificant letter, therefore I’ll try to make this brisk and harmless (May I add, I am a pure leftist, who would love to see the Palestinian people with a home of their own).
The article says that 30 border policemen were sent to raid the village of Nahalin, which cost the lives of 5 Palestinians and many wounded.
The real story: A) Border policemen are patrolling as usual through numerous villages, and arrive at Nahhalin. B) From the speakers of the mosque, calls for Jihad (Holy War) are heard. C) Hundreds of Arabs attack soldiers with sticks, axes and Molotov cocktails. D) Soldiers are forced to shoot large amounts of ammunition in the air. E) After finishing supplies of plastic bullets, soldiers are forced to use live ammunition to fight them off. F) Five killed.
What I’m trying to say here is this: Mr. Lewis is exaggerating just a bit by using the word “raid” and givng the reader a first impression that the border policemen went into the village with an intention to kill, which I’ve proved is wrong.
But the real point is that this humble exaggeration can give the reader the totally wrong impression heshe should be getting – the right one. I have noticed, since the beginning of the intifidada, that this technique is used not only by Mr. Lewis, but by many other reporters covering the happaenings in the occupied territotries. All this technique does is give some more juice to the article and the reporter’s paycheck. Wonderful, we all gain from it, but someone pays for it. Who pays? Israel. What’s the cost? As mentioned before – its reputation in the world.
This incident suddenly comes to mind. 300 civilians killed in Caracas, Venezuela in one day. Cause: rise of costs for bus fares. Now isn’t that droll? Not to me nor to anyone else. So why don’t reporters chew on that for a while? (Didn’t see any nice juicy headlines for that in this “prestigous” paper, whose motto is nonetheless – “All the News that’s Fit to Print”). I’ll never know. Do you reporters have something against us? If not, get off our case, OK?
April 18, 1989