The 100-Year War

Report from the West Bank and Gaza

by Joan Mandell , Salim Tamari
published in MER108

“Israel is fighting in Lebanon,” declared Israel’s armed forces chief of staff Raphael Eitan on July 10, “to win the struggle for Eretz Yisrael.” Addressing officers and soldiers of a front-line armored unit, Eitan declared that “destroying and uprooting the terrorists’ base in Lebanon, would weaken the Palestinians’ opposition to the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael.” [1] In Eitan’s view, “The principal enemy has been fighting us for Eretz Yisrael for 100 years.” [2]

Prominent Israeli intellectuals and journalists have noted this underlying motive for the Lebanon invasion. In Haaretz, Yehoshua Porath, the Hebrew University historian, publicly accused the Begin government of using the Lebanon operation in preparation for removing political obstacles to annexing the West Bank and Gaza. David Bernstein, in the Jerusalem Post, noted that the July 1981 Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire accorded the PLO a degree of international legitimacy bound to bring them into negotiations over the fate of the West Bank and Gaza. [3] The invasion was launched partly in response to this undesired legitimacy and partly to preempt the political consequences of PLO “political moderation.” Israel’s defense minister and invasion architect Ariel Sharon put it less subtly: After liquidating PLO forces in Lebanon, he said, “it is going to be easy to subdue their supporters in the West Bank.”

Israel accompanied its action in Lebanon with direct attacks on the Palestinian national movement inside the occupied territories. The authorities arrested scores of nationalist figures, placing them under “preemptive” detention. Many of those held under administrative detention in the course of this spring’s uprising were returned to jail. Occupation authorities disbanded the several municipal councils which still functioned. Palestinian collaborators were appointed to replace the mayors of Jenin, Doura-Khalil (home of Hebron area Village League head, Mustafa Dudeen) and Dayr Dibwan (Ramallah area). The authorities appointed a new council, led by the infamous collaborator ‘Abd al-Hamid Qishta, to replace the council in Rafah, the border town severed by the Israeli-Egyptian partition of April 25, when Israel completed its Sinai withdrawal.

Gaza is the largest Palestinian town under occupation. Mayor Rashad Shawwa, unlike the most prominent elected West Bank mayors, had been appointed by Israel to his post. Nevertheless, he became the sixth major local authority chief to be dismissed for “non-cooperation with the civilian authorities.” The dismissal of Shawwa, known for his conservative and pro-Jordanian sentiments, emphasized Israeli policy of dismantling not only the “radical” pro-PLO councils elected in 1976, but also those "pragmatic" mayors who had personally accepted cooperation with the civil administration at some level and repeatedly called for reciprocal recognition by Israel and the PLO.

Strikes and Demonstrations

Despite the characteristically harsh repressive measures employed in the occupied territories, Palestinians’ reactions here have been vigorous and widespread. Thousands took to the streets of Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Hebron and Gaza to protest the war. Schools, the main sites for demonstrations in the past, were already closed for summer. In Nablus, violent confrontations with Israeli soldiers began on June 11, accompanied by a town-wide general strike lasting three days. It culminated in the deaths of two youths and injuries to several others. Smaller scale protests also took place, including a sit-in by several hundred West Bank women in July at the Jerusalem office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Despite the fact that this year’s Ramadan festivities were kept to a minimum, between 20 and 30,000 demonstrators marched through the old city of Jerusalem on two successive Fridays in July after midday prayer. Roadblocks on all routes leading into the city prevented thousands of others from joining.

The most successful workers’ strike was in the Gaza Strip, where thousands quit work -- in Israeli industry and construction -- on June 13. Hundreds continued the strike for several days more. Israeli soldiers on this “second front” eventually rounded up all men by neighborhood in several refugee camps for late-night threat sessions. They subsequently arrested some of the men. Shops in Gaza, closed for one to two days, were forced open by the security forces.

The occupation army arrested trade union leaders in West Bank towns and closed down the Ramallah branch of the General Union of Building Workers on July 15. They conducted midnight raids on the homes of journalists, municipal council members, leaders of professional unions and left-wing political activists. They sealed the premises of the Committee of Working Women in al-Bira for “distributing inciting literature” and arrested several students holding an exhibit there. The Jerusalem Post labeled the committee a “PLO propaganda distribution” outlet.

Birzeit University, regarded by the Israeli authorities as an “intellectual center of Palestinian nationalism” was closed on July 8, on direct orders from Defense Minister Sharon. This, the third extended closure since September, followed several weeks of night raids on student dormitories. Men and women students were compelled to march in their pajamas through Ramallah and Birzeit main streets chanting slogans against the PLO and Yasser Arafat.

The following week, border police and army troops arrested and beat over 90 students who were attempting to convene their classes in Jerusalem school buildings. In Bethlehem University, students held daily demonstrations, strikes and political rallies until June 12, when military officials closed the institution for an indefinite period.

Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza tried to organize a variety of drives to aid the Lebanese and Palestinian victims of the war. Most attempts to send clothing, funds and blood units, as well as voluntary medical staff, were rejected by the military authorities. Following Red Cross intervention, the Israeli authorities finally allowed the Gaza Central Blood Bank, a Palestinian service institution, to send three shipments of blood to Sidon hospital.

