selise's blog


Amira Hass: History did not begin with the Qassams

January 15th, 2009 by selise

A must read from Amira Hass: History did not begin with the Qassams, I’ve quoted the entire piece because haaretz links are not very stable:

History did not begin with the Qassam rockets. But for us, the Israelis, history always begins when the Palestinians hurt us, and then the pain is completely decontextualized. We think that if we cause the Palestinians much greater pain, they will finally learn their lesson. Some term this "achievement."

Nevertheless, the "lesson" remains abstract for most Israelis. The Israeli media prescribes a strict low-information, low-truth diet for its consumers, one rich in generals and their ilk. It is modest, and does not boast of our achievements: the slain children and the bodies rotting under the ruins, the wounded who bleed to death because our soldiers shoot at the ambulance crews, the little girls whose legs were amputated due to horrible wounds caused by various types of weaponry, the devastated fathers shedding bitter tears, the residential neighborhoods that have been obliterated, the terrible burns caused by white phosphorus, and the mini-transfer – the tens of thousands of people who have been expelled from their homes, and are still being expelled at this very minute, ordered to cram into a built-up area that is constantly growing smaller and is also under sentence of incessant bombing and shelling.

Ever since the Palestinian Authority was established, the Israeli public relations machinery has exaggerated the danger of the military threat that the Palestinians pose to us. When they moved from stones to rifles and from Molotov cocktails to suicide bombings, from roadside bombs to Qassams and from Qassams to Grads, and from the PLO to Hamas, we said with a whoop of victory, "We told you. They’re anti-Semites." And therefore, we have the right to go on a rampage.

What enabled Israel’s military rampage – the proper words to describe it cannot be found in my dictionary – was the step-by-step isolation of the Gaza Strip. The isolation turned Gaza’s residents into abstract objects, with no names and addresses, except the addresses of the armed men, and no history, aside from the dates determined by the Shin Bet security service.

The siege of Gaza did not begin when Hamas seized control of the Strip’s security organs, or when Gilad Shalit was taken captive, or when Hamas was elected in democratic elections. The siege began in 1991 – before the suicide bombings. And since then, it has only become more sophisticated, reaching its peak in 2005.

The Israeli public relations machinery happily presented the disengagement as the end of the occupation, in brazen disregard of the facts. The isolation and closure were presented as military necessities. But we are big boys and girls, and we know that "military necessities" and consistent lies serve state goals. Israel’s goal was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world had expected to materialize once the Cold War ended in 1990. This was not a perfect solution, but the Palestinians were ready for it then.

Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.

In 1993, Israel had a one-time golden opportunity to prove to the world that what people say about us is untrue – that it is not by nature a colonialist state. That the expulsion of a nation from its land, the expulsion of people from their houses and the robbery of Palestinian land for the sake of settling Jews are not the basis and essence of its existence.

In the 1990s, Israel had a chance to prove that 1948 is not its paradigm. But it missed this opportunity. Instead, it merely perfected its techniques for robbing land and expelling people from their houses, and forced the Palestinians into isolated enclaves. And now, during these dark days, Israel is proving that 1948 never ended.

And here is an old (Aug 2001) link from Robert Fisk that tells something of Amira Hass’ history to put her writing in context, Amira Hass: Life Under Israeli Occupation – By an Israeli:

In 1990, with her parents’ support, she joined a group called Workers’ Hotline, which assisted Palestinians who were cheated by their Israeli employers. "During the Gulf War, I reached Gaza under curfew – I’d gone to give Palestinians their checks from Israeli employers. That’s when my romance with Gaza started. No Israeli journalist knew or covered Gaza. My editor was very sympathetic. When in 1993 the ‘peace process’ broke out" – Hass requests the inverted commas round the phrase – "Ha’aretz suggested I cover Gaza. One of the editors said: ‘We don’t want you to live in Gaza.’ And I knew at once that I wanted to live there."

From the start, Hass recalls, there was "something very warm about the Palestinian attitude – there was a lot of humor in these harsh conditions." When I suggest that this might be something she had recognized in Jews, Hass immediately agrees. "Of course. I’m an east European Jew and the life of the shtetl is inbuilt in me. And I guess I found in Gaza a shtetl. I remember finding refugees from Jabalya camp, sitting on a beach. I asked them what they were doing. And one said he was ‘waiting to be 40 years old’ – so he’d be old enough to get a permit to work in Israel. This was a very Jewish joke."

But Hass found no humor in the Israeli policy of "closure", of besieging Palestinian towns and throttling their economy and people. "I spotted as early as 1991 that the policy of ‘closure’ was a very clever step by the Israeli occupation system, a kind of pre-emptive strike," she says. "The way it debilitates any kind of Palestinian action and reaction is amazing. ‘Closure’ was also a goal: a demographic separation which means that Jews have the right to move about the space of Mandatory Palestine. The ‘closure’ policy brought this to a real perfection."

Hass found herself fascinated with the difference between Palestinian image and reality. "Their towns were being portrayed in the Israeli press as a ‘nest of hornets’. But I really wanted to taste what it means to live under occupation – what it is like to live under curfew, to live in fear of a soldier. I wanted to know what it was like to be an Israeli under Israeli occupation."…

…"People misled themselves into believing that Oslo was a peace process – so they became very angry with the Palestinians." "…Israelis do not go to the occupied territories. They do not see with their own eyes. They don’t see a Palestinian village with a settler on its land and a village that has no water and needs government permission even to plant a tree, let alone build a new school. People don’t understand how the dispersal of Jewish settlements dictates Israeli control over Palestinian territory."

Too often we focus on political leaders in our search for answers, but there other voices, such as Amira Hass, to remind us there is far more to any conflict than what the politicians and partisans define as "the sides."

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