The 1967-war revisited
In June 1967, I was ten years old. I remember how we were told to raise the white flag when the Israeli army surrounded our small village, Khorsa, 15 kilometres south-west of Hebron. We were told we would be shot and killed if we didn’t raise the white flag aloft. The Jordanian soldiers left in disgrace and headed eastward, a few donned traditional women’s clothing in order to disguise themselves, while King Hussein urged us via Amman Radio to fight the Israelis “with our fingernails,
|Sunday, June 7,2009 01:31|
In June 1967, when Israel launched the 6-day-war on Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Khalid Amayreh was 10 years’ old. In the following two-part article, he recollects the war, whose outcome and ramifications continue to trouble Palestine, the Middle East and the rest of the world:Even before 1967, the Israeli army had been carrying out routine incursions into the West Bank, destroying poor people’s homes and killing innocent civilians, very much like what Israel has been doing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon recently. I still vividly remember how the Israeli army, including tanks and warplanes, attacked the small nearby town of Sammou’, 25 kilometres south-west of Dura, in November 1966, destroying the town, virtually completely, and killing many civilians. You see the condescending Zionist mentality. They are never interested in genuine peace and coexistence with the peoples of the Middle East, but are only intent on subjugating and tormenting people with brute force. This was as much the case 40 or even 60 years ago as it obviously is now.
In June 1967, I was ten years old. I remember how we were told to raise the white flag when the Israeli army surrounded our small village, Khorsa, 15 kilometres south-west of Hebron. We were told we would be shot and killed if we didn"t raise the white flag aloft. The Jordanian soldiers left in disgrace and headed eastward, a few donned traditional women’s clothing in order to disguise themselves, while King Hussein urged us via Amman Radio to fight the Israelis “with our fingernails, with our teeth.” Well, how could we possibly fend off the mighty Israeli army with our teeth and fingernails?
Frankly, the Arab armies didn’t really put up any real fight against the Israelis. These armies reflected the utter political, moral and ideological decadence and bankruptcy of most contemporary Arab regimes. Indeed, maintaining the regime’s survival was the most paramount priority and strategy for the ruling elites and juntas of that time. Fighting Israel and liberating Palestine were not a real priority for these Arab regimes, despite all the rhetoric.
Interestingly, this state of affairs remains unchanged even today, 40 years after the greatest Arab defeat in modern times.
For many years, Israel and its allies claimed that it was Israel that was attacked by the Arabs in 1967 and that all that Israel did was fight back for its very survival, which was at stake.
This is, of course, a big lie, as Israeli leaders themselves came to admit many years later.
Similarly, the former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a notorious hawk, was quoted in Noam Chomsky’s book ‘The Fateful Triangle’ as saying that “in 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army’s concentrations in the Sinai desert didn’t prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”5
Yitzhak Rabin, another former Israeli Premier, had this to say about the so-called Egyptian threat to Israel.
“I don’t think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai wouldn’t have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”6
This is not to say though that the Arabs, particularly the Egyptian and Syrian regimes didn’t do a lot of sabre rattling, threatening to destroy Israel. However, the Israeli leadership of that time and the Johnson Administration, as well as the British and Soviet (Russian) intelligence knew quite well that Nasser was only indulging in bellicose rhetoric and nothing more than that.
But, Israel, nevertheless, decided to attack with the central purpose being territorial expansion.
Needless to say, territorial expansion had always been a central goal of the Israeli strategy.
For example, Chomsky quoted the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as saying the following:
“The acceptance of partition (by Israel) doesn’t commit us to renounce Transjordan; one doesn’t demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today. But the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.”7
The historical defeat of the Arab armies in 1967 (historical because Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, including al-Masjidul Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest places) didn’t necessarily reflect any inherent Arab inferiority vis-à-vis Israel; it rather reflected the bankruptcy of the regimes.
In 1973, during the October or Ramadan war, the Egyptian and Syrian armies could have scored a decisive victory over Israel had it not been for the massive intervention of Israel’s guardian-ally, the United States. It is likely that the Arab armies could, under favourable circumstances, defeat the Israeli army, as demonstrated by Hezbollah in its war with Israel in the summer of 2006.
At the beginning of the Occupation in 1967, the Israelis launched what one may call a PR campaign, employing Arabic-speaking Jewish immigrants from the Arab world and Druze officers. Some naïve people in our community, who had been disenchanted with the heavy-handedness of the Jordanian regime, prematurely began making positive remarks about the new occupiers. The reason for that is the often-made assumption that people tend to initially make positive statements about any conqueror.
Such people would speak auspiciously and optimistically about the fledgling Israeli era. They would make casual remarks like this: “Oh, they are better than the Jordanians, they are civilized and educated!” and “the Jews are educated people, they treat people with dignity and respect” and “under Israel’s rule, everybody is equal.” These people simply didn’t know what they were talking about.
But such feelings, which were not widespread among the people, didn’t last long, as the occupation army began revealing its ugly face by adopting stringent measures against us. Well, occupation and decency seemed then, as they do now, an eternal oxymoron. There is no such a thing as a civilized or enlightened or benevolent occupation. A foreign occupation is an act of rape, it is by nature a criminal and evil act, otherwise it would be something else.
