The Holocaust Revisited

by Muna Hamzeh

March 13, 2002



(March 12) Where do I begin tonight? Those who've followed the reports on Dheisheh in the past three days certainly want to know the latest developments there. So that's where I'll start. After being detained, while blindfolded and handcuffed the whole time, all 600 males in Dheisheh refugee camp were released last night with the exception of 70 who were taken away to an undisclosed Israeli prisons. Tens of houses sustained damage from the impact of dynamite used to destroy six or seven in the camp. You have to remember though that Palestine is not the US nor Israel. In Palestine we have no real estate agents and those who lost homes won't be able to buy or rent another house. They have to live in tents in the midst of the ruins until they can re-build. No one in the refugee camps has insurance on their homes, so no insurance companies will compensate them for the damage. And Arafat's Palestinian Authority doesn't have funds to reimburse the refugees for their material loss.


Since Arafat and his authority took control of Zone A in Bethlehem in December 1995, this is what he has used "funds" for in Bethlehem: to build a new police station with a new jail; new headquarters for his Preventive Security forces; new headquarters for his intelligence; new presidential headquarters for Arafat and his VIP guests; and a personal helicopter pad built on Jabal Anton, a small hilltop overlooking Dheisheh and the only natural extension for the camp, where Arafat would have been better off building a playground for the refugee camp's children. This is what Arafat built in Bethlehem. No new hospitals, no additions to old hospitals, no schools and no universities.


So you see, no one will reimburse the refugees for their loss and no one will offer monthly salaries to the mothers who lost husbands or sons or whose loved ones are now in indefinite detention.


But what happened in Dheisheh in the past few days now seems small potatoes compared to what is happening in Jabalyia, Beach Refugee Camps in Gaza and in Ramallah, and Amari Refugee Camp tonight. The Israeli Hebrew daily, Ha'aretz, reported today that 20,000 Israeli troops have been sent into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Al-Jazeera reports that this is the largest military operation in twenty years. The American main-stream media reports that Palestinian gunmen killed 6 Israelis. and oh, by the way, 39 of these nameless and faceless Palestinians were killed too. Eyewitness reports state that the hospitals in Gaza are surrounded by Israeli tanks, and the ambulances carrying the scores of wounded are being sent away. Foreign and Palestinian journalists are being fired upon, including ABC and CNN crews, to scare them away and prevent them from filming the Nazi war crimes taking place.


Today in the Israeli Knesset, MK Yossi Lapid (Shinui Party) raised the issue of Israeli soldiers writing numbers on the arms of Palestinian detainees (Palestinians report that this was done in Tulkarem Refugee Camp last week). According to Ha'aretz, Lapid said that as a Holocaust survivor he regards the inscription of numbers on the arms of Palestinians as "intolerable" and expressed surprise that the commanders ordering this procedure did not show more sensitivity. I wonder if ending the occupation would be "sensitive" enough for him because being free is the only type of "sensitivity" the Palestinians are receptive to. ("Mofaz: IDF will stop writing numbers on prisoners' arms," by Gideon Alon and Ori Nir, March 13, 2002)


Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on March 12 that he wasn't aware of this practice and ordered it to stop. Ha'aretz reports that Arab Knesset Member Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash Party) sent a letter on March 12 to Professor Shevah Weiss, the chairman of Yad Vashem and a Holocaust survivor, saying that his letter is intended to "shed light on the monstrous aspect of Israel's acts in the occupied territories, such as the use of stamping numbers on the forearms of helpless prisoners and the despicable use of terms such as extermination, transfer and blockades, raids on refugee camps and turning them into detention camps."


As Dheisheh finally manages to slumber into an exhausted sleep tonight, friends in Ramallah on the West Bank, and in Jabalyia and Beach Refugee Camps are in for a treacherous time as Israeli troops commit their war crimes under the cover of the night. Meanwhile, Arafat's Palestinian Authority called on the residents of Amari Refugee Camp in Ramallah to resist the current Israeli incursion into the refugee camp. It is so like Arafat's cronies to expect others to die, while they remain safe and most have managed to send their wives and children overseas at the beginning of the uprising. Back in December, when Israel placed Arafat under siege in Ramallah, the Palestinian leader threatened to walk all the way to Bethlehem to take part in the Christmas celebrations. Why didn't he? Can you imagine the public relations coup he would have achieved if he had assembled his fat cats around, carried a white flag and actually marched to Bethlehem? What would the Israelis have done? They wouldn't have shot him dead, but even if they did, he would have merely joined the long list of Palestinians who've been massacred by the Israeli occupation forces. At least he would have died a hero.


