by Nick Pretzlik

During my stay in Palestine the only people to shoot at me were Israeli soldiers. The only person to threaten me was an Israeli Jew. Strange it is supposed to be the Palestinians who are the villains of the piece.

Rain greeted my arrival at Ben Gurion airport; sheets of it and this continued without respite for two days. Then, as if at the push of a button, the clouds parted, the gloom lifted, and the sun appeared. It has stayed that way ever since. If only events on the ground could change so rapidly.

Palestinians must be the most misrepresented people on earth. Ejected from the land of their ancestors, seven and a half million now reside in the Occupied Territories (the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) and in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Many survive in squalid refugee camps, some of them are there since their country was partitioned in 1947, others since the 1967 war. One million remain in Israel itself, second-class citizens in a Jewish state. News from Palestine is 'managed', sifted and refined by the Israelis. The public at large, even the Israeli public, have been kept unaware of what has been going on, of the scale of the disaster and injustice vested on the Palestinian people. The truth is now emerging and, albeit at the twenty-third hour, public opinion is changing — not in Israel yet — but in the wider world. For many Israelis the old slogans still apply — "the Occupied Territories are a war zone", "Palestinians missed their chance at Camp David" (a classic example of Israeli positive spin on an inequitable deal) and "Palestinians are terrorists who hate Israel".

Travelling around the West Bank and down into Gaza I have yet to meet a single foreign journalist apart from one Reuters photographer and a number of Middle Eastern camera teams covering cultural events. There are a few committed souls doing their free-lancing best, but getting their stories published in mass circulation newspapers or accepted by television outlets is almost impossible. If a semi-retired business man like me, fifty seven years old and not speaking Arabic, can find families to stay with in refugee camps, such as Dheishe to the south of Bethlehem and Khan Yuni in the Gaza Strip, why aren't 'pukka' journalists doing the same? Are they not interested in the lives of Dheishe's twelve thousand inhabitants? It is Palestine's third largest camp and dates back to 1948. Are they not concerned at the camp's 84% unemployed level, at the misery of lives lived without hope in barely humane conditions, about the regular IDF (Israeli Defence Force) incursions, random shootings and house demolitions?

To see the sea at Gaza on a sunny winter's afternoon is a magical experience. The join between beach and sea is so sharp and so true it seems to have been cut with a knife. The green of the waves at the water's edge merging into deepest blue, the sweeping arc of a cloudless sky, the softness of the light all combine to provoke a surge of adrenalin and to make the heart beat faster at such a tantalising glimpse of another world.

How can it be that the camps in Gaza no longer attract interest? At least one Palestinian was killed and several wounded every night that I was in Khan Yunis — shot from perimeter towers like ducks on a pond or killed in their beds by random shelling. From eleven at night until four in the morning shooting continued uninterrupted.

Wouldn't the world be interested to hear about the latest Israeli watchtower design? A brilliantly simple concept, it is a world-beater. Take the largest sky crane available, attach a basket — effectively an armoured platform — by cable to a hook on the end of the crane's extendable arm and hoist the basket one hundred feet into the air. Make a couple of snipers comfortable, give them plenty of ammo and a plateful of sandwiches and, hey presto, you have mobility and efficiency and boy can you stir things up.

"Stirring things up" is really the point. So much of IDF policy is designed to disrupt Palestinian's lives, in short to play mind games. When life is unpredictable and dangerous it wears people down and diminishes their resolve. Closures and curfews too can have that effect especially if they are 'managed'. Bethlehem, for example, has been under curfew for six out of the last twelve months and during that time the application of curfew has been purposefully chaotic — four days curfew, one day open, three days curfew, three hours open, five days curfew, two days open and so on; whether to open or close always determined at very short notice. How do schools cope with that? How do hospitals and their staff cope with that? How do Hospital patients deal with that? Well sometimes they die — needlessly — and sometimes mothers give birth by the side of the road in front of the Israeli checkpoint.

If alongside these 'games' the infrastructure of a community is eradicated — underground cabling and pipes ripped up, municipal buildings, police offices, public records offices, theatres all are destroyed — people's resolve will be undermined. That resolve may be further weakened when children are involved — families in Palestine often have eight or ten offspring — especially if parents have to watch their kids being traumatised by daily violence.

One in five Palestinian children now suffer from chronic or acute malnutrition, a statistic on a par with the Republic of Chad in Central Africa. In the Gaza Strip unemployment is at 80%. Elsewhere in the Occupied Territories things are not much better and yet Palestinians are not leaving. Their resolve remains strong, their traditions, their values, their humour and their gentleness remain intact. Is this not a story in itself? Why is it not being told?

In December the month before I came here, seventy-five Palestinians were killed including fourteen children under eighteen. If my experience is anything to go by January looks like being no less. Why is that not being reported? Why are we informed exclusively about suicide bombings when individual Palestinians are no longer able to tolerate the daily abuse, the humiliations and the erosion of dignity, have witnessed relatives shot or beaten, have been ejected from their homes in the middle of the night and stood helplessly by while their houses were destroyed? What must it feel like to endure the absence of work — not just for five years, not even for ten years, but for a lifetime?

Israel holds all the necessary levers to control economic life in the Occupied Territories. It is also a disproportionate consumer of water water being an increasingly rare commodity. The average Israeli family uses six times the amount used by a Palestinian family. Water consumed by Palestinians is first extracted by Israel from Palestinian wells and aquifers, and then is sold back to Palestinians at prices they cannot afford. Water is also used as a weapon; the supply can be turned on and off at any time. Prices for services in the Occupied Territories — power and fuel for example — are higher than in Israel although per capita income is a fraction of the money earned by Israelis.

Why are Palestinians being so brutally treated? Is it to make their lives so insufferable that they pack their bags and leave? Yes. Is it the inevitable result of the Zionist goal of an exclusively Jewish state (politically at least)? Yes. Does racism play a role in Israeli behaviour? Yes. Have the abused become abusers? Yes.

Military might is able to maintain the status quo; of that there is no doubt. But, future generations of Jews will not thank their parents and grandparents for what they are doing. It is future generations who will have to shoulder the blame and bear the guilt. And so also will the offspring of people around the world who know what is happening and choose to remain silent.

Written January 2003.

Nick Pretzlik died in London on 2004-07-13.

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