Intifadah affects every aspect of West Bank life
By Andrew L. Fish
(Editor's note: Andrew Fish spent three weeks in Israel on a trip for college newspaper editors sponsored by the World Zionist Organization. The following is the first in series of reports.)
The streets of Nablus were teeming with people on a sunny winter day. There was little evidence of the intifada -- the Palestinian uprising. But this was just a lull in what has become a 14 month battle. The intifada has become a way of life in Nablus and other towns and villages in Israel's occupied territories. Even on this calm day one rock was thrown at our bus, and the army saw fit to have two jeeps escort our group around the area.
Photographs are forbidden inside the military administration headquarters, with the exception of one room -- a makeshift intifada museum. The army has collected articles from the uprising, ranging from the banned Palestinian national flag and cans of spray paint to marbles, clubs, and other weapons. The army placed a rifle and many axes and knives in the display, but these weapons have generally been shunned during the uprising. The purpose of the display was unclear -- it could have been for propaganda purposes, some sort of training device, or merely a hobby for the soldiers in the region. Regardless of motive, the display showed that there is no place in the territories where the intifada cannot be seen or felt.
Soldiers with maps and high powered binoculars watch Nablus 24 hours a day from observation posts set up on the hills above the city. They look for disturbances in the streets below and try to warn their colleagues of dangerous areas. A soldier explained that during riots they watch the movements of children on the rooftops and radio warnings and instructions to the troops below. But "it has been quiet the past week," he added.
The 20 year-old grudgingly accepts his West Bank assignment. "It's my duty," he said. But "I'm sorry that this is the situation."
Indeed, Morris Zilka, director general of the World Zionist Organization's Information Office, called the intifada a "disaster." "We're sending our youngsters in there [and they are] upset about chasing little boys."
Colonel Kalifer, an officer serving in the area, looked over the Casbah, the old section of the city which has been the scene of much violence. He said frankly that "the army would rather not be here."
Koby Milner, an army reservist serving in Nablus, put it more bluntly. The intifada "is a political problem -- it is not a problem of the army," he said.
But Yochanin Wegner, a military spokesman, said there is "no civilian force which can handle these kinds of riots," and Israel had "no choice but to use the army" in the territories.
When Kalifer was asked about excessive use of force against Palestinians, he responded that "most times we [do] not do as you say." Wegner added that "you can always find extreme examples" and in those cases "soldiers were punished." Also, there is a "shaky borderline" between necessary and excessive force, he noted. "There is no way you can stop a riot by speaking rationally."
Kalifer defended the Israeli practice of demolishing the houses of some protesters, saying that the army tries to get "a point target" and only attacks the houses of those known to have committed serious acts of violence. "We don't believe in collective punishment."
"We think most of the civilians don't want an intifada," Kalifer said. He felt that people were incited to violence, and youth were responsible for most of the activities. "Because of what [a demonstrator] does we use force," Kalifer said. "We must deter them."
Back in Jerusalem, Colonel Raanan Gissen of the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman's Office conceded that the army had "not been prepared for the scope of the uprising."
"It's a police action in very difficult conditions and soldiers are not particularly trained to deal with it," Gissen said.
At the beginning of the intifada there were more violations of regulations than now. "Israeli soldiers are not trained to beat, and it was an excruciating learning process," Gissen said. He said there were 50 cases of transgressions, "all of which were punished."
"Compared to the record of other Western armies in similar situations ... our record is impeccable," Gissen said.
Gissen believed the army did have a role to play in ending the conflict in the territories. "If we keep the lid on violence moderate elements can come forth," he said.
Siniora see two state solution
But some moderate voices can be heard among the Palestinians now. One is Hanna Siniora, the editor of El Fajr, an East Jerusalem newspaper. Siniora is often mentioned as a man who all parties can work with and he sees a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"The current situation we are in is full of fear, suspicion, hatred, conflict, and sacrifice," Siniora said. "We do not have what we want -- real peace and security."
"We [Arabs and Jews] have the same homeland, each of us give it their own name," he said. "If present conditions continue it reflects that there is something basically wrong," Siniora said.
The intifada has cost the Palestinian people greatly in terms of of deaths, arrests, and deportations, he noted. "But during this very same period something has changes. The Palestinians instead of becoming more radicalized became more pragmatic." They stated for the first time (through the Palestinian National Council) that they accept a two-state solution.
"Despite the gravity of the situation what the Palestinians have to do is provide urgency by continuing the uprising."
Siniora said it was imperative to find a solution to the 1.8 million Palestinians living under occupation. Because of the uprising, "the people of Israel have realized that something has to change."
Siniora only saw two ways out of the present situation: "confrontation and war, which all of us are against," or "political settlement and negotiations."
He said that in the period from 1945-47 the Palestinian and Arab community had been intransigent, refusing to accept a Jewish state. But now the Israelis were doing the same, trying to deny the Palestinians a state of their own.
Siniora said that the Palestinians would be willing to take violence away from the intifada if there were no provocations from settlers or the military, leaving only the nonviolent strikes as protest. Yet such a condition seems impossible for the Israelis to fulfill, and there will always be an excuse for violent action.
But Siniora stressed that "the intifada tried and is trying to use restraint," noting the absence of much lethal violence.
Siniora admitted that some Palestinians who have suggested a dialogue with Israel have paid with their lives. "Some who talk of a two-state solution have been killed by our Arab brothers or Palestinians," he said. But the fact that Palestinians were continuing to work for a peaceful settlement in spite of the risk "shows their good intentions."
"We have no option but to live together," Siniora said. "We can live in peace or in conflict and suspicion."
"The national rights of both people have to be respected. We have one homeland; we have to learn to share it."
Bitterness replaces idealism
But sharing the land will be painful to many. For Shaun Efrina, a resident of Moshav Nativ Ha-G'dug in the Jordan Valley, the idealism of settling in the Jewish homeland has been replaced by an perceptible bitterness. A native of Los Angeles, she came to Israel 12 years ago. She soon married and lived with her husband on a kibbutz. But they were materialistic for the idealist socialism of kibbutz life and settled on the West Bank moshav two years later.
"We came not for political reasons but for economic reasons," Efrina said. The Israeli government was subsidizing housing in the territories, and it was "the only place where you can come and build a house and have to pay it off in 20 years," she explained. The moshav started with a collective bank account, so that members would all bear the debts of others. But this noble idea was dropped after 10 years because of "parasites" who were not doing their fair share, Efrina said.
Because of the political climate, the moshav could only attract 30 families, not even half its planned capacity. The Arabs in the area were "not very politically inclined," and "I thought maybe naively that we could live together and work it out," Efrina said.
Her family started working the land themselves, but soon found it impractical. They hired an Arab family to work their land, and Efrina said the families had reasonably good relations. But then on a trip back from Jerusalem, they saw the army destroy their workers' house. "We faced a huge dilemma," she said. "Either the people who worked for us were terrorists and wanted to see us dead or the security force made a mistake." Neither scenario was very comforting.
After the intifada "there's no going back -- the status quo is gone," Efrina said. "My children fear Arabs," she lamented, "and I don't think they got that from our house." But "children have a tendency to see things in black and white," and "they do have something to fear," she said. "There are people out there trying to kill them with stones and bombs."
If a Palestinian state is created on the West Bank, Efrina will abandon the moshav. "This is not a political settlement; if they tell us to leave we will," she said.
"We've stopped investing [in our property]; that was a mistake," Efrina said. "We feel betrayed by the Israeli government -- they were the one's who told us to come here. "There's a lot of fear here now."
As we left Efrina's house one of our group remarked, "I think you have a beautiful home."
"I used to think so, too," she replied.