The Intifada is not a Palestinian picnic
Open letter to members of a Jerusalem synagogue
By Hanna Nasir, President of Birzeit University
February 15, 2001
I read your call a few days ago in Al
Quds newspaper about
achieving peace with your Palestinian neighbors. It is no doubt
necessary because all of us in the area are calling for peace. I
do not think there is anyone who does not want to live in peace
and tranquility. The more important question now is how each side
understands this peace.
I understand peace as an end to the conflict between us after we,
as Palestinians, gain our historical rights – at least the rights
which were agreed upon according to legitimate and international
I am saying these things because I believe that this
conflict will continue even after we gain our rights. The effects
of the occupation and the destruction of the Palestinian
infrastructure over more than 50 years is not easily erased by a
national reconciliation, even if this reconciliation is committed
to legitimate international foundations. Historical
reconciliation also needs supportive ethical stances such as an
apology and a bearing of the moral and perhaps material
responsibility for what happened. I am not saying this to
complicate matters but rather from my perception of true peace
and from the perspective of permanently and fully ending the
I appreciate – as much as a non-Jew could appreciate – the extent
of what you endured at the hands of Nazi Germany and other
European countries. This was no doubt a horrendous crime against
humanity. So I truly understand your continuous pursuit of Nazi
war criminals and I understand that modern Germany would
apologize and bear responsibility for what happened. Naturally,
this apology will not erase the effects of the crimes but it at
least alleviated the tragedy and opened the door to a historical
reconciliation between you and Germany.
From the same perspective, we as Palestinians expect Israel
apologize and take responsibility for what happened to us. I was
relatively young during the 1948 War but I still fondly remember
the Palestinian cities which I – because of my father's work –
used to travel between such as "West" Jerusalem, Jaffa, Safad and
Ramleh. Now these cities have become part of Israel. I still
painfully remember the Palestinian cities which I used to visit
and which are now completely demolished. I remember how in 1948 I
saw waves of refugees reach my hometown of Birzeit at nightfall,
exhausted and terrified, finding no other shelter save the sky
and the olive tree branches. My experience is more or less the
same of most Palestinians. And you want us to forget all of this
or feign forgetfulness? Do you want us to forget what befell the
Palestinian people over the past 50 years and how they were and
still are being subjected to continuous attempts to destroy their
infrastructure and their very existence?
Despite all this, a few years ago
we still accepted a
conciliatory solution, which called for an Israeli withdrawal
from territories occupied in 1967 only and for finding a just
solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in line with
international legitimate resolutions. You no doubt realize that
this solution does not grant the Palestinians more than 22
percent of historical Palestine. However, the Palestinians'
desire for peace compelled them to accept this solution – even if
Then what happened? There were supposed to be negotiations
order to implement international legitimate resolutions and to
develop procedures to completely end the occupation. A perception
of the relationship between the two peoples and every detail of a
historical reconciliation were also supposed to be formulated.
Unfortunately, six years and more have passed and Israeli forces
have not totally withdrawn. East Jerusalem is no longer ours.
Land confiscation and illegal construction of Jewish settlements
on Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza continued.
I remember how after the 1967 War the Israelis were saying
if the Palestinians only acknowledged them they would have
realized that in return, Israel would have offered them much more
than they had imagined. The Palestinians offered this desired
recognition as did some Arab countries. The Palestinians even
modified their national charter – the PLO charter, to affirm that
they were interested in solving the conflict by peaceful means.
But despite all this, the Israeli reactions did not rise to the
level of sincerity in dealing with this historical crossroads.
The promised solutions did not come. On the contrary, the Israeli
people became more extreme and obstinate than ever.
The current Intifada is a direct and actual
result of this
Israeli stance. No people would accept to remain under eternal
occupation. We consider the current positions of the Israeli
government insulting because it boasts that it offered more than
any other government in the way of peace and withdrawal from the
occupied territories. However, everyone knows that what the
Israeli government offered is still much less than the
conciliatory solution that the Palestinians accepted, which is in
compliance with international and legitimate resolutions.
The new Israeli prime minister-elect has publicly declared
he would not even accept the positions of the outgoing
government. This in itself totally paralyses the peace process.
The Intifada is not a Palestinian picnic. On average two or three
Palestinians are killed daily. We would like nothing more than
for our Palestinian blood and Jewish blood, not to be spilled.
You call on us to consider the negotiations as the basis for
reaching a solution. You say that each side must give painful
concessions. Just so we do not get confused with these locutions,
I would like to point out that we agreed to the negotiations and
we agreed to painful historical concessions and we signed
agreements with Israeli leaders in this regard. Do you want us,
after all this, to negotiate once again on what we have already
negotiated? Do you want us to concede more of our historical
rights? Is there a reason for this? Is there a reason that we
should concede East Jerusalem? Is there a reason why we should
concede the land which settlers forcefully usurped? Is there a
reason why we should concede the right of refugees to a just
settlement for them and their tragedy?
It is easy for the party that has claimed a military victory
call on everyone else to give painful concessions. However a
sincere call must be to accept international and legitimate
resolutions as a basis for ending the conflict, regardless of
whether these resolutions are painful for either side or for
both. It is international legitimacy which guarantees just
solutions and adhering to them protects all parties from the
threat of wars and their tragic outcomes.
At the same time you are directing
your call towards the
Palestinian people, I would like for you to direct your pens
towards your own people. Ask them to declare their acceptance of
international and legitimate resolutions without ambiguity or
misinterpretations and their willingness to completely withdraw
from the territories occupied in 1967 including East Jerusalem.
Ask them to find a just solution to the refugee problem. Only
then can there be negotiations to overcome the difficulties and
to find practical solutions within a limited period of time. If
not, the struggle will continue to gain our rights. There is no
escape from the liberation of a people, no matter how long it
I do not want to end my letter to you on a pessimistic note.
just want to remind you that historical reconciliation between us
is very close. Despite the violence that has overtaken the region
at present, the opportunity is still there for reconciliation. If
Israel abandons its occupation, expansionist and colonialist
ambitions it will find itself in a true oasis of peace which it
would be able to protect more than all of its settlers and
settlements or than its mighty army.