Palestine Is STILL The Issue
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INTRODUCTION - JOHN PILGER
years ago, I made a film called Palestine Is Still The Issue. It was about a nation of people - the Palestinians - forced
off their land and later subjected to a military occupation by Israel. An occupation condemned by the United Nations and almost
every country in the world, including Britain.
But Israel is backed by a very powerful friend, the United States.
So in 25 years, if we're to speak of the great injustice here, nothing has changed. What has changed is that the Palestinians
have fought back.
Stateless and humiliated for so long, they've risen up against Israel's huge military machine, although
they themselves have no arm, no tanks, no American planes and gun ships or missiles.
Some have committed desperate
acts of terror, like suicide bombing. But for Palestinians, the overriding, routine terror, day after day, has been the ruthless
control of almost every aspect of their lives, as if they live in an open prison. This film is about the Palestinians and
a group of courageous Israelis united in the oldest human struggle - to be free.
1947 The British refer the 'Palestine problem' to the United Nations,
which passes a resolution for the partition of Palestine.
1948 The state of Israel is declared. The
result is the first Arab-Israeli war, which lasts from May until January 1949.
1964 Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) is founded with the aim of liberating the whole of Palestine.
1967 The Six Day
War. Israel occupies the Sinai Peninsula (belonging to Egypt), the West Bank (belonging to Jordan) and the Golan Heights (belonging
1979 The Camp David Accords. Egypt signs a peace treaty with Israel, the first Arab nation
to do so. Israel withdraws from Sinai but continues its occupation of Gaza.
1982 Israel invades Lebanon
under the command of Ariel Sharon with the aim of destroying the PLO. Thousands of civilians are killed during the operation
and the PLO flees Lebanon, spreading across the Arab world.
Late 1987/8 The first intifada begins
in the West Bank and Gaza. The situation appears outside of the control of the PLO and the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas
(which was for a time funded by Israel) begins to emerge as an important player.
1991 The Gulf War.
The PLO backs Saddam Hussein, which results in the withdrawal of its support and funding by Arab governments.
As a result of its newfound isolation and financial hardship, the PLO is forced to begin negotiations with Israel, which lead
eventually to the Oslo Peace Agreement.
1994 The Oslo Peace Agreement is signed. The deal sees the
PLO return to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the form of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is the first peace deal between
the PLO and Israel. However, the agreement leaves all Final Status issues unresolved. These are:
- The return of Palestinian refugees from 1948 to their homes
- Where the borders of the Palestinian state will lie
- The status of Jerusalem
- The status of Israeli settlements on Gaza and the West Bank
A deadline 1999 is set for the resolution of Final Status issues.
1994 Israeli troops withdraw
to the edges of major Palestinian population centres, to be replaced by the Palestinian police force. The result is increased
poverty and authoritarian rule administered jointly by the PA and Israel.
1999 The deadline for resolution
of Final Status issues passes. There has been no change in the situation, except for increased poverty in Palestinian areas
and the massive growth of Israeli settlements, which have doubled in number between 1992-99.
The lack of a political solution
results in increased tension and outbursts of violence between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers.
Bill Clinton, attempting to establish a legacy for himself during the last days of his presidency, calls a conference at Camp
David. Negotiations break down and delegates return to the Middle East with tension increased still further.
Ariel Sharon - who was found responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982 - decides, for internal
Israeli political reasons, to visit Haram Al-Sharif, which is Islam's third holiest site and the holiest site in Judaism.
During his visit, Sharon is surrounded by 1,000 Israeli Police officers.
The following day Palestinian stone-throwers
begin protests in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The violence is triggered by Sharon's visit to Haram Al-Sharif, but is ultimately
a function of the frustration and anger caused by the lack of progress towards a political solution for the Palestinians.
The Israeli military responds to the violence by shooting dead dozens of Palestinians during the ensuing months, with
the final death toll during this outbreak of disturbances being in the hundreds.
2001 Ariel Sharon
is elected Israeli Prime Minister, and the level of violence in the region is ratcheted up still further. Palestinian bombs
are matched by invasions of Palestinian cities by Israeli tanks, bombings by planes and raids by helicopter gunships. The
results for Palestinians are unparalleled poverty, mass joblessness and the placing of two million people under curfew.
In April 2002, the troops and tanks of the Israeli army attacked Ramallah and other
towns in occupied Palestine. This was reported as an 'incursion' to stop terrorism. In fact it was also an attack on civilian
life: on schools, offices, clinics, theatres, radio stations. This systematic vandalism is typical of one of the longest military
occupations in modern times.