A little known fact of Operation Peace for Galilee is that the main victims were Palestinians who fled their homes in the Galilee during the 1948 war. Israeli air raids killed or wounded many thousands of those refugees in the camps of Rashidiyya, ‘Ayn al-Hilwa and Nabatiyya, and in the towns of Sidon and Tyre. In Arab villages throughout the Galilee, memorial services and protest meetings were held by relatives of those killed. The Regional Committee of the Local Heads of [Arab] Councils in Israel, meeting in Shafa ‘Amr on June 19, issued an unprecedented communique denouncing the war in Lebanon and called for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal. Dayr Hanna council head Raja Khatib said, “This is a war of annihilation against the Palestinian people and the Lebanese national forces.” This militancy of feeling against the war was echoed in three separate and licensed demonstrations on July 10 in Nazareth. There, border police savagely dispersed the protests, and beat and arrested two municipal council members, including Deputy Mayor Ramiz Juraysi.

In Haifa, Palestinian volunteers from the Galilee came daily to the hospital to visit and help care for some Lebanese and Palestinian war victims, on display there for Israeli media propaganda.

Intimidation and Censorship

Psychological warfare by the Israeli state-affiliated media was bolstered by "private" attempts at intimidation by local Jewish settlement councils. Palestinian propaganda sources were simultaneously cut: the PLO-run Sawt Filastin transmitter in Lebanon broadcasting to the occupied territories was bombed by the Israeli air force.

At the beginning of the war, Israel’s Arabic radio broadcast half-hourly calls for surrender, and messages from captured Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian nationals. Discrepancies between Hebrew-language and Arabic-language newscasts on state TV clearly revealed that they were targeted to different audiences. As the war continued, Palestinians more frequently tuned out Radio Israel’s Arabic broadcasts in favor of Radio Monte Carlo. The Council of Jewish Settlements in Gaza, Judea and Samaria distributed an Arabic-language leaflet in several West Bank towns on June 20. The leaflet was produced in Kiryat Arba settlement. Addressed to “our neighbors, the residents of Judea and Samaria,” it declared:

In the defeat of Arafat, Hawatmeh and George Habash is your safety! Our Arab neighbors: Look at your television screens, look at the houses being destroyed in Lebanon... defeat of the terror organization will save you from the bitter fate which has hit your folks, the sons of your people in the camps of Lebanon. Remember!... who is your friend and who is your foe! Didn’t the Arab states, using your blood as fuel for their policies, end up in your people’s annihilation? Now they have returned and involved you in new adventures and left you grieving. May a new permanent peace be built over the ruins of the terror organizations. Peace and coexistence between Jews and Arabs throughout the land.

Most local news and Palestinian-originated Lebanon news was heavily censored from dailies al-Fajr and al-Sha‘b from the beginning of the war. The papers were confiscated outside Jerusalem for most of June and early July. In mid-July they were officially banned from distribution in the occupied territories.

While Israelis were in close touch with their sons in army service in Lebanon -- radio and TV call-in shows, free telephone lines and extensive news coverage -- Palestinians had no contact and no information about the fate of specific relatives.

Quislings and Thugs

The political aims of the Lebanon campaign for the occupied territories began to crystallize from the first weeks of the war. Sharon talked of the now suitable atmosphere for contacts with “personalities in the West Bank who believe in coexistence with Israel” in the context of the “autonomy” scheme. [4]

While seeking to replace the dismantled local Palestinian councils in the West Bank and Gaza with collaborators, the military government began to strengthen the armed militias of the Village Leagues. The Leagues, armed and trained by the military in recent months, number several hundreds in rural areas of the Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin disricts. Village Leaguers clashed with anti-war protestors. In Bayt Kahil, five kilometers northwest of Hebron, 100 villagers fought with Village League thugs on June 20. Muhammad Nasr, Hebron Village League deputy, shot and killed Daoud Atawna and wounded several other villagers. Similar clashes occurred in al-Sira Shamaliyya, near Nablus, on June 29; Bayt Sira near Ramallah, on July 4; and in Dahriyya, in the Hebron district. A Village League newspaper, Umm al-Qura, (whose editor is the same Muhammad Nasr), was launched in Hebron with the explicit aim of encouraging a local leadership to emerge in the West Bank to challenge the PLO.

Mustafa Dudeen, who appeared periodically on Israeli television and radio during the war, declared on June 22 that the war “had established conviction among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza that the PLO is incapable of solving the Palestine problem militarily…. This is the time for local Palestinians to take the initiative for a peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” [5]

Events on the battlefield, however, turned this assessment on its head. The protracted encirclement of Beirut and the continued evidence of Palestinian resistance behind Israeli front lines encouraged the notion even among the Israeli public that there is no military solution to the Palestinian problem.

In the Palestinian street, an initial shock over the intensity of the invasion and severity of atrocities was mediated by a prevalent feeling of pride that the Palestinian forces fought honorably and tenaciously. “Young people, radicals and PLO supporters are rather pleased,” wrote Dani Rubenstein in Davar. [6] “On the other hand, those who are called moderates and traditionalists are depressed, embarrassed. The possibility of reaching a compromise, they believe, is becoming more and more remote.” Contempt for the Arab regimes for deserting the resistance in its hour of greatest need was widespread, coupled with a revulsion for US support for Israel’s war. The US consulate in East Jerusalem cancelled its July 4 celebration because, according to al-Fajr, “no Arab would attend.”

As the battle for Beirut draws closer, and Israeli soldiers dig in for a long winter in southern Lebanon, here in the West Bank and Gaza there is intense watching and waiting. This war, people here know, will have a great impact on their future. But they also sense very strongly that this is not the last war.

Endnotes

[1] Jerusalem Post, July 11, 1982.
[2] Ba Hahameh [Israel army journal].
[3] Jerusalem Post, June 15, 1982.
[4] Yediot Aharanot, June 18, 1982.
[5] Israel Radio, June 22, 1982; quoted in al-Anba’, June 23, 1982.
[6] Davar, June 18, 1982.

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