Actually, the Israeli occupation is probably the worst occupation ever in the history of mankind, not only for its brutality, but for its durability as well.
Indeed, I would argue that, in many aspects, the Israeli occupation is probably worse than the Nazi occupation of Europe. The Nazis wanted to conquer, pacify and stabilize rather than ethnically cleanse and uproot non-German Europeans as Israel has been doing to the Palestinians.
Soon enough, the Israelis began confiscating the land and building settlements, employing all kinds of dirty tactics, including bribery, shadowy deals, deception, tricks, falsification of documents and outright coercion. They also resorted to the harsh policy of collective punishment such as demolishing homes as a reprisal for guerrilla attacks or membership in the PLO, especially in the Fatah organization, founded and headed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In our Palestinian culture, if you want to express extreme ill will towards somebody, you say “Yikhrib Beitak” – may your home be destroyed.
The Israelis sought to take full advantage of this weak spot in our social psychology. Thus, they demolished thousands upon thousands of houses. The demolitions, a clear-cut war crime under international law, have never ceased. Today, they do it mostly by bulldozers and by pinpoint bombing from the air. (See the chapter “Telephone Terror” I don’t know for sure the number of Palestinian homes Israel has destroyed since 1967. However, I can safely claim that they exceed the 15,000 figure.
In fact, the wanton demolitions of Palestinian homes and villages started immediately after the war. Indeed, immediately after hostilities were over, the Israeli army utterly destroyed more than 170 homes in the Maghariba and al-Sharaf neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
In the third and fourth weeks of 1967, Israeli army bulldozers wiped out the Palestinian villages of Beit Nuba, `Imwas (Emmaus), and Yalu, all on the orders of Yitzhak Rabin.
Approximately twelve thousand people were driven away from their homes, many of them trucked to the River Jordan, others were sent wandering in the desert without food or water.
Eventually, the Israeli government, thanks to a generous gift of Canadian tax-payers’ money, built an infamy on the ruins of ‘Imwas. They called it Canada Park. This is Canada, which claims to be a guardian of human rights and the rule of international law!!!
Actually, Israel continues to behave in such a manner. As I write these words, the Jewish state is unearthing and destroying the ancient Muslim cemetery in West Jerusalem, the Mamanullah (or Mamillah) graveyard, in order to build the ‘Museum of Tolerance’ there!! Yes, Canada Park and Museum of Tolerance!! You see the depravity and brutal ugliness of these criminals? On July 26, 2007, European rabbis held a protest and prayer vigil in Brussels over a 600-year-old cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania that they said was being used for construction. (See “Rabbis protest construction of Jewish cemetery”: www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa). Of course it is wrong to desecrate cemeteries, Jewish or non-Jewish. However, it is a sign of ultimate hypocrisy to unearth and smash the bones of dead Muslims in Jerusalem in order to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site of the former Muslim graveyard while Jewish leaders would rave and rant and protest when a Jewish cemetery in Eastern Europe is desecrated by authorities there.
Home demolitions would leave deep psychological scars in people’s memories. Children would return from school only to see their homes being destroyed by bulldozers driven by soldiers wearing helmets with the Star of David engraved on them. That Star of David, which we are told is originally a religious symbol, symbolized hate and evil and cruelty. Even today, I couldn"t imagine a more hateful and evil symbol. It is very much comparable to the way Holocaust survivors view the Nazi Swastika.
Phobias, deep stress, neurosis and depression are among the disorders children of demolished homes would suffer as post-traumatic effects.
I personally witnessed numerous demolitions when I was eleven years old. The demolition, or blowing-up operation, would begin with declaring the village where the doomed house was located a closed military zone. The declaration would be made via loudspeakers located atop military jeeps.
In the process, all males betweens the ages of 13 and 70 would be ordered to gather at the playground of the local school, where they were forced to stand with their heads bowed down. Very often, the soldiers would shoot over the heads of people with the purpose of terrorizing them. And anybody daring to raise his head would be kicked in the back by heavily armed soldiers. Civility and simple human decency were always absent, as is the case in these days, and there was no al-Jazeera or CNN to report on Israel’s shameful acts, so the Zio-Nazis always felt at liberty doing to us as they saw fit.
Then, the commanding officer in charge of the operation would give the doomed family ten minutes to salvage whatever meagre belongings they could. (These days they demolish our homes immediately without giving a grace period to get our belongings out).
The scene of young children comforting younger children is devastating. The distraught housewives would struggle to get their utensils and whatever mattresses and foodstuff out, lest they be crushed and irretrievable. A small child would rush to get his favourite toy or an enlarged picture of his late grandfather, before it was too late. Then the commanding officer would give the go-ahead signal and the house would become rubble in a few seconds.
Afterwards, the Red Cross would bring a tent, as a temporary shelter for the victims, otherwise the tormented family would simply make an enclosure and sleep under the trees, or, if the weather was cold, find a cave to live in until a permanent solution could be found. These were indelible images of misery I won’t ever forget, an ugly testimony to Israel"s Nazi-like savagery.
