By Dr. Eyad Sarraj
A few weeks ago I said that the struggle of Palestinians today is how not to become a bomb and that the amazing thing is not the occurrence of the suicide bombing, rather the rarity of them.
The BBC interviewer appeared to understand. I was shocked because it is our understanding that the world out there will never understand. And who on earth in their right mind would understand terror and the killing of innocent people? Why do Palestinians kill themselves and Israelis in such an horrific way at the bus stop or in a crowded market? Do you really care to know? Well, let me try and explain.
I believe it is an act of absolute despair and a very serious stage of the seemingly perpetual conflict. Since the uprooting of the Palestinians in 1948 triggered by Irgun Jewish terror under the leadership of Yitzak Shamir and Menachem Begin, we have tried everything. We have tried Nasser and Arab Nationalism, only to be invaded in 1956 in our second homes in the refugee camps. It was only because of the Russian threat to bomb London and Paris, and the resolve of American president Eisenhower that ended the Israeli occupation.
We have tried the United Nations and its Security Council, which by the way have made excellent resolutions on our behalf. For example Resolution 194 calling on Israel to allow us to return to our homeland, but to no avail. So we kept wandering around, between airports and refugee camps, waiting for a hero or an earthquake. All we wanted was to go home. But our story was getting worse and we grew bitter as we heard that a Jew from Poland would be declared a citizen of our country - a country now called Israel. We were told that officially we were stateless with undefined nationality. So we went to universities. We believed then that Jews were so clever because they were educated. We were told that Jews controlled the world with their education. They are doctors, lawyers and scientists, never beggars or boxers. In twenty years many of us became university graduates and we were in every university. We had some pride. Some of our educated people formed the resistance movement. They believed that the Arab countries would never fight Israel, and that we had to force them to fight. Fatah with Yasser Arafat was born. They forced the Arabs to fight by inviting Israel to attack Egypt in 1967. In the course of six days the Arabs were defeated again but worse. This time we lost Gaza and the West Bank, Egypt lost Sinai, and Syria lost the Golan. In a sudden stroke our fate was sealed and we had to live under Israeli military occupation for thirty years. Do you know what does it mean to live under Israeli military occupation? Do you really care to know? Let me tell you a few things.
You are given an identity number and a permit to reside. If you leave the country for more that three years in succession, you lose that right to residence.
When you leave the country on a trip, you are given a laissez passez, a travelling document, valid for one year and it tells you in its recording of your particulars that you are of undefined nationality.
Israeli occupation means that you are called twice a year by the intelligence for routine interrogation and persuasion to work as an informer on your brothers and sisters. No one is spared. If you are to be a member of a political organisation you will be sentenced for ten years. For a military action you will be sentenced to life.
To survive under the Israeli occupation you are given the chance to work in the jobs that Israelis do not like, sweeping the streets, building houses, collecting fruit or harvesting. You will have to leave your home in the refugee camp in Gaza at 3 am, go through the road blocks and check posts, spend your day under the sun and surveillance returning home in the evening to collapse in bed for a few hours before the following day.
We simply became the slaves of our enemy. We are building their homes on our villages, and we clean their streets. Do you know what does it do to you when you have to be the slave of your enemy in order to survive. No you will never know how painful it is unless your country is occupied by another force. Only then will you learn how to watch in silence pretending not to see the torture of your friends and the humiliation of your father.
Do you know what it means for a child to see his father spat at and beaten before his eyes by an Israeli soldier? Nobody knows what happened to our children. We don't know ourselves except we observe that they lose respect for their fathers. So they, our children, the children of the stone as they became known, tried the Intifada - the Uprising. Seven long years our children were throwing stones and being killed daily. Nearly all our young men were arrested, the majority were tortured. All had to confess. The result was every one suspected that all people were spies. So, we were exhausted, tormented and brutalised. What else could we do to return to our home? We had almost forgotten that and all what we wanted was to be left alone.
What else could we try? Oh yes, peace. When the news came that Arafat had signed a peace treaty in Washington we were jubilant. At last we thought we were to get rid of that miserable life of military occupation, at last. So we had hope.
We could not believe our eyes when there were no more curfews and we could actually spend our evening on the beach or wander in streets which were now ours after eight o'clock at night. We were ecstatic. We even had elections and we had a parliament, so we were told.
Then came Binyamin Netanyahu.
He refused to meet Arafat and was clearly forced to shake hands in obvious disgust. He refused to free our prisoners, to have a safe passage for us to move between the West Bank and Gaza. He even surrounded our towns and villages with his tanks and arrested our policemen. Then he went after our holy places and opened a tunnel under our holiest Mosque. Tens of our children and also Israeli soldiers were killed because of that tunnel, but he went on insulting us and driving out our sanity.
Arafat called for patience and we were patient, then Netanyahu started to build settlements in Jerusalem and drive the remaining Palestinians out. Settlers in Hebron spat on our Prophet and called him a pig. All in the name of peace we were humiliated, even arrested and tortured by Palestinian forces to protect the peace. Our Authority was turning against us to please Netanyahu. Our officials were driving in big cars and building big villas. They have VIP cards and cross the check posts like human beings while we are left to rot.
I've told you a few things. Now do you understand why we have turned into suicide killers?
Dr. Eyad Sarraj is a Palestinian Psychiatrist, Commissioner of Citizens Rights, and an Awardee of Physicians for Human Rights. He was detained three times by Arafat's forces during 1996.
The above article is published with the kind permission of Mid-East Realities (MER), www.middleeast.org.