Seven years on
As Palestinians mark a sad anniversary, their plight continues to worsen, laments Khaled Amayreh
"We didn't just start the Intifada for the sake of it," said Sami, the young Islamic student activist from Hebron, in the southern West Bank. He and a group of young college students were discussing the pluses and minuses of the Al-Aqsa uprising which this week entered its eighth year.
"We were pushed and forced to rise up against our oppressors and tormentors because the alternative was and continues to be national annihilation," Sami added, accentuating his words, as if he wanted to persuade colleagues of the rightness of his convictions.
"But the Intifada has been a human, political and economic disaster for our people," retorted Anwar, his colleague and classmate, nearly of the same age.
"Yes, but Israel is not going to give us freedom on a silver platter. The Algerians lost more than a million shaheed [martyrs] for independence," Sami responded.
"Ok, but the Algerians had many allies and the whole world stood with them, but we are alone facing Israel which also controls America and Europe and can mobilise the entire world against us," Anwar rebutted.
This brief conversation at Hebron Engineering College more or less caricatures the way most Palestinians relate to the officially finished but still continuing Al-Aqsa Intifada.
The two students, coming from the same cultural and socio-economic background, were 12 years old when the uprising broke out on 28 September, 2000, after the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, accompanied by hundreds of heavily-armed security guards, invaded the Aqsa Mosque esplanade in East Jerusalem in order to demonstrate Jewish- Zionist determination to wrest the holy place from Muslim hands.
Undoubtedly, Sharon's provocative incursion sparked off the Intifada. After all, nearly every Palestinian is all too familiar with the man's bloody history as a murderer whose hands are stained with the blood of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs, most of them innocent civilians and children. Indeed, his role in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila was and remains too horrifying to be forgotten.
Nonetheless, it is important to remember that Israel's systematic persecution of the Palestinians and adamant refusal to allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state made the uprising inevitable, with or without Sharon's incursion into the Haram-Al-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] of Jerusalem.
In retrospect, the Intifada has been a hair-raising tale of Israeli brutality comparable to the Nazi persecution of Jews during WWII. During the past seven years, the Israeli army committed every conceivable crime and atrocity against an essentially defenceless people.
Children were gunned down while on their way to school, pregnant women shot on their way to hospitals or forced to give birth at Israeli roadblocks because soldiers wouldn't allow them to go to a hospital just down the road.
Children were lured by soldiers to come out to be killed in cold blood. Crowded streets were bombed by helicopter gunships and one-tonne bombs dropped on apartment buildings packed with sleeping civilians.
According to the Palestinian Centre of Statistics, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers and paramilitary Jewish settlers reached 5,300 from 29 September 2000 to 29 September 2007.
The death toll includes 978 children, 363 women, 506 assassinations, and 149 Palestinians murdered while passing through Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints.
Some 60,000 people were injured, many suffering life-long disabilities, and 11,000 were imprisoned with no hope of release.
During the same period, the Israeli occupation army destroyed 7,512 homes and seriously damaged more than 663,000 homes both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the course of the Intifada, Israeli leaders sought to convince themselves that the Palestinians were targeting Israel's very existence. A collective psychosis engulfed Israeli military leaders such as former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon who went as far as calling the Palestinian people a "cancer" which he said would have to be eradicated, either through chemotherapy or amputation.
Yaalon said he was using chemotherapy for the time being but wouldn't hesitate to resort to amputation if need be.
Such a sick and sickening mentality, combined with the most callous death machine in the world, convinced many Palestinians that Israel was hell-bent on liquidating them as a people. Indeed, the wanton slaughter of Palestinians in every street, every neighbourhood, every refugee camp and every city made it inevitable that young Palestinians embark on so- called martyrdom operations, otherwise known as suicide bombings against Israeli military and civilian targets.
In the words of Hamas's founder and leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whom Israel tried to assassinated in 2003, Palestinians had either to choose between being slaughtered quietly at the "Zionist slaughterhouse" or die as men in the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli towns.
The human bombings were in fact a desperate tactic aimed at creating a semblance of deterrence to make Israel reconsider its macabre repression of Palestinians. However, eventually the bombings boomeranged on the Palestinians as Israel succeeded in utilising the often shocking bombing scenes to vilify the Palestinians.
Moreover, Israel used the bombings as a pretext to inflict more deadly massacres of Palestinian civilians, which explains the huge disproportionateness of the Palestinian death toll compared to Israeli casualties. It also used the suicide bombings as a pretext to build the so-called separation wall, which is actually a gigantic concrete wall in the West Bank, on occupied Palestinian territories.
Rather than building the wall along the former armistice line between the West Bank and Israel proper, the Israeli government built the wall deep inside the West Bank, incorporating large swaths of Arab land into Israel and reducing Palestinian population centres into de facto ghettos.
The man who masterminded the campaign of slaughter, Ariel Sharon, is now lying motionless in a hospital for the second consecutive year after he had a massive stroke in the beginning of 2006.
The Nazi analogy is finally penetrating Western discourse. For example, Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish British MP, argued a few years ago that Ariel Sharon had made the Star of David look like the Swastika. Similarly, Portuguese Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago remarked, "I didn't know why, to protect a few people, farmland had to be confiscated and crops had to be destroyed, hundreds have to be kept waiting at checkpoints and roadblocks before being allowed to return home exhausted, that is if they are not killed."
Today, seven years later, the Palestinians may be at the doorstep of another Intifada. Israel, backed by a post-9/11 US that often looks and acts more Israeli than Israel and more Zionist than Zionism, is adamantly refusing to end its 40-year occupation of Palestinian territory.
And, taking advantage of internal Palestinian divisions, Israel is trying to impose a "peace settlement" on the Palestinian Authority that many ordinary Palestinians say is worse than a surrender.
"The Palestinians are dreaming if they think Israel will give them their rights without a serious struggle," says Professor Abdul-Sattar Qassem of Najah National University.
It certainly has looked that way since Israel refused to allow the creation of a Palestinian state following the Oslo Accords in 1993. Qassem's words will no doubt be vindicated once again following the expected failure of the upcoming November peace conference in the US.
The Palestinians today face worse conditions than ever before. However, Palestinians have always seen mounting repression and misery as an incentive for a revolt against their tormentors rather than cause for submission. So the Intifada continues.