Even the Culture Ministry was destroyed. The director, Liana Badr - Director of the Palestinian
Ministry of Culture and a distinguished novelist and filmmaker - showed the devastation to John Pilger shortly after it had
In the administration room files were strewn over the floor and all office equipment had been deliberately
This was a place which promoted Palestinian cultural projects - film making, book exhibitions and exhibitions
of childrens' work, which had been effectively destroyed by Israeli troops. Liana Badr explains:
"Now we don't have
anything to begin with, we don't have computers, equipment, furniture. And we have this feeling of humiliation".
in the Ministry, Israeli soldiers had smeared their own excrement on the walls and on office equipment and vandalised an exhibition
of paintings made by Palestinian children.
"They have destroyed everything", says Liana, "They don't respect anything,
they just want to come and destroy and this is the systematic terrorism of the Israeli state."
The effects of the occupation are not only felt during attacks such as those in Ramallah. Palestinians
must also contend with the day-to-day control over freedom of movement. During curfews people live under a form of house arrest.
Without notice they can be locked inside their homes. Their ordinary lives are a maze of controls, road blocks, checkpoints.
This is how John Pilger remembered apartheid South Africa. "The hidden effect is the same", he says, "Humiliation and anger
Fatima Abed-Rabo is one Palestinian woman who knows all about the effects of the checkpoints. Last October,
she was about to give birth to her second child and she and her husband set out for the nearby hospital. They were stopped
at an Israeli roadblock where they pleaded to be let through. Fatima explains what happened next:
"There were six
or seven soldiers. We argued. One of them pushed my husband, hitting him with a rifle and throwing his ID card back at him.
We had to go home.
"We tried again later on hoping they'd have calmed down. We offered to walk to the hospital but
they still wouldn't let us through.
"Then I had my baby.
"My mother-in-law used a razor to cut the umbilical
cord. The boy started crying. My husband wrapped him in his jacket.
"One of his relatives found a back route and drove
us to the hospital. But the baby had died by the time we arrived."
"We don't know why they did this to us. It wasn't
personal. This is the way they treat all Palestinians. I'm sorry to say this but they'd rather help an animal than an Arab."
Palestinians try to lead a normal life. But life is never normal. During Israeli military operations, curfews stop
everything. Ambulances are denied access to the sick and wounded. Children are stopped from going to school. The Israelis
claim this is necessary for their security. If that's true, it's clearly not working. And the security of Palestinians is
almost never mentioned.
Lama Hourani, a Gaza resident, describes the effects of the conditions in which she lives:
"You feel all your life that you are humiliated. You don't control yourself, you don't control the air you are breathing?
I don't want? to talk about planning for anything, this is something that we don't even dream about. Plan to next hour or
next day what we will do. This is something we don't even dream about because our destiny is not in our hands. It's in the
hands of the others who decide how we would live. How we even get married? to come and live with my husband in this country,
I had to take the permission of the Israelis."
The soldier's story
Some Israelis have spoken
out. More than 500 soldiers have refused to serve in the occupied territories. 'We are', they've said, 'like the Chinese student
who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. We are the conscience of our country'. Ishay Rosen-Zvi is one of them.
"I really think the real story of the occupation is there in the checkpoint. I cannot forget this kind of picture,
you know, five in the morning, quarter to five in the morning? hundreds of people waiting, you know, to pass? the checkpoint.
And you're standing there. And you see their eyes? the humiliation, the frustration, the hatred.
""Then you are the
occupation. You have all the power, they have no power".
The half-built buildings of
Gaza are a testament to the hopes raised - then dashed - by the talk of an independent Palestine. Without Israeli permission,
most people can't leave and they can't return. They can't get to jobs, their produce can't get to market. Most struggle to
live on about a pound a day - a poverty compounded by an Israeli policy called closure.
Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, of
the Union of Palestine Medical Relief Committee, explains the effects of Israel's policy:
"You see for Israel to sustain
this unsustainable occupation, it is transforming every city and every Palestinian town and village into a prison, basically.
Surrounded by tanks, surrounded by walls, surrounded by fences. And it's not like they're building a border between us and
Israel. It's building border inside West Bank and Gaza. Between our cities and towns for the sake of their settlements. They
are obliging us to be occupied people. And not citizens".
world often sees the issue of Palestine through the tragedy and horror of suicide bombings. An expression of despair by powerless
people against an oppressor armed with modern weapons.
The first female suicide bomber struck in January
2002. Her name was Wafa Idris - the only daughter of a family of refugees who were driven out of their home near Tel Aviv.
She was 28, an ambulance volunteer. John Pilger talked to Khalil Idris, Wafa's brother, to ask, what makes an ambulance volunteer,
a carer, become a suicide bomber?