The incursions into the refugee camps in the past few weeks are not innocent. Many refugees in the camps are convinced that something very fishy is being cooked for them. During the Camp David II talks between Arafat, Barak and Clinton in the Summer of 2000, the issue of the right of return wasn't even up for discussion because there was no disagreement between the three leaders about it. Last October, Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian Authority's then newly appointed Jerusalem envoy, caused an outcry in Palestinian refugee circles -- but, of course, became a media celebrity in Israel and the West -- when he argued that Palestinians should give up their right of return to their homes of origin and instead be resettled in the Palestinian Territories. He also advocated a two-state solution, which recognizes a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and a Jewish state, Israel, but to which refugees would be denied return.


Then in November, Nusseibeh was joined by the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Information -- who runs the ministry with his wife, as if it is a family business -- in withdrawing from the right of return. According to Ha'aretz, Abed  Rabbo attended a debate at the Brookings Institution in Washington on November 20 with the participation of former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. This is what he said: "We asked for the principle of the right of return, but the implementation of it, should be discussed in a very practical and even pragmatic way, without affecting or without -- yes, without affecting -- the Jewish nature of the state of Israel." ("You're holding the baby, Colin, try not to drop it," by Akiva Eldar, November 22, 2001)


Dr. Jerome Segal of the University of Maryland apparently wanted to hear what Abed Rabbo had to say about the right of return. He reportedly told Rabbo: "I'm just wondering if you'd be prepared to just simply state straight out today, as the PLO spokesman, that the position of the PLO with respect to right of return is that its implementation must be done in such a way as to not adversely affect the Jewish nature of the state of Israel." To this, Abed Rabbo replied: "I said it in these same words, but you said it in more eloquent English. I said it with my poor English." Then Abed Rabbo continued:  "You want, as a Palestinian who was born in Jaffa, to forget my personal thing, my attachment as a person to the place of my birth? I will not do that. But you want me, as a serious politician responsible for the future of my people, and as a person who wants, really, to put an end to these agonies, to take a position which hurts me -- I should take it. I will do that. This is the difference."


There does not exist a single man in the Palestinian Authority who dares utter a word without Arafat's seal of approval, especially on an issue as volatile as the right of return. Indeed, it seems that the statements both by Nusseibeh and Abed Rabbo were meant as test balloons, to see what sort of reaction they would draw. All the recent and ongoing incursions into Palestinian refugee camps are not innocent. You can be certain that there is a longer-term intention behind them than merely imposing curfews, dynamiting homes, rounding up people and shooting at anything that moves, including children. Fears of creating the conditions for the relocation of the refugees, and fears of an imminent transfer remain very much on everyone's mind. But with or without Arafat as its puppet on a string, Israel has failed time and time again in bringing the Palestinians to their knees. Whether the Israelis can succeed this time around, now that they have given their tanks and gunships and F-16s a free reign in the Occupied Territories, remains to be seen. If the Nazi war crimes being committed against the Palestinians today are not stopped by the international community and world leaders, then the day will soon come when relocation and transfer will take place, and the world probably won't even blink an eye.


But throughout our history, time and time again, we have been a steadfast, resilient and strong people. So far, the civilian population in the Occupied Territories have not lost their ability to hold on. Will the international community and the Arab world regain their morality and step in before it is too late? Who knows the answers to anything anymore. MSNBC cable news in the US still refers to the Territories as "disputed" and CNN still tells us that 39 Palestinians were killed today, but doesn't give us the names or show us the weeping mothers. They're not Israeli mothers you see.


Al-Jazeera TV is showing all the pictures, in detail, and yet the Arab masses remain un-moved into an outcry. And then you get some stupid journalist who asks why more and more Palestinians are strengthening their faith in Allah. Well, you tell me, who else is left but Allah and the graves that are still waiting to be dug?


Muna Hamzeh is a Palestinian-American journalist who has been writing about Palestinian affairs since the 1980s. Her work has appeared in Ha'aretz, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Jerusalem Report and Middle East International. She is the author of "Refugees in Our Own Land: Chronicles from a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem."