Originally published on Todays Zaman, 25 February, 2007
An ordinary day for West Bank, four locals and three foreigners are trying to go to Jenin from Nablus. Three guys in the minibus get off right before the check point and get back on 10 minutes later from the opposite direction. I have no idea what’s going on! Are they terrorists? Are they fugitives? The driver does not speak any English; he just signs us to be quiet while crossing the check point. There is no time to question and analyze the situation, so I follow the orders.
On a land where the borders change so frequently, where roads are blocked almost every day, where it is almost impossible to travel among the cities, Palestinians come up with new tactics every day to deal with the Israeli strategy. The conflict does not only take place in Gaza through guns, but also in daily routine all over the country. The strategy is deterrence; and the tactic is resistance through patience.
Many students I’ve talked to say that they have to walk to university as the tanks block the roads. They remember times when they walked 8 kilometers long in freezing cold weather for weeks, sometimes months. Or if it is a longer distance, they drive through the bush; 30 kilometers road takes 2 hours. The day I rode the minibus, it was forbidden to travel among cities for those whose ages are between 16-45. Palestinians are accepted as potential terrorists regardless of their education, profession, or any other qualification except the age. We are used to the prohibition of 16-45 year old Palestinians in Al-Aqsa mosque. But when they are not even allowed in the old city of Jerusalem, or intercity travels in West Bank, that brings questions in mind. While Israel says that they are simply doing some archeological research or excavation work, they do not exactly announce the details. By doing so, they raise the tension as Al-Aqsa is the third holiest religious site for Muslims. Not only Muslims but also Christian Palestinians get frustrated and and angry about the situation. Sleiman, an Orthodox Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, says that Al-Aqsa is the most significant symbol of Palestine. Christians care about the mosque as much as Muslims.
Israel follows a strategy that gets people confused and frustrated, and creates reasons to tight the security. While they ban 16-45 year old men from the mosque on Fridays before, they can do it every day now and not limited to Al-Aqsa only. For more than 15 days by now, many shop owners in the old city, could not get to work. There are security forces all over the old city checking ID’s constantly. At Qalandia gate, security check continues. Many people are refused to go from West Bank to Jerusalem, even if they have permission. Finally in the West Bank, there are more and more check points every day to keep Palestinians away from Al-Aqsa, from Jerusalem, from each other, simply from everything. If Mr. Olmert gave a better explanation to Muslims rather than showing a few pictures to PM Erdogan privately, they would not need to humiliate and frustrate all Palestinians every day and deal with protests if not explosions soon.
Israel continues to complicate and make Palestinians’ lives difficult every day and Palestinians keep being silent and patient. Most of them continue their education and trying to make a living in very difficult conditions which the world is missing out. Only a few cannot put up with occupation, imprisonment, lack of resources, and death of loved ones, and choose the easy way; killing. Instead of focusing on the majority who honorably continue living despite everything, the media talks about suicide bombers only. And most of us think that Palestinians are bunch of suicide bombers or miserable people who beg for bread.
Most of the Palestinians I met have been to prison during intifada. Spending years in prison taught them that they are not going to win by guns but education and protecting their culture. My opinion after seeing 8 cities in West Bank, they are quite successful about it. The hospitality they have, the mature comments they do about the conflict, their understanding of nationalism, explain their strong bonds to the hold land.
One thing they know quite well is the difference between Judaism and Zionism. While Israel recognizes all Palestinians as potential threat with prejudice, there are many Jews volunteering in West Bank without any ‘security’ problems. Palestinians are mature enough to give a chance to anybody from different religions and ethnic backgrounds as long as they feel the sincerity.
It would be unrealistic to expect peace anytime soon. To make realistic predictions though, we should try to pay a little more attention to everyday life in Palestine. Instead of asking “Why cannot get independent?” we should ask “How did they resist for so long in such hard conditions?” Then we can realize what hold them together, and maybe think about sending books instead of guns and bread.