Ruth Tenne: The First Six Days – Book Review

Review by Ruth Tenne

The First Six Days: Nandita Dowson and Abdul Wahab Sabbah  (Eds)  – Published by Camden-Abu-Dis Friendship Association, CADFA ,2007 (www.camdenabudis.org)
 
The First Six Days is a tale of the dispossessed, humiliated, and  beaten but not defeated . To  the readers   it may sound as a forgotten history  but  for the Palestinians, whose stories are told in this moving book,  it  was the beginning of an oppressive occupation which became part of their everyday reality . The plain  spoken narratives of 21  Palestinians from the village of Abu-Dis near East Jerusalem represent the oral history of a nation which has been crushed and  trampled upon by a superior military power that  struck at dawn on the 5th June 1967. These were the moments, as Nandita Dowson (Ed) writes in her percipient introduction,  of "chaos,  huge pressure to make massive decisions in minutes with only partial information".
 
Salah Ayyad ,who was 16 at the time, recalls  sadly  that  many  of the  people of  Abu-Dis who were second generation refugees "had  the hope that we could get back our rights and this gave us a good feeling all the time we were under attack". But their hopes were quickly dashed when on the midday of 5th June " a bomb fell on our neighbourhood , coming from the area where the international group used to be on the green line".

The nightmare "scenario" which followed is hard to envisage by people who enjoy the comfort and sheltered life of Western society . The inhabitants of Abu-Dis  almost stoically confronted  their fate – re-living their past as  refugees once again by fleeing to the caves surrounding their village. Many of the inhabitants fled to Jordan , but as Salah explains in his piercing words " I had to face my mother … and I announced that together with my brothers and sisters I would never leave our home. I said I prefer to die here than to go and turn out to be a refugee " 
 
Salah’ s childhood words could be seen as a potent symbol of  the determination of  future generations of young Palestinians who stood up  in the 1987 first intifada to the superior power of the Israeli military  – devoid of  any weapons but the wrenching  force of  their deep  roots to their motherland.
 
The experience of  Abu-Dis  residents who were overpowered by their fears and fled to Jordan was yet   more tragic. The Israeli military displayed a sheer contempt for  the Fourth Geneva Convention which protects  the lives and rights of  civilians in time of war (1) "There were  many people who got killed and injured", recalls  Salah Ayyad, "because  the Israeli  aeroplanes used to drop bombs  especially on roads , and so much chaos that many people left their injured people, old people and children on the streets as they run to survive ". The Israeli forces were determined to "cleanse"  the West  Bank of its civilian population .  Those Palestinians who fled to Jordan with their families and tried to return home after few days were shot en masse by a constant barrage fired by the  Israeli patrol units who guarded the banks of the river Jordan.

Not less telling were the Israeli methods of treating  civilians who stayed at Abu-Dis  throughout the war . 
"They gave us two choices", recalls  Ali Ruman. "If anybody wanted to go to Jordan there were buses outside and we could take them. But if anyone wanted to  (go) back  to his home town , they had to stay and  wait".

A  further reminder of Israel’s policy of  removing and erasing  any  sign of  Palestinian heritage can be found in  the account of  Saleh Abu Hilal and Abdul Wahab Sabbah (Ed). "After 1967 , the Israeli  authorities started to send Israeli employees to the school as school inspectors…They used to search the libraries and the books in the school and they took away all the books which mentioned the name of Palestine , or the borders of Palestine , or anything that talked about Palestine as a state" –  a sheer  act of  a  "Memoricide" as described  in Ilan  Pappe’s groundbreaking book: the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine 
 
The First Six Days’  memories  include  also my  own  story.  I  was called to serve in the Israeli Civil Defence  few days before the battle  had started  –  overwhelmed  by the war-fuelled speeches of our leaders who galvanized the nation for a "war of survival" (a term used by israel in  referring  to all her wars and clashes with her neighbouring states). On the day of 5th June – shortly   after the Israeli fighter jets had crushed  the entire military air force of Egypt  by a surprise  air strike – I  was  told by our commander that we  could  all  go home soon as  Israel had  already won the war . Thus, for me the war was a short episode which lasted  no more than few days ,  but for the Palestinians it  opened a new page  in  their history   –  living   under  inhuman and brutal occupation . "it is  restless, changing , constantly surrounding Palestinians with new rules, new "facts",  new geography , making their attempts to live normal life more and more impossible" observes Nandita Dowson (Ed) 
 
Is there a solution? Camden Abu-Dis Friendship Association , which published this emotive book, is a part of a growing network  that  is   twining  Palestinian villages and towns to councils and cities in Britain. Yet,  the solution , I believe , should be found on two levels . Whilst US holds the padlock to the Palestinian prison camp – preventing the UN and the international community from any  political intervention – the Arab League holds the key. A pan – Arabic pressure,  exercising its economic power – oil and trade – could invigorate  the Saudi peace proposal turning  it to working plan which will replace  the defunct Roadmap. It should be negotiated with the parties involved in the conflict, including US and the EU,  and sanctioned by a UN security Council’s  resolution. Such a  political course of action ought to  be supported  by a  direct  grassroots campaign  in the  form of boycotting, divestments and sanctions (BDS) – which is bound to  impose a genuine and sustained pressure on the State of Israel .
 
 The First Six days is a humble tribute to  the  Palestinian people who  have been living through the ordeal of war and occupation  –  facing  up to it on a daily basis.  It reminds people of conscience all over the world of their  obligation to support the Palestinians’  struggle for an independent state with free borders and safe  access to sea and air ports. Such a state should  form a contiguous entity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip    and be granted a membership of the UN and other  international bodies in the early stages of any  rekindled   peace  negotiations. This will enable the Palestinian state to  act as an equal partner while negotiating the final status of the Palestinian  refugees. Moreover, the new state should be granted the status of a  reconstructed nation  on the lines the Marshall Plan which revived Germany  in the aftermath of World War Two.   Above all,  an independent Palestinian  state  will fulfill the decades-long aspirations of  millions of Palestinians all over the world  for possessing  the right to live as  citizens and rulers  of  their own  sovereign  nation –   free  of  Jewish settler  communities and Israel’s military domination .

Note:
 
1.  Persons taking no active part in the hostilities,  including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. (the Forth Geneva Convention 1949) 

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