By Ruth Tenne
RAMZY BAROUD- THE SECOND PALESTINIAN INTIFADA: A CHRONICLE OF A PEOPLE’S STRUGGLE – PLUTO PRESS 2006 (Buy Book)
The unique strength of Ramzy Baroud’s book – The Second Palestinian Intifada – lies in its masterful weaving of personal experience and feelings into a meticulous and powerful account of the Palestinian’s second uprising. Baroud’s gripping narrative of outrage, desperation and consuming pain pays a memorable homage to the struggle of his own people and to their courageous endurance and resilience.
Ramzy Baroud was born in a refugee camp in Gaza Strip and as a young child had witnessed “Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to their knees …threatening to beat them if they did not spit upon a photo of Yasser Arafat “. Tragically, this symbolic act of humiliation – to which Jewish people were subjected at the hand of the Nazis – has shamefully become an acceptable practice used by Israeli soldiers to humiliate Palestinian children. Yet, this act of ultimate degradation was only a prelude to the terrors endured by the Palestinian people during the second Intifada – graphically chronicled by Baroud’s poignant discourse.
Setting up the background to the uprising, the author expertly examines its root causes including the meaningless accords and political impasse that followed the first Intifada (1987-1993); the defeat of the Israeli army (IDF) by the Hizbollah’s resistance in Lebanon, and the alarming weapons build-up by the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. The critical factor which ignited the second Palestinian uprising was, however , the provocative walk of the Israeli Defense Minister- Ariel Sharon – and his heavy "entourage" on one of the most holy Muslim sites – Haram Al Sharif – ( September 2000).
Sharon’s contrived plan to trigger a Palestinian revolt earned him the Israeli Premiership by promoting an aggressive campaign which "had promised to crack down on Palestinian violence in 100 days”. In the wake of the failed Camp David II ‘s talks , and the landslide election victory of Sharon , the gate has become wide open for Israel " to unleash a bloody onslaught on the disadvantaged, disappointed and fed up Palestinian masses, an onslaught that would last for much more than 100 days " . The savage tale which follows offers a gruesome account of the five years of bloodshed (September 2000-september 2005) which claimed the life of 4166 Palestinians, of whom 886 were children. This massive loss was four time as much than the total Israeli fatalities of 1113, including 113 children.
Baroud cogently demonstrates that from its early onset the Israeli response to the uprising took the shape of "a fierce and calculated assassination policy" which resulted in 554 extra-judicially executions and 253 fatalities of bystanders – including innocent children and women who fell victims to Israel’s "targeted assassination". Drawing on a relevant comparison with the former President of Yugoslavia , Slobodan Milosevic ,who was handed over to the International War Crime tribunal , Baroud convincingly contends that Israeli leaders have been flagrantly violating international law and should therefore be indicted under the Hague Convention (1907 and the Geneva Convention. (1949) .This contention is evidently borne out by the chronicle of war crimes committed by the Israeli military with blatant impunity which was licensed by the U.S administration and Congress who "are well -versed , to say the least, in sophisticated terminology condemning "Palestinian terror" . It is Israel, he argues, which "determines and therefore defines the term "terrorism" and equally determines what acts are to receive this designation".
Israel’s response to incidents of Palestinian "terrorism" was unabated actions of state terrorism. Those included the carnage and destruction inflicted on the Jenin refugee camp (1) and a full-blown Israeli attack on dozen of towns , villages and cities in the West Bank that claimed more that 500 Palestinian lives (March/April 2002). This military-planed operation left many casualties bled to dead by an unremitting land and air bombardment which involved hundreds of tanks and soldiers – air covered by missile-firing Apache helicopters. Baroud offers a personal touch to those unimaginably horrid atrocities by telling the story of one innocent child who was critically injured by bullets lodged in his throat, yet, was cruelly prevented from receiving medical treatment in Jordan." His resilient ambulance driver carried him from a tiny Jericho clinic in the West Bank to the border with Jordan, 22 times. Each time the Israelis would interrogate Mahmoud trying to drag words out of a muted boy…By the time he arrived in Jordan he lost half his body weight while waiting in the border" – finding his untimely death after few months.
