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 .
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)