Ibrahim abu-Rakhma, a 31-year-old Palestinian, was killed during Friday’s weekly anti-separation fence demonstration in Bil’in. Abu-Rakhma was shot in the chest with a tear-gas grenade, launched from a distance of some 30 meters from him by IDF soldiers. The soldiers were under no threat at any stage of the demonstration, as this video of the incident clearly shows. [see video in post below this one]
The death of Abu-Rakhma, a civilian from Bil’in who protested the taking of his own village’s land, is not only sad and unjustified, but also carries a bad lesson for both Palestinian and Israelis.
Many Israelis (and most of their supporters around the world) justify Israel’s policies, and even the occupation itself, with the nature of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. In the Jewish religious circles and the radical right you can still hear people claiming we should stay in the West Bank simply because “this land is ours”, but most people prefer to talk about Palestinian terrorism, and the threat it poses to Israelis. Some go on to attributing an inherent tendency to violence to all Palestinians, talking about their “murderous nature” and “a culture of death”, which just forces us to stay in the West Bank.
What we tend to forget is that the current violence is a relatively new phenomena. Since 1967 and for the first 20 years of occupation, the West Bank was fairly quiet. I remember, as a kid, how we traveled there during weekends, went shopping and sightseeing. Yes, the PLO carried on the armed fight, but this was done mostly from other countries – Jordan, later on Lebanon, and finally Tunisia.
But guess what – this nonviolent struggle never made Israel even think about abandoning the land it conquered or hand the Palestinians any civil and political rights. In fact, these were the years in which the colonization of land became an official government policy. Israel agreed to a Palestinian autonomy as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, but never really considered keeping its promise.
Then came the first Intifada. By today’s standards it was a nonviolent struggle - mainly stones throwing, huge strikes and popular demonstrations. It wasn’t pleasant – soldiers were hurt, and there was an increase in terrorism as well, but it was nothing like the “culture of death” everyone’s talking about now. Suicide bombing started only during the 90’s, both as a response to the suicide attack by Dr. Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, and as an opposition to the peace process from the Hamas, which was a relatively weak fraction back than. The real popular armed struggle, as we know it today, only began in October 2000. When I served in the West Bank, as late as the summer of 2000, we were still driving open vehicles and walking in villages without bullet-proof vests.
Bil’in was an effort to go back to the unarmed model, even though by now, after more than 40 years of occupation, most Palestinians think it led them nowhere. And it was for a good cause: the protesters didn’t seek the destruction of Israel. They weren’t Hamas people. They didn’t even oppose the separation wall. They just didn’t want it to pass on their land, in their village. Israel could have just the same build the wall on the international border (the Green Line), and no one would have said anything. But we wanted to get some more land.
My bottom line is this: in Bil’in, like in the first three decades of the occupation, Israel proved that it didn’t really care what kind of a fight the Palestinians are putting up, or what they ask for. This has nothing to do with “abandoning terrorism”, like Netanyahu – and all Israeli PMs before him, except for one – keep on saying. For all we care the Palestinians can convert to Buddhism or join the Likud. We just don’t want to go back to the ‘67 borders. That’s why, when they throw stones or wave flags, as they do in the video above, we open fire.
That’s the bad lesson I was referring to: that there is no going back. That escalation is inevitable, and even wanted - if you are a Palestinian. That even if you decide to abandon terrorism and protest in a nonviolent way, you would achieve nothing, and you might still get shot in the head. So why not be a radical?