The story of Mahmoud is not unique and appears to be true for many young people who, like him , had no political affiliation but felt compelled to take part in the fight against Israel’s ruthless assault on their homes, families and friends. In the early days of the occupation, the author argues, the Palestinians "longed for equality and insisted on the universal applicability of human rights. These values remain intact but one must also agree that every nation, and Palestinians are no exception, has its breaking point. It is only human, following decades of disproportionately dispensed suffering, violence and dispossession that one’s determination to attain freedom would partly concede to an overpowering sense of desperation and raw desire for vengeance”.
The feelings experienced by young Palestinians are not alien to me. Having been brought up on nationalistic Zionist tenets, I am only too familiar with the admiration accorded by many Israelis to the historic Israeli underground movement -Irgun- which in its desperation to rid of the British Mandate resorted to many acts of sheer sabotage including the blowing up of the king David hotel in Jerusalem (1946) that resulted in the loss of dozens of innocent people.
Despite his understanding of the root causes of suicide bombing and self -destruction, Baroud rightly observes that "suicide bombing played well into the hands of Israel, thanks in part to the unbalanced and out of context media coverage…only Palestinian seemed to target civilian "in the hearts of their cities". Israel’s much higher rate of killing Palestinians in the heart of their overpopulated refugee camps was always justified under the banner of "self defense". In his quest for the high moral ground the author implores the Palestinian resistance factions to desist from targeting Israeli civilians arguing that "it is imprudent for the occupied – who surely posses the moral edge – to utilize the unmerited methods of the occupier. International law makes a clear distinction, as should the Palestinian resistance, between occupying military forces and civilians. If Palestinians waver from this critical line of reasoning, their historically virtuous struggle risking being diluted with moral corruption”.
Baroud is equally critical of the feud between the Palestinian factions who, in the wake of Israel disengagement from Gaza, offered ammunitions to Israel’s argument "that under the current Palestinian leadership a "viable" Palestinian statehood could not possibly be obtained ". He decries the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and points out that "Palestinian factions who took upon themselves to cleanse the P.A. of corruption in Gaza and elsewhere could not have possibly picked a worse time, since the world’s attention was supposed to remain fixed on Israel’s Separation Wall, deemed officially illegal by the I.C.J. verdict”. The International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the Separation Wall is seen by the author, and indeed by human rights practitioners, as reinstating the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle. .At the same time, Baroud contends that the "ruling will remain in the realm of the intangible until those involved in the conflict recognize their legal and political duty towards international law”.
The media’s deliberate bias and the influence of the pro-Zionist lobby, coupled with the "inaptitude and ineffectiveness of the Arab voice in Western media", are seen by the author as a major obstacle to reaching an understanding of the Palestinian cause. Baroud is not alone in highlighting the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby on US policy and the media. A number of academics and political commentators have recently pointed out the damaging effects such an influence has on the US policy in the Middle East – most notably , President Jimmy Caters’ recent book : Palestine: Peace not Apartheid ( 2006). However, the pressure on the media is not unique to the US. In Britain the BBC has been subjected to continued complaints from the Jewish community about its "unfair representation" of the Israeli side .Yet , an independent report on the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict pointed out to the BBC’s "failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation" ( April 2006 – p.6).
The death of Yasser Arafat (November 2004) and the subsequent rise of Hamas in the local election, coupled with Israel’s unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza (December 2004), signaled the end of the Palestinian Second Uprising. Nevertheless, the author asserts, “the Palestinian resistance will continue as long as the circumstances contributed to its commencement remain in place”.
Those circumstances have dramatically worsened since the democratic election in the Occupied Territories which brought Hamas into power (January 2006). Western leaders chose to discount the elections’ results and bring Hamas to its knees by withdrawing economic aid from the besieged Palestinians – whose suffering has become intolerable under the draconian sanctions, and the continued brutality of Israel’s military regime. Yet, in spite of their unendurable hardship the Palestinians have not lost their aspirations for statehood and freedom which found their unbridled expressions in the Second Palestinian Intifada.
Ramzy Baroud’s book offers a deep and unique insight into the underlying aspects of the Palestinian uprising and into their complex, and often misunderstood, interplay. But above all it is a compelling book whose author’s compassionate and truthful narratives could not fail to touch the conscience of the many across the world who have not abandoned their sense of justice and humanity.
1- Ramzy Baroud , Searching Jenin :Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion; Cune press (2002)