by Jamal El-Deek
Before 1967, my image of the Israeli was formed indirectly from the many stories I would listen to at our village gatherings, usually on winter evenings around the gas lamp: nostalgic tales of life in the days before the Israelis came. The narratives invariably centered on our relationship to the land we had lost, and the feeling of loss was strengthened by the stark contrast our young eyes inevitably noted between the lush, fertile valleys of 1948, described so vividly in those recollections, and the rocky, unyielding mountainous terrain which our parents were attempting to cultivate.
My initial understanding of the image began to evolve through poems, history classes and school celebrations which gave more precise features to the Jew who, we learned, had settled Palestine by force. It continued to develop in my mind until the moment in 1967 when the phantom finally took on flesh. On June 6, I observed facts with my own eyes as people in our village fled, except for my father who said to us, "If you want to follow the rest of them like sheep, go ahead; as for me, I shall not leave my house, I shall stay at home even if it collapses on my head."
We children went into the mountains, but still, we did not see the soldiers. Instead, we heard talk about Jabal Al-Mukaber1 and planes swarming in the air and dropping their bombs on towns and villages below; we saw the population of entire villages camped out under the olive trees. But in spite of all this, we still had not seen the Jew himself, but only his destructive might. This, then, was my first introduction as a Palestinian freedom-fighter to the Jew. It created an image which, as a result of personal experiences and events, was to be modified in years to come, right up to the present day.
In Jordan, I spent almost a month moving among the refugee camps. Yet the talk of fourteen-year-old youths - my peers - was to honor our attachment to our home and we decided to risk it. We plotted behind the backs of our mothers and we infiltrated the Jordan River, guided by a man from Jericho who showed us the least dangerous way across the bridge to avoid the Israeli soldiers guarding our homeland from us, ensuring we would not return to it.
We walked, six boys, toward Jericho, and before we reached the town center, we came face-to-face with some soldiers. They arrested us, but did not humiliate or beat us. They gave us water to drink and took us by truck to Jericho prison where, because of our young age, we were placed with the women. For the first time, the image of the Jew started to focus in my mind: he is a human being after all; greedy, yet uses his power very judiciously, very rationally.
The following day we were led back to the river in the direction of Jordan. But I was determined to return. I gathered a group of boys and we went back, using our first experience as guide. We crossed the river, but this time we bumped into an Israeli in some deserted chicken coops. He was not inimical. Indeed, his behavior added to the clarity of the image in my mind that the Israeli is a human being like any other; he has his negative and positive sides, has his strengths and weaknesses, is prone to sickness, and he is even willing to compromise on the Israeli obsession with security for the sake of his own personal interest.
The Israeli as Occupier
I remember the day of Jamal Abdel Nasser's death in 1970. I was among the men who initiated the first acts of defiance by closing schools, demonstrating and talking about politics and occupation. Later, as students at the Arabic University of Beirut, we were armed with first-hand information about the Israelis and the Occupation. But when I was caught red-handed in possession of explosives, I saw the Occupation as if I was seeing it for the first time, for I beheld the manner of arrest and the method of extraction of confessions, Shin Bet, the police, prisons and courts, all of which embody the Israeli concept of the Palestinian, and the desire to crush the Palestinian identity physically and mentally. I observed the Israeli pragmatism which is subject to no law save the extraction of confessions; and I perceived the false claim about democracy, human rights, respect for the individual and United Nations conventions. I saw brothers, comrades and fellow-fighters in situations which drove one to the brink, hating life and ready to give it up by any means.
Yet these Israeli characteristics were to help me and my comrades to recoup and to view the Israeli identity not as colonialist - for in colonialism there is some form of construction and development - whereas behind the Israeli we saw nothing but ruin, destruction, torture and annihilation of the individual.
The War of Prisons
In jail, we waged a new war, the war of prisons, which taught us how to comprehend the Israeli personality. We became aware of the social contradictions, the absence of religious homogeneity and political pluralism in the Israeli society.
Ketsiot (Al-Naqab) is a detention camp reminiscent of an unthatched sheep pen; the sheep, however, are left to their own designs, undisturbed, to move freely inside the pen. The law, on the other hand, restricts the movements of human beings:
1. It is forbidden to greet anyone in the opposite section of tents.
2. It is forbidden to walk near the barbed wire or in the passages except with one's hands behind one's back.
3. A quarter of an hour before roll-call, all prisoners have to crouch with their hands behind their backs, heads bowed, lips tightly shut, looking at the ground. It is worth noting that this sector numbers 2,500 civilian human beings.
Reference also has to be made to the quality of food, medical treatment, and the daily rationing of water which consists of a two-liter plastic container the prisoner uses for bathing, cleaning utensils and going to the bathroom.
In this context, the image of the Israeli prison warden for the Palestinian draws closer to the stories told by mothers about vile characters thirsty to kill the Arab, the Palestinian, and the Muslim wherever he is and for whatever reason, without any justification.
This was followed by the recognition that, for the Palestinian to achieve dignity as a human being, he had to engage in a struggle with the view of liberating the homeland from occupation. Subsequently came the realization that it was possible for the Israeli soldier to be defeated as he was in El Karameh2, the South [of Lebanon], the October War and even in some instances in Oslo.
Finally came the stage of the state we call the Occupation and ourselves as a state in the future, with our conclusion, albeit timidly, that the struggle has an end and it is possible for us to coexist in the shadow of two states.
The Israeli Identity
These stages combined have led to the crystallization of the identity of the Zionist Jew, the Zionist Israeli, the Israeli in his present form. This was a process which started in early 1974, and continued until the corridors of Oslo where a new type of struggle was begun, with new means and with the features of a new era being fashioned, based on some chapters of the past and visions of the morrow. However, the peace process notwithstanding, traits no less dangerous than those in existence prior to Oslo still characterize the Israeli image.
First, the inability of the Israeli to evolve parallel to the Palestinian who has reached a conviction that the Israeli is a human being and, consequently, can no longer visualize millions of ships in the Mediterranean carrying Israelis away to an as yet undiscovered continent. The Israeli mind, on the other hand, can still picture six million trucks heading toward the desert filled with a people called Palestinians.
Second, there is the Israeli arrogance, conceit and machinations even at the negotiating table, dominated by a security complex which cannot transcend the view of the Palestinian in Al-Ansar and Al-Naqab detention camps, and the Israelis as prison wardens.
Finally, the racial discrimination practiced in the Israeli society is definitely more pronounced where the Palestinians are concerned. Any visitor standing on the Occupation border can see the difference between the yellow and the blue3 similar to that between the black and white in South Africa.
Although the image remains fluid and can change, the perception of the Israeli by the Palestinian so far can be summarized as follows: Israel is the usurper, the displacing agent, the perpetrator of massacres and the occupier. Israel is the procrastinator, even when negotiating agreements. Finally, Israel is an expansionist state.
But, in spite of this negative image, it is to be hoped that the peace process will constitute the beginning of another process - a change in the mutual perception between Israelis and Palestinians. It is only then that both peoples will be able to coexist in harmony and together uphold the principle of the rights of the individual and of nations, and finally reap the fruits of peace.