The Fallacy of Peace in the Middle East

By Osama Shabaneh
Posted: 27 Rajab 1421, 25 October 2000

During a recent trip to the West Bank, I happened to share a taxi ride from Bethlehem to my hometown of Hebron with a few Palestinian laborers. Throughout the hour-long trip, the laborers discussed their day at work and their plans for the next day. As I understood from the discussion, these men were construction workers who had just finished their day shift in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, or Jabal Abu Ghneim in Arabic.

When the Israeli government in 1997 approved building in this settlement, there was not only a Palestinian but also an international outcry since the settlement was construed as changing the status quo of the boundaries of Jerusalem. Three years later, the Palestinians themselves are helping build the settlement.

Can these men be branded as traitors for helping Israel expand by usurping more Palestinian land? Or are they more victims of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that appears to be on the edge of collapse?

The 1987-93 Palestinian uprising against the Israeli military occupation of Palestine ended with the signing of the Oslo peace accord between the two sides. I was very much in support of the peace moves that halted, for a while, the bloodshed that characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for so many years. As a Palestinian, I had experienced the Israeli occupation firsthand, and I hoped that the peace accord was the beginning of giving the Palestinians their rights and freedom they had sought for a long time. I wanted my family, still back in the town of Hebron, to feel safe in their home, to have hope of a better future, and to live in peace with no Israeli soldiers around.

I grew up in Hebron accustomed to the sight of those soldiers, in their military jeeps or on foot, patrolling the streets of the West Bank, sometimes enforcing curfews on Palestinian residents and occasionally stopping and slapping or arresting Palestinians who had forgotten their identity cards, which were issued by the Israeli military authorities. Every Palestinian over 16 years of age had to obtain these orange-colored identity cards, and had to have it on them at all times.

I remember having to skip school the day I turned 16 in order to go to the Israeli military headquarters in Hebron to obtain my card. It was 1971, and it was the first time I had to undergo questioning by the Israelis about my political beliefs. I was too young to have any of those beliefs. I always took the Israeli presence for granted, and I had never imagined what freedom felt like. For many years following my 16th birthday and, in fact, until now, I have a recurring dream of me leaving my house in Hebron without my orange identity card, and being stopped by the Israeli soldiers. No peace can wipe out the scars of occupation.

Since 1993, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has had its ups and downs. My family and friends in the region were euphoric when the prospects of peace were first offered to them. But as the years passed, they became more gloomy and dejected, and I could see why during my visits. As a consequence of the peace process, the Israeli army redeployed its forces away from heavily Palestinian-populated areas, but its presence was felt as strongly as ever.

The Palestinians came to the realization that the peace process was just a ploy by the Israelis to convince the world that Israel was granting the Palestinians self-determination, while at the same time maintaining their presence in and around every village, every town, every city, and every refugee camp in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel, during the so-called peace process years, continued killing more Palestinian civilians, confiscating more Palestinian land, arresting more people for their political beliefs, controlling every thoroughfare in Palestine, and overseeing every aspect of Palestinian life, except the mundane.

The Palestinian passport that Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to issue to Palestinians includes, on the first page, the same ID number that is found on the Israeli-issued orange identity card. Now occupation had a new face and a new color, green instead of orange. Yet, freedom for the Palestinians remained a dream.

Take the inflammatory issue of Jerusalem. Israel has been claiming that it grants freedom of worship to all Palestinians. For 13 years now, Jerusalem, which includes one of the holiest places for Muslims, has been sealed off to most Palestinians. Israeli checkpoints at every junction around Jerusalem prevent Muslims and Christians from entering the city to worship without a special permit. The Israelis do a detailed security check on every applicant, and usually reject, without justification, issuing any permits.

I called my family in Hebron a few days after the outbreak of violence in the West Bank. With the echo of bullets in the background, my mother told me to worry about myself and not to worry about them. She said that only God could help them in their current situation. I could not agree more. Watching TV that night, and every night, I flip through the news channels of the American media, and all I see are reports, analyses, politicians and experts - all but very few blaming the Palestinians for driving the region to the brink of war, and portraying Israel as the peace-seeker.

The utter denial of the Palestinians' humanity has characterized the media for a long time, and now it is no different. It took a peace process littered with suffering and death for the Palestinians to realize that the world just doesn't care about their struggle for freedom and self-determination. The Palestinian laborers wanted to feed their children, and building a settlement for Israelis was the only way they found before them. This is a tragic consequence of an unjust peace. As long as Israel insists on controlling the will of another nation, as long as it keeps looking down at Palestinians as unequal peace partners, as long as it keeps confiscating Palestinian land and holding political prisoners, peace will remain a fallacy. There is only one way out, and that is not by more summits and meaningless discussions. The only way out is for Israel to set the Palestinians free, and let them be.

Osama Shabaneh is a Palestinian American who works and lives in Redmond, Washington.

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