AL-BIREH, West Bank — Areen, my 6-year-old daughter, has been unusually quiet. This normally energetic, very talkative child could not fully understand why school was canceled on Saturday after she was dressed and ready to go. On Sunday, during the news broadcast of the death of 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura, who was murdered in cold blood by Israeli occupation forces, she burst out with watery eyes questioning, “How did they reach us?” In her innocence, she actually believed that we had rid ourselves of the Israeli military occupation.
As far as Areen could understand, the screeching ambulances that pass the front of our house every 15 minutes are carrying kids like Mohammed — just like her — who have been shot by Israeli troops. She remains stumped on how these Israeli soldiers reached “our neighborhood.”
Areen, like many Palestinian children, is refusing to leave the house or go to sleep. When asked why, she says she fears her fate will be like that of Mohammed. When asked why she refuses to sleep, she mentions Sara Abdel Haq, the 2-year-old toddler in Nablus who was also killed by Israeli gunfire last week. She says Sara was buried while she slept. This is what she could comprehend from Sara’s televised funeral.
It was recently announced that school has been postponed until next Saturday. Areen fears now not only for herself, but for her schoolmates; she wonders if they were killed like Mohammed and Sara. The more her mother and I try to explain that this is all only temporary, the more we are interrupted as Areen runs to the porch to tally another passing ambulance.
The bewildering question for Palestinian parents is how our children and world leaders, like U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and others, can be asking similar questions. I can understand Areen’s confusion: She is living through her first war. But for world leaders to be perplexed at how the situation reached this violent outbreak is beyond my understanding.
Israel uprooted Palestinians from historic Palestine over 50 years ago, creating a people in exile that have been living in squalid refugee camps throughout the region ever since. Israel then occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967. For over 30 years, the use of brute force, U.S. funding and the international community’s willingness to turn a blind eye, allowed Israel to dominate every aspect of Palestinian economic, social and political life.
Then, in the early ’90s, after failing to exterminate the Palestinian resistance movement in the 1982 military invasion of Lebanon and failing to quell the 1987 Palestinian popular uprising, Israel sealed Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank. Since then, Palestinians have been prohibited by Israel from reaching holy Muslim and Christian sites — this has been the case for nearly 10 years, not only the last four days!
Every major Israeli act of aggression has led to even further acts of aggression. Greater and greater abuses of national and human rights have been tolerated because the world’s attention span is as short as the lives of Mohammed and Sara were.
When Palestinians accepted a historic concession in the Oslo peace accords, they chose peace with Israel as a strategic option only to learn before the ink was dry that the agreement contained no “sacred” dates, as proclaimed by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Living under such an agreement, as well as continued military and economic occupation, the Palestinian leadership struggled with a powder keg at home, a lack of action from an indifferent international community, and most importantly, a biased world leader, the United States. The Palestinian leadership tried to sincerely pursue a lasting peace, while, for the sake of the peace process, it tried to downplay Israel’s refusal to release political prisoners or withdraw from occupied lands, as was agreed upon in writing, and witnessed by the U.S.
The powder keg has exploded and the world has churned out all-too-well-polished condemnations, letters of sympathy and solidarity messages to the Palestinians. Mohammed and Sara, who were fortunate enough to have their fates videotaped, may have shaken the emotions of the world, but if history teaches us anything, it is to not hold our breath. The next world crisis will soon be at center stage and the world community will once again fall victim to the belief that endless summits and meetings and agreements will make things right in Palestine.
Without an equitable, just peace, based on internationally agreed-on principals and doctrines, the world only postpones the next outbreak of violence. If mankind cannot collectively make right the historic injustice that was done to Palestinians, then, at minimum, the victims should be left to struggle in dignity until the world’s conscience is awakened or the fate of Mohammed and Sara is repeated to the last Palestinian.
Last night, deep into the evening, heavy gunfire echoed from Jabal Al-Tawil, the Palestinian mountain in the middle of town, which has been home to an illegal Israeli settlement (more like a military enclave) for the last 30 years. Areen fought her sluggish eyes with the same strength that the Palestinian resistance faces the world’s third-strongest army. Now, night is falling again, and we have run out of night-time stories that minimize the all-to-real war zone outside — and Israel questions how generations keep the Palestinian cause alive.