Jeff Halper, founder and head of the non-governmental Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD), an anthropologist and scholar of the occupation, observed that the Zionist and Israeli leaders going back 80 years have all conveyed what he calls “the Message to the Palestinians.”
The Message, Halper says, is “Submit, only when you abandon your dreams for an independent state of your own, and accept that Palestine has become the Land of Israel, will we relent.”
The implication and deeper meaning of the message is very clear. It is the “you (Palestinians) do not belong here. We uprooted you from your homes in 1948 and now we will uproot you from all of the Land of Israel.”
Halper reminds us that Zionism has been from the very inception a “process of displacement” and house demolitions have been “at the centre of the Israeli struggle against the Palestinians” since 1948.
Halper elucidates the policy of house demolitions. In 1948, he says, Israel systematically razed 418 Palestinian villages inside Israel, fully 85% of the villages existing before 1948. And since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has demolished 21,000 Palestinian homes. More homes, he adds, are being demolished in the path of Israel’s Separation Wall, with the number of homes demolished estimated at 40,000 in the past four years.
And contrary to Israeli propaganda that Arab houses are destroyed for security reasons, Halper points out that the 95% of these demolished homes have nothing whatever to do with fighting terrorism, but are designed specifically to displace non-Jews to ensure the advance of Zionism.
In addition to the manifestly barbaric practice of home demolitions, the Israelis really ‘excelled’ in the widespread practice of physical and psychological torture, especially in the first few years of the Occupation. In fact, a villager by the name of Salim Mahmoud Safi from Khorsa, my village, was tortured to death in 1970.
And Israel often imprisons the bodies of Palestinians killed or tortured to death for years in order to further torment and inflict pain upon their families. This is a well-known fact here.
Born into a very poor family, I started working in Beer Sheva when I was thirteen as a construction worker and then as an assistant plasterer (Maggish in Hebrew). I did this usually during the summer break and occasionally on Fridays. However, I was always careful not to allow my ‘job’ to seriously undermine my school learning.
In Beer Sheva, or Bir al Sab’a as the city is known in Arabic, I was able to learn Hebrew as well as the Moroccan dialect spoken by many Jews who had immigrated from North Africa. Like Palestinians, most Moroccan Jews worked in the construction sector and doing other menial jobs. Some were street sweepers as well, and almost all of the beggars in the streets were Jews originating from North Africa.
I was able to tour the city, which in the 1980s and 1990s received tens of thousands of immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
In the Old Town, I saw the old Palestinian homes, which the Jews seized after expelling their original occupants and proprietors at gunpoint. I also saw the town’s mosque, which dates back to around 1911, when Palestine was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Israel converted the mosque into a ‘museum’ and later into a ‘House for the Artists.’ And when some local Israeli Muslim leaders petitioned the Israeli government to rehabilitate the holy place and allow the town’s Muslim community to pray there, the Israeli authorities said an emphatic “NO.” This is how the ‘only true democracy in the Middle East’ behaves toward its own non-Jewish citizens.
On some occasions, the people for whom I worked would not give me my wages. I worked with such famous construction firms as Rusco, Solel Bonei, Hevrat Ovdeim. I still retain my old Israeli work card.
As Palestinian labourers, we were continually humiliated at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks at the A’rad Intersection on the way to Beer Sheva. I remember a Jewish police officer who spoke Arabic with an Egyptian accent beating one of my relatives savagely without a convincing reason. I made many Jewish friends then, but the psychological barrier remained largely intact. I did intermix with some Tunisian and Moroccan Jews in A’rad, Beer Sheva and Dimona. However, their sense of superiority (and victory) over us always impeded the evolution of normal human relations between them and myself. They viewed us then, as they do now, as the Biblical equivalents of wood hewers and water carriers. We were only good for making coffee and doing the hard, menial works for the superior race, the chosen people. “Muhammed Ta’asi coffee” (“Muhammed! Prepare the coffee for the Jews”) they would scream scornfully at us in a condescending tone.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel as ‘day-labourers’, mostly in the construction and agricultural fields. They would wake up one or two hours before dawn in order to be able to reach the worksite before eight o’clock.
Work in Israel lured most able-bodied Palestinians who abandoned agriculture, which was not financially very rewarding. Indeed, at one point, a day-labourer became economically better-off than erstwhile middle-class professionals such as teachers, clerks and other civil servants.
The Israelis knew what they were doing. By the mid 1980s, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip became the second biggest market for Israeli products after Europe. So, it was really a kind of indirect slavery. We worked in Israel, building multi-story buildings for would-be immigrants, and then we spent the wages we earned buying Israeli products, even Israeli produce, as Palestinian agriculture fell into neglect as greater numbers of Palestinians preferred to earn more money working in Israel than working their land which comparatively yielded little money.
I said it was a kind of indirect slavery because Palestinian workers in Israel, whose number in the mid-1980s reached more than 130,000, were deprived of social benefits and health insurance, and they had no political rights whatsoever.
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