The bloody price of freedom
Amidst the violence and bloodshed in the Occupied Territories a new leadership is emerging. Mariam Shahin reports from Ramallah
It started with a visit by the Israeli super hawk politician cum warmonger, Ariel Sharon, to the Haram Al Sherif, the third holiest shrine in Islam, on a Thursday afternoon in Jerusalem. God only knows where it will end.
An Israeli general and leader of the right- wing Likud Party, Sharon is known throughout the Arab world for his crucial role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent slaughter of thousands of people, including many civilians and refugees. His presence, along with that of thousands of Israeli soldiers, was the final provocation in seven years of provocations by Israel of the Palestinians.
Palestinians interpreted Sharon’s presence as the final challenge to Palestinian and Muslim rights in Israel’s battle for sovereignty over Jerusalem, one of the most contentious issues still pending in the peace negotiations. Since the visit, anger and rage have reigned supreme on the streets of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and even in Palestinian cities and demographic centres inside Israel.
I knew it was coming,
there was no more room
The explosion of violence came as a shock to many, but not to those who had observed the gradual disintegration of the ?peace process’ at close quarters. ?I knew it was coming,? said Hael Fahoum, a former advisor to Chairman Arafat and now deputy at the Ministry of Finance in the Palestinian Authority. ?There was no more room for compromises. The Israelis were still pushing but Arafat had come to the end of the rope. There was no space to go anywhere; the situation had to explode.?
The explosion was, of course, not merely because Sharon walked around on the Haram Al Sherif (Noble Sanctuary) but because the so-called peace process had come to a natural end and Sharon’s presence presented the full stop to that finished sentence.
Along with more than 100 dead and 3,000 wounded on the Palestinian side and less than 10 dead on the Israeli side and dozens wounded, there have been two major developments in the Palestine-Israel arena as a result of this new intifada. The Palestinian and Israeli streets have become more polarised than at any time since 1967 and a new Palestinian leadership is emerging behind the clouds of gunfire.
Jerusalem has always been
central to the Palestinian,
Arab and Muslim psyche
Analysts now say that from day one, from Oslo onwards, the approach taken was futile. ?They started with the easy things and called them ?confidence building measures’,? said Ziad Abu Ziad, a former negotiator and the PA minister with the portfolio for Jerusalem affairs. ?It was misleading to start with superficial and symbolic issues,? he argued. ?In smart negotiations you start with the hard issues and then get to the symbolic business once you have the core problems out of the way. What use is it to have flags while you have no borders and no independence??
Jerusalem, for example, is a matter that has always been central to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim psyche. The Arab leader who will negotiate away Jerusalem has not been born, said Yasser Arafat on the issue of the future of the city. His refusal to cooperate with such a scheme gained him a hero’s welcome on his return from Camp David. ?Arafat would have been a dead man had he handed over Jerusalem to the Israelis at Camp David,? said a local analyst.
According to Palestinian negotiators the formula presented at Camp David would have given limited rule of Muslim sites in the old city to the Palestinian Authority while overall security, including control of entry points into the city, would remain in the Israeli domain. The old city is surrounded by a magnificent wall, built in the 16th century, and can hardly be ruled quarter by quarter or even street by street as the Israeli-American plan proposed at Camp David envisioned. The plan is very much in line with the ?Swiss cheese’ formula by which the PA now rules in the West Bank and Gaza ? pocket by pocket.
It is widely believed that Yasser Arafat alone stood against the plan and that most of his negotiating team would have accepted the proposal.
?Arafat has surrounded himself with people who have already compromised their own credibility with the people and thus he will always stand out as the hero in this crowd,? commented a local observer.
Arafat, who is almost 70,
has no heir apparent in the party
However, what has emerged out of the weeks of the new ?intifada for independence’ is a more visual, eloquent and populist leadership that is not part of the Arafat entourage. And it is precisely this leadership which is spearheading the revolt against the Israelis.
Nowhere has this become more evident than among Arafat’s own party leadership, Fatah.
Marwan Barghouti, a 40-something student activist turned parliamentarian has been the de facto commander of the man in the street, leaving the entire ?official’ leadership without a people to lead.
