Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
12 - 18 October 2000
Issue No. 503
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Uprising wipes off Green Line

By Graham Usher

The main highway looked like an urban landscape circa 1982 Beirut. Burnt-out cars lie strewn across the road and tyres smoulder before a vast spider's-web of broken lampposts, each snapped at the stem. At the entrance to the village masked Palestinian youths -- rocks and slings in hand -- toss a stone, a gentle warning that the place is off-limits to Israelis.

"We are not Israelis. We are journalists."

After checking our Palestinian Authority press credentials, they direct us to the village via a hillside road. It is a ritual now common in every Palestinian community in Gaza and the West Bank. But this is not a town or village in the West Bank and Gaza. It is Umm Al-Fahm in Israel's Galilee.

And it is the protests here, in Nazareth, Arabieh, Saknin, Rahat, Kofr Kana and virtually every other place where Israel's Palestinians reside -- whether wholly or mixed with Jews -- that have most jolted mainstream (Jewish) Israeli opinion in the wake of the revolt raging in the occupied territories.

For these Palestinians -- to use the racist taxonomy of Ehud Barak -- are not "over there." They are "here," Arab citizens of Israel. And their participation in the uprising means -- in the words of one Israeli police officer -- "the Green Line doesn't exist anymore."

Viscerally the cause of their joining was the same as for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. On 30 September the Arab Monitoring Committee -- the informal umbrella group that represents Israel's million or so Palestinian citizens -- called a general strike throughout the Arab sector in protest at Israel's killing of six Palestinians on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound the day before.

But what pulled Palestinians out onto the streets of their villages was televised murder -- relayed again and again on Arab TV -- of 12--year old Mohamed Al-Dorra at the Netzarim junction in Gaza after 45 minutes of continuous Israeli army fire. And what put rocks into their hands was the lethal response of the Israeli police, for whom there has never been a Green Line as far "their" Palestinians are concerned.

On 1 October, three Palestinians were shot dead and scores wounded as the police opened fire with live ammunition in Umm Al-Fahm. A like response was meted in Nazareth, Arabieh, Saknin and Jatt as the youths closed roads throughout the Galilee and the protests spread to include the mixed Jewish--Palestinian cities of Haifa, Acre and Jaffa.

By 3 October, 11 Palestinians had been killed and 100 maimed, many in the head and from live ammunition. It was the worst violence among Israel's Palestinians in 52 years of Jewish rule and represented -- in the opinion of Palestinian Member of Knesset, Azmi Bishara -- the "first national intifada of the Israeli Arabs."

Ehud Barak's initial response to the protests was to give his police carte blanche to fight fire with force. But faced with the de--facto closure by Palestinians of vast tracts of the Galilee, by 4 October he had taken wiser counsel, holding his first meeting with Israel's Palestinian leadership in 16 months of office and instructing his police to withdraw from towns like Umm Al-Fahm. He also promised packages of aid and an end to state discrimination against Israel's Arab national minority. But it was all too little too late, as the flames from Nazareth and Umm Al-Fahm gave vent to an equally visceral, Jewish backlash.

It was aired first in the "liberal" Israeli media, as columnist after analyst denounced the "disloyalty" of Israel's Palestinians and offered them the stark choice between citizenship in a state that denies their citizenship, or nationality with a people that is being denied a state.

Opinion polls showed that 60 per cent of Israeli Jews thought Israel would be "better off" if its Arab minority were "removed." And in Israel's premier Yediot Aharonot newspaper on 6 October Professor Amnon Sofer from Haifa University offered a modest proposal for solving the "demographic" problem: Israel should transfer to the Palestinian Authority the Wadi Ara--Triangle area and thereby rid itself of "250,000 Arabs" in a single stroke.

What the intellectuals avowed at the level of discourse thousands of Israeli Jews enacted on the street in the ugliest forms of ethnic violence. Ostensibly in response to Hizbullah's capture of three Israeli soldiers -- and apparently in coordination with Jewish settlers in the occupied territories -- on 7 October thousands of Jews attacked Palestinians in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. In Tiberias, a mob destroyed brick by brick the two-centuries' old mosque that lies at the heart of the city.

And, on 8 October, thousands from Upper Nazareth descended on Nazareth's eastern neighbourhoods, beating and shooting at random every Palestinian they could see. According to eyewitness accounts (Jewish and Palestinian), the police did not intervene until the Palestinian residents started to fight back. Then they resorted first to tear gas and then to live ammunition. Two Palestinians were killed and scores wounded, in the bloodiest ethnic violence that anyone can remember.

It was left to Jewish Gush Shalom [Peace Bloc] movement to state the obvious: "What is happening today in Nazareth is a pogrom. It bears all the hallmarks well-known to Jews in Tzarist Russia, primarily the collusion between the racist attackers and the police."

Where this leads is anyone's guess, though the prospect is very real of a Bosnian dose of ethnic carnage both in Israel and the occupied territories. But two things at least are becoming clear. The first is that the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories are fighting not just for statehood or equality but for some form of national self-determination, however inchoately expressed, and against the apartheid realities that is their common lot, whether in Gaza or the Galilee.

The second is that the recent turn to an ethnic war has posed in the bloodiest way the question long aired by the wisest of Israel's Palestinian and Jewish citizens: Israel can be an ethnic Jewish state or it can be a democratic state. It cannot be both.

Related stories:
Smoke, but no fire 21 - 27 September 2000

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