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|Robert Fisk in Ramallah|
|04/18/01 at 11:54:19|
|Whatever the Israelis and Americans may say, this is civil war|
Robert Fisk in Ramallah
11 April 2001
The Indpendent, London, UK
It's strange how a war creeps up on you. First you have the warnings of an
"explosion", then the first shootings. Then the first mortars, the first
tank fire, the first rocket attacks. That's how it was in Lebanon. And now
No one calls it war, of course. The Americans ignore it, the Israelis just
call it "terrorist violence" they are talking about Arab violence, needless
to say, not their own while the US TV boys still rabbit on about the
chances of 'peace' negotiations. But what is going on now between Israelis
and Palestinians is a civil war, a growing and major conflict between
semitic peoples in a tiny land whose cull of human lives looks ever more
like the early casualty lists in Lebanon.
Driving from Jerusalem to Ramallah is like driving 25 years ago from Sidon
to Beirut; the checkpoints, the detours, the cartridge cases lying on the
road, the gutted buildings around the City Inn. The Palestinian barrages are
as scruffy as they were in Lebanon; the Israeli jeeps as ramshackle as those
of the Phalange militiamen who were once Israel's allies in Lebanon.
Travel round Ramallah and the Palestinian security man reels off the local
militia groups. "This old building belongs to the Tanzim," he says. Stop off
to look at the wreckage of Force 17's ammunition headquarters rocketed by
Israeli helicopters two weeks ago and a voice floats from a mosque's
"Palestiiiiiine, Palestiiiiiine, Palestiiiiiine," it yodels. "That's Hamas,"
the young man tells me. And we all know that Islamic Jihad's 'martyrs' are
presented on those posters near Al-Bireh. And that's not counting the
'Al-Shuhad' Party and the 'Al-Quds' party militants.
And look at the nearest Jewish settlements and you see armed Israeli
civilians, soldiers, border guards, tank crews. If Arafat is lectured by
George W Bush on the need to "control violence", who is controlling Israeli
violence? It was the same in Lebanon. First they blamed each other for the
war. Then they dehumanised each other. Through a spokesman in Amman, Saddam
Hussein calls for God to "destroy the Jews". Then Rabbi Ovadia calls on God
to "annihilate the Arabs".
In the centre of Ramallah stands the police station in which two Israeli
soldiers were murdered last year. But the windows from which they were
defenestrated were blasted away by Israeli missiles. Then came the Force 17
attack. Then came Monday's gun battle between Force 17 and the Israelis in
which Israeli bullets smacked into a girls' school. First the police
station, then the ammunition depot, then the school. The promiscuity of both
Palestinian mortars in Gaza and Israeli tank-fire across the West Bank and
Gaza is going soon to lead to another of Lebanon's grisly phenomena: the
In one rubbled building, a Palestinian gunman emerges to tell me that "it's
getting like Hollywood around here". But he won't give his name. Another
Palestinian tells me why. "Here's my Palestinian Authority ID card," he
says, handing me a laminated paper with his photo, and the signature of
Jamil Tarifi, the PA's minister of interior affairs.
"These cards are co-ordinated with the Israelis. See the first computer
number? It's a '4'. That means I came into Palestine with the PLO. If I was
born in Ramallah, it would say '9'. But if you look at the back, there's a
"If it's in large figures, it means I've been in an Israeli prison. So if
the Israelis know my computer identity or number, they can work out at once
if I'm what they call a 'terrorist'. And they can murder me." Yes, Israel's
death squads are a reflection of the Lebanon war. Killers. Killers of
settler children. Killers of Palestinian boys.
But there are differences. In Lebanon, death moved impartially through its
people. Here death is administered by Israel on a far greater scale than by
Palestine. Because Israel (and its settlers) are occupying Arab land.
Palestine is not occupying Israel. But the rare 'security' talks between
both sides are truly Lebanese. In Beirut, we used to call them ceasefires.
And they were always broken.
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