Barghouti is power hungry and close to the grass roots of Palestinian society
Barghouti, who lives in Ramallah, has been singled out by Israeli leader Ehud Barak as a man who needs to be reigned in by Arafat. The Palestinian leader has since, reluctantly, done so. Arafat, who is almost 70, has no heir apparent in the party. Names that have been floated by the press as potential successors in recent years, such as Mohammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmad Qrei, have only a minimal popular following, if any at all.
Barghouti is power hungry and close to the grass roots of Palestinian society, which is largely either unemployed or underemployed, and feels caged by the limited autonomy Arafat has negotiated. Most Palestinians in this category agree that Oslo is a snake pit rather than the road to a bright future.
Chairman Arafat has people around him who are more interested in their own profits than in liberation and freedom
Barghouti says he would agree to a two-state solution based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, which in essence means a return to the 1967 borders. But Barghouti has never been at a negotiating table with the Israelis. However, unlike any of the senior negotiators and advisors currently surrounding Arafat, he does have an intricate knowledge of the Israeli system and learned to speak Hebrew fluently while serving as a political prisoner in Israeli prisons.
?There is nobody, other that Arafat, who more roundly represents the average man and woman in the street than Marwan Barghouti. ?The Israelis know that and they are scared,? said a local analyst.
?Marwan stands for armed struggle and a prolonged struggle would be dangerous for Israel. Chairman Arafat has people around him who are more interested in their own profits than in liberation and freedom, so obviously the Israelis prefer the current crowd in power,? the analyst added.
However, Barghouti is not the only new potential Palestinian leader to emerge as a result of the intifada for independence. From the Arab enclave of the Galilee came Azmi Bishara, one of 10 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset. Fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew as well as English and German, Bishara spoke frankly to journalists about the malaise of being an Arab in Israel and even asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to send in UN protection for the 1.2 million Arabs living in Israel. In doing so, Bishara all but declared himself the head of a state within a state.
The Israeli government will now act to improve the living and economic conditions of Israeli Arabs
The Israeli Arabs created road blocks, threw stones and went on strike against the Israeli government in solidarity with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza two days after the infamous Sharon visit. Israeli troops fired back and Israeli neighbours rampaged through the Arab city of Nazareth, while in cities like Jaffa, Haifa and Tel Aviv, the small Arab communities were harassed and assaulted by Israeli vigilantes.
Running almost parallel with the uprising in what the Israelis call ?the territories’, rather than occupied territories, the Israeli government was numbed and shocked that their usually silent minority of citizens dared to challenge the government. It is widely believed that the Israeli government will now act to improve the living and economic conditions of Israeli Arabs in order to mute political demands for a greater role in the political system.
?What shocked the Israelis the most was the backlash among the Arab-Israelis ? they could not deal with it ? it scared them more than anything else,? says Fahoum, himself an Arab-Israeli.
A few Israeli analysts believe the October uprising was predictable. Israeli writer Gideon Levy wrote in the daily Haaretz, ?Jews on the left and the right are shocked, simply shocked. But who could point to another way available to one-fifth of this country, citizens of the state, after 25 years of discrimination and humiliation?... Twenty-five years of exemplary, almost exaggerated loyalty, almost grovelling obedience to the state whose wars are not their wars, whose national anthem is not their anthem, whose language is not their language, whose holidays are not their holidays.?
Both men are emerging at a time when there is a clear void in the Palestinian leadership
The majority of Israelis polled in the right-wing Jerusalem Post, said they felt Arab-Israelis should have their voting rights taken away from them.
Small wonder that Azmi Bishara, who like Barghouti has considerable personal charisma, became an instant star and spokesman when he called for an immediate improvement in the rights of Arab Israelis and international protection.
Bishara is much more eloquent and sophisticated than Barghouti, but has developed a similar following in the street among both Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Both men are emerging at a time when there is a clear void in the Palestinian leadership. Arafat’s days are numbered and Israel will soon have to deal with Palestinians who are much more eloquent, streetwise, and well-versed in Israeli ways. The new intifada may or may not last long, but it has definitely opened a new chapter in Palestinian-Israeli relations. Whatever its outcome it will be a turning point from which there is no going back and one that will eventually lead to a more equitable cohabitation of the land, if also a more painful one.
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