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The Intifada is not a Palestinian picnic

Open letter to members of a Jerusalem synagogue

By Hanna Nasir, President of Birzeit University
February 15, 2001

I read your call a few  days  ago  in  Al  Quds  newspaper  about
achieving peace with your Palestinian neighbors. It is  no  doubt
necessary because all of us in the area are calling for peace.  I
do not think there is anyone who does not want to live  in  peace
and tranquility. The more important question now is how each side
understands this peace.

I understand peace as an end to the conflict between us after we,
as Palestinians, gain our historical rights at least the rights
which were agreed upon according to legitimate and  international
resolutions.

I am saying these things because I believe  that  this  state  of
conflict will continue even after we gain our rights. The effects
of  the  occupation  and  the  destruction  of  the   Palestinian
infrastructure over more than 50 years is not easily erased by  a
national reconciliation, even if this reconciliation is committed
to    legitimate    international     foundations.     Historical
reconciliation also needs supportive ethical stances such  as  an
apology  and  a  bearing  of  the  moral  and  perhaps   material
responsibility for  what  happened.  I  am  not  saying  this  to
complicate matters but rather from my perception  of  true  peace
and from the perspective of  permanently  and  fully  ending  the
conflict.

I appreciate as much as a non-Jew could appreciate the extent
of what you endured at  the  hands  of  Nazi  Germany  and  other
European countries. This was no doubt a horrendous crime  against
humanity. So I truly understand your continuous pursuit  of  Nazi
war  criminals  and  I  understand  that  modern  Germany   would
apologize and bear responsibility for what  happened.  Naturally,
this apology will not erase the effects of the crimes but  it  at
least alleviated the tragedy and opened the door to a  historical
reconciliation between you and Germany.

From the same perspective, we as Palestinians  expect  Israel  to
apologize and take responsibility for what happened to us. I  was
relatively young during the 1948 War but I still fondly  remember
the Palestinian cities which I because of my  father's  work 
used to travel between such as "West" Jerusalem, Jaffa, Safad and
Ramleh. Now these cities have become  part  of  Israel.  I  still
painfully remember the Palestinian cities which I used  to  visit
and which are now completely demolished. I remember how in 1948 I
saw waves of refugees reach my hometown of Birzeit at  nightfall,
exhausted and terrified, finding no other shelter  save  the  sky
and the olive tree branches. My experience is more  or  less  the
same of most Palestinians. And you want us to forget all of  this
or feign forgetfulness? Do you want us to forget what befell  the
Palestinian people over the past 50 years and how they  were  and
still are being subjected to continuous attempts to destroy their
infrastructure and their very existence?

Despite  all  this,  a  few  years  ago  we  still   accepted   a
conciliatory solution, which called  for  an  Israeli  withdrawal
from territories occupied in 1967 only and  for  finding  a  just
solution to the problem of  Palestinian  refugees  in  line  with
international legitimate resolutions. You no doubt  realize  that
this solution does  not  grant  the  Palestinians  more  than  22
percent  of  historical  Palestine.  However,  the  Palestinians'
desire for peace compelled them to accept this solution even if
grudgingly.

Then what happened? There were supposed  to  be  negotiations  in
order to implement international legitimate  resolutions  and  to
develop procedures to completely end the occupation. A perception
of the relationship between the two peoples and every detail of a
historical reconciliation were also supposed  to  be  formulated.
Unfortunately, six years and more have passed and Israeli  forces
have not totally withdrawn. East Jerusalem  is  no  longer  ours.
Land confiscation and illegal construction of Jewish  settlements
on Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza continued.

I remember how after the 1967 War the Israelis were  saying  that
if the  Palestinians  only  acknowledged  them  they  would  have
realized that in return, Israel would have offered them much more
than they had imagined. The  Palestinians  offered  this  desired
recognition as did some Arab  countries.  The  Palestinians  even
modified their national charter the PLO charter, to affirm that
they were interested in solving the conflict by  peaceful  means.
But despite all this, the Israeli reactions did not rise  to  the
level of sincerity in dealing with  this  historical  crossroads.
The promised solutions did not come. On the contrary, the Israeli
people became more extreme and obstinate than ever.

The current Intifada is  a  direct  and  actual  result  of  this
Israeli stance. No people would accept to  remain  under  eternal
occupation. We consider the  current  positions  of  the  Israeli
government insulting because it boasts that it offered more  than
any other government in the way of peace and withdrawal from  the
occupied territories.  However,  everyone  knows  that  what  the
Israeli  government  offered  is  still  much   less   than   the
conciliatory solution that the Palestinians accepted, which is in
compliance with international and legitimate resolutions.

The new Israeli prime minister-elect has publicly  declared  that
he  would  not  even  accept  the  positions  of   the   outgoing
government. This in itself totally paralyses the peace process.

The Intifada is not a Palestinian picnic. On average two or three
Palestinians are killed daily. We would like  nothing  more  than
for our Palestinian blood and Jewish blood, not  to  be  spilled.
You call on us to consider the  negotiations  as  the  basis  for
reaching a solution. You say that each  side  must  give  painful
concessions. Just so we do not get confused with these locutions,
I would like to point out that we agreed to the negotiations  and
we  agreed  to  painful  historical  concessions  and  we  signed
agreements with Israeli leaders in this regard. Do you  want  us,
after all this, to negotiate once again on what we  have  already
negotiated? Do you want us to  concede  more  of  our  historical
rights? Is there a reason for this? Is there  a  reason  that  we
should concede East Jerusalem? Is there a reason  why  we  should
concede the land which settlers forcefully usurped?  Is  there  a
reason why we should concede the right  of  refugees  to  a  just
settlement for them and their tragedy?

It is easy for the party that has claimed a military  victory  to
call on everyone else to  give  painful  concessions.  However  a
sincere call must  be  to  accept  international  and  legitimate
resolutions as a basis for ending  the  conflict,  regardless  of
whether these resolutions are painful  for  either  side  or  for
both.  It  is  international  legitimacy  which  guarantees  just
solutions and adhering to them  protects  all  parties  from  the
threat of wars and their tragic outcomes.

At the  same  time  you  are  directing  your  call  towards  the
Palestinian people, I would like for  you  to  direct  your  pens
towards your own people. Ask them to declare their acceptance  of
international and legitimate  resolutions  without  ambiguity  or
misinterpretations and their willingness to  completely  withdraw
from the territories occupied in 1967 including  East  Jerusalem.
Ask them to find a just solution to  the  refugee  problem.  Only
then can there be negotiations to overcome the  difficulties  and
to find practical solutions within a limited period of  time.  If
not, the struggle will continue to gain our rights. There  is  no
escape from the liberation of a people, no  matter  how  long  it
takes.

I do not want to end my letter to you on a  pessimistic  note.  I
just want to remind you that historical reconciliation between us
is very close. Despite the violence that has overtaken the region
at present, the opportunity is still there for reconciliation. If
Israel abandons  its  occupation,  expansionist  and  colonialist
ambitions it will find itself in a true oasis of peace  which  it
would be able to protect  more  than  all  of  its  settlers  and
settlements or than its mighty army.