"She'd tell us that someone had been killed and she'd seen his brains splattered
all over the place or the inside of someone's stomach shot out. Or someone else who'd lost his leg. She was also upset by
pregnant women forced to give birth at the checkpoint and then see their babies die there. She was also injured by rubber
bullets. These were powerful incentives for her to avenge her people."
Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe believes
that suicide bombings are exploited by the Israeli establishment in order to discredit the Palestinian cause:
suicide bombs are presented to the Israeli public as an insane act by an insane people? with whom there is no chance for peace.
Instead of putting a wider analysis which would say there is a way out of the suicide bombs. While everybody condemns them,
and rightly so, there is a way out of it. And the way out of it is to provide the circumstances in which these young people
would find avenues of hope instead of avenues of despair. "
Suicide attacks against civilians are clearly crimes -
and they are used by extremists. But the extremists rely on the brutality of the occupation and the despair of the young volunteers.
Some extraordinary Israelis are brave enough to recognise this.
Rami Elhanan is one Israeli father who knows about
suicide bombing. On September 4th 1997, his daughter, Smadar, was killed by one. She was 14 years old. Rami's daughter was
shopping with two friends, one of whom was killed, the other seriously injured in the attack.
Rami is a graphic designer
and a former soldier. His father survived Auschwitz, but his grandparents, six aunts and uncles perished in the Holocaust.
John Pilger asked Rami, "How do you distinguish the feelings of anger that any father would have felt at losing your
daughter in such circumstances?"
"I'm not crazy. I don't forget. I don't forgive. Someone who murders little girls,
anyone who murders little girls, is a criminal and should be punished.
"But if you think from the head and not from
the gut, and you look what made people do what they do - people that don't have hope, people who are desperate enough to commit
suicide, you have to ask yourself have you contributed in any way for this despair? For this craziness? It hasn't come out
of the blue: the boy whose mother was humiliated, in the morning, at the checkpoint, will commit suicide in the evening.
suicide bomber was a victim - the same as my girl was. Of that I am sure.
"You have to understand where this suicide
bombers come from. Understanding is part of the way to solving the problem."
One of the most powerful symbols - and tools - of the Israeli occupation is the presence in Palestinian areas of Jewish
These "settlements" are in fact part of a network of armed colonies that, by one estimate, effectively
control 42% of the occupied West Bank. Many of them dominate and intimidate Palestinian communities. They are illegal under
international law and have been condemned by the UN.
The Israelis bring with them a version of apartheid. On the way
to one settlement near Gaza, John Pilger passed a road being built for the sole use of Jewish settlers and soldiers. Until
it's opened, the Palestinians who also live there must wait hours for the few settlers to drive by.
Inside the settlers'
fortress is a surreal, middle class suburb, dropped into one of the most overcrowded and poorest corners of the world.
of the strategic aims here is the control of water, which is precious in the Middle East. While Palestinians often don't have
enough running water - sometimes none at all in the heat of summer - the settlers seldom run out. And the symbol of the occupation
is the wall that surrounds the settlement.
The justification for taking somebody else's land is Biblical - that God
gave them Palestine and God, not the history of others, is their witness. Confirming this view, Jewish settler David Reisch
"I'm here because it's obvious that's my place. It's not something in my hands, that we can, you know, we can
give it back. Not me, not any politician, or? anybody. Because? it's a movement. It's something [from] three thousand years
ago when Moses? brought us here and we have in our mind? the dream of building a temple in Jerusalem. It's actually a lot
bigger than religion".
Pushed by Pilger to acknowledge that unless there is compromise the conflict will not cease,
Reisch says "it's us or them".
The Other Side of the wall
On the other side of the wall is the
reality of Palestine. At yet another checkpoint people are waiting and waiting.
Palestinian doctor, Dr Mona Al Farra
explains the effect of the settlement and the access road on those who are excluded by it.
"Let me just take your
journey from Gaza to Hanunis. This normal journey usually takes twenty minutes to reach from Gaza town to Hanunis. But after
this checkpoint this journey sometimes takes people from four to nine hours. People as you see here, waiting to go from Gaza
Dr Al Farra's family used to own land near this crossing and had lived there for as long as 900 years.
The Israelis confiscated it and demolished her home. And this is typical of what happens almost every day in occupied Palestine.
In the news we get, only the Palestinians are described
as terrorists, and yet the Israelis have a long history of terrorism - both before and since the founding of the Jewish state.
At least three Israeli Prime Ministers have been involved in campaigns of terror.
Menachem Begin was the commander
of the terrorist group that blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 96 people. He was Israeli Prime Minister
in the '70s and '80s. He once described a massacre as "a splendid act of conquest".
Yitzak Shamir was Prime Minister
until 1992. He had been a leader of a Jewish group called the Stern Gang which carried out a string of assassinations.
present Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has long been involved in terror. In 1983, he was found indirectly, but personally,
responsible for a civilian massacre by Lebanese militia in two Palestinian refugee camps. At least 800 innocent men, women
and children were murdered in cold blood, most of them Palestinians, after Sharon ordered his men to allow the militiamen
access to the camps.
John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, Senior Adviser to the
Israeli Prime Minister, and asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their terrorist acts in the same way as
they condemn anti-Israeli terrorist acts. Here is a transcript of this conversation:
When those Israelis, who are now famous names, committed act of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have
said to them, nothing justifies what you've done, ripping apart all those lives. And they would say it did justify it. What's
Dori Gold: I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding.
I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist
who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional
terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore,
whether you're talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle
in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies
to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.
JP: Does that include state terrorism?
No country has the right to deliberately target civilians. As no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.
JP: What about Israeli terrorism now?
DG: The language of terrorism, you
have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians, in a kind of warfare. That's what the terrorism
against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability,
Palestinian terrorist organisations.
JP: All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with
a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world's press for one, and
frankly we'd be here all day with other examples, isn't that terrorism?
DG: I don't know the case
you're speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing. An Israeli who takes aim - even an Israeli sniper - is taking
aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally
killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper's rifle on a civilian deliberately.
Well that's - that's what I've just described.
DG: That is what - no. I can tell you that did not
JP: It did happen. And - and I think that's where some people have problem with the argument
that terrorism exists on - on one side. Your definition is absolutely correct, about civilians. And those suicide bombers
DG: If you mix terrorism and counter-terrorism, if you create some kind of moral
obfuscation, you will bring about not just a problem for Israel, but you will bring ab - bring about a problem for the entire
western alliance. Because we are all facing this threat.
It's hard to see the difference between what the Israelis
call 'counter-terrorism' and terrorism. Whatever the target, both involve the killing of innocent people. This is what happened
when Prime Minister Sharon sent tanks into Bethlehem earlier this year.
Amjad Abu Laban, a Palestinian resident of
Bethlehem, describes one such incident:
"We had, a? private hospital director who was going from the hospital in Al
Hadr to Bethlehem to get supplies for his hospital. His plate number was known to the soldiers, his name was known to the
soldiers and they knew that he is the director of a hospital. But he was shot. By a high velocity bullet."
sponsorship of Israeli terror
Israel's occupation of Palestine would not be possible without the backing of America.
In the oil-rich Middle East, Israel is America's deputy sheriff, receiving billions of dollars along with the latest weapons:
F-16 aircraft, bombs, missiles, Apache helicopters. Today Israel is the fourth largest military power in the world, and it
has nuclear weapons.
Although America is Israel's main arms supplier, it's not widely recognised that Britain also
fuels the conflict here, even though it condemns Israel for its illegal occupation. During the first 14 months of the Palestinian
uprising, the Blair government approved 230 export licences for weapons and military equipment to Israel.
these covered included large calibre weapons; ammunition; bombs; and vital parts for military aircraft that almost certainly
included American-supplied combat helicopters. You may have seen these Apache gunships on the news, firing missiles at densely
populated areas. Tony Blair has said, 'we are doing everything we can to bring peace and stability to the Middle East'.
Barghouthi is a Palestinian who is all too familiar with the violence facilitated by the Israel's American-supplied weapons.
He described the scene when Apache helicopters attacked the area in which he lives:
"We saw Apache helicopters circling
in the sky above our heads. Then shooting a missile. The rockets fell just 200 metres from our house. All our windows were
shuttered. I had a child in front of me, my daughter, who was 11 years old, shivering from fear. Worried, frightened to death.
And I could do nothing to protect her.
"And you don't know whether in the second minute you or your daughter would
be dead. That feeling of impotence is indescribable and I will never forget it."
THE PEACE PROCESS
In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, led by Yasser Arafat, recognised Israel's right to exist and Israeli
sovereignty over 78% of Palestine. It was an historic compromise. And in the early '90s, a breakthrough for peace seemed possible.
It was in a room in a Jerusalem hotel that the first direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials took place
in 1991. These led to further meetings and an agreement in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, that set up an autonomous mini-state
in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
For Yasser Arafat and his people, it was seen as a beginning. But
the reality was different. What the majority of Palestinians got was a classic colonial fix. Arafat and his elite got the
trappings and privileges of power, while the mass of the people got what one Israeli journalist called "the autonomy of a
prisoner of war camp".
In July 2000, the two sides met in America to reach a final agreement. But among the issues
they discussed was a profound disagreement about just how much land was on offer.
Israel's Prime Minister at the time,
Ehud Barak, claimed he'd offered the Palestinians almost all the occupied territories back and said that Arafat had rejected
this. In reality, the Israelis were expanding more and more illegal settlements on Palestinian land, even during the negotiations.
Add to that the special access roads with their checkpoints, and the Palestinians say that all that was left was a group of
colonies with their borders patrolled by military bases.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe explains how, despite Barak's
claims to the contrary, the proposal was deeply flawed:
"It's very important to understand that from a Palestinian
point of view, they were asked - to sign? a document which did not relate even to one of the central issues for which they
had been struggling for more than 100 years. They are left eventually with an offer of 10% of what used to be Palestine.
Israelis who dictated this offer in the summer of 2000 are not even talking about a proper state. We are talking? of a stateless
state, I would call it. A Bantustan with no genuine sovereignty. With no independent foreign, economic or political policies,
with no proper capital and at the mercy of the Israeli security services and Israeli policy."
Not only that, but there
is now documented evidence that the Palestinians had made an extraordinary offer to the Israelis, conceding even more of their
land. But this was not news at the time.
Indeed, John Pilger's interview with Dori Gold illustrates Israel's continued
reluctance to concede even the most basic entitlements of the Palestinians: the right to independent statehood and self-governance.
Gold claims that it is only Palestinian violence that prevents negotiation, and asserts that it is Israel's place to help
decide the basis for a new Palestinian state:
JP: When will Israel agree to negotiate with the Palestinians,
not for what they call a few Bantustans on the West Bank, but for a state that is as peaceful, as secure, above all, as independent
as Israel itself?
DG: Do you want Israel to? concede the terms of that negotiation up front on television?
Or is it better to agree to the general principle and then sit with the Palestinians in a face to face negotiation once they
stop violence against us?
JP: But what about this? The general principle, then, of a state as independent
DG: We do not need a string of adjectives to agree to.
that's a fair principle, isn't it? What's? a state worth if it isn't independent?
DG: What we're
speaking about is our willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians their self-government and we are willing to create a
Palestinian self-governing entity - some call it a Palestinian state - which will address the real needs of the Palestinians.
JP: What right have you to create somebody else's homeland?
DG: Well, we
are being asked to negotiate that. We are willing to be part of that, we are willing to make a contribution to that. We are
not going to up-front go into details about its geographic configuration or its powers. That's part of the negotiation.
Until recently, Israel has enjoyed almost an immunity from criticism among Western politicians. This
has been largely due to a fear of being labelled anti-Semitic - a fear manipulated by the Israeli government and its foreign
Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe comments, "I think the Holocaust memory does not allow any moral criticism
of anything that Israel does? If you do criticise Israel, you are immediately charged with anti-Semitism."
Rosen-Zvi, the irony of this situation is bitter: "This is? a huge bluff? of the Israeli establishment, that every? criticism
of its policy is anti-Semitism. And criticising? your government, your country's policy is, today, I think the only patriotic
thing one can do".
Perhaps compounding the fear created by the Holocaust is fear of what the Palestinians will do
to them if Israel allows them to grow in strength, a fear encapsulated by the phrase "we'll be pushed into the sea".
Elhanan, father of a suicide bomb victim, has little time for such arguments.
"By who? By [a] mosquito? We are the
most powerful power in the Middle East, we have one of the greatest and more powerful armies in the world. In [its] last operation
there were four divisions, armoured divisions, against some 500? armed people? It's a laugh. Who will push us into the sea?"
Afterword - John Pilger
It is not surprising that the Jewish people of Israel should feel insecure.
No-one should ever forget that the most devastating genocide in human history happened only two generations ago.
a true sensitivity to that awful memory comes from the same basic humanity that recognises the suffering of the Palestinian
people and the courage of their endurance. The truth is that Israelis will never have peace until they recognise that Palestinians
have the same right to the same peace and the same independence that they enjoy.
Recently that great voice of freedom,
Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked this. "Have the Jewish people of Israel forgotten their collective punishment? Their home demolitions?
Their humiliations? So soon?"
Israel's own dissenting voices have not forgotten, and those who speak out in this film
honour the best traditions of Jewish humanity. If Rami, the man who lost a young daughter in a suicide attack, can understand
the root cause of the violence here, isn't it time that others broke their silence? The occupation of Palestine should end
Then the solution is clear: two countries - Israel and Palestine - neither dominating or menacing the other.
Is that impossible or is history to witness the consequences of yet another silence?