The hatred that grows in an occupied land

By Johann Hari 

The Independent 

18 July 2003

All my life, the images of the occupation of the Gaza

Strip and the West Bank have flickered on television

screens in the corner of my living room, mostly

unwatched and unnoticed. Like most people, I guess, I

can't remember a time when I honestly felt shocked by

them, even when they showed some nameless,

bullet-pierced child. They have always seemed, I'm

ashamed to say, a bit like the weather forecast:

predictable, dull, a cue to zap to another channel. So

when this week, for the first time, I visited the

Occupied Territories - no, to hell with the angry

e-mailers, Palestine - I didn't expect to feel like I

had been kicked in the stomach by the Israeli Defence


Even though I had piously written in defence of a

Palestinian state alongside Israel and against the

settlers, I had long ago turned the Palestinian people

in my mind into faceless lumps of suffering putty, an

amorphous, bleeding blob on which to confer occasional

pity. So as I was driven towards the huge, snaking

queue of battered cars that waits tetchily in front of

the Qalandia road-block, the first thing I noticed -

stupid, I know - was how familiar they looked. There

is an old lady being pushed in a wheelchair past our

car along a bumpy dust-track. The Israeli soldiers

leave the sick  waiting for so long at the checkpoints

in hot ambulances that have no air conditioning that

the doctors have no choice but to simply carry, push

or drag them to the nearest medical centre. She looks;

it strikes me suddenly, quite a lot like my granny. 

These road-blocks and these queues pock and slice the

Palestinian lands, dividing families - most

Palestinians are forbidden to move between areas - and

crushing the local economy; each one of them is full

of people who look like your friends and mine. It

suddenly seemed obvious, waiting in that hellish

queue, that on some subconscious level, even as I

nodded along to my Edward Said essays and Amos Oz

novels, I had never really thought about the

Palestinians as individuals who cry and who laugh,

like we do. I know that all but my most liberal

Israeli friends cannot afford to think of them in that



In the sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey, the war

correspondent Damien would invariably file an image of

a blood-stained teddy-bear lying in a gutter - a

guaranteed tear-jerker. I knew I shouldn't have

visited any of the 103 summer camps across the

Occupied Territories run by the Palestinian Medical

Relief Committee for fear of doing a Damien. And



As a little five-year-old girl throws a big green ball

at my head before scampering away mischievously, Nasif

Aldech, the director of the centre I visit, explains,

"It's not a rare thing for one of the children here to

be seriously traumatised - it's the norm. They are

often extremely stressed, extremely angry. They have

seen their families harassed, their homes raided, and

they have lived through lockdowns that can last weeks,

where they are effectively imprisoned in their own

homes. Most of our 10-year-olds are bed-wetters. I

have one kid who saw his father being assassinated.

About 5 per cent of the children are disabled as a

result of Israeli actions." 


And, as the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees found

last year, 22 per cent of Palestinian children are

suffering from malnutrition. If I deliberately wanted

to create suicide bombers, I would raise children in

this way. 


There are, undeniably, two peoples who have legitimate

claims to this tiny patch of land, this Israel, this

Palestine, and neither one is going to leave. So I ask

what these children - who will forever live alongside

Israelis - what they think when they hear the word

"Israel". "Terrorists!" one girl calls. "The only

Israeli goal is to send us all away from here and

claim Palestine for themselves," says her little

friend. I ask their names. "No, I will not say. I do

not want to go to prison." She will reveal that she is

12 years old. 


Some of my Israeli friends will take this as

regrettable evidence that the Palestinians are

inherently rejectionist; that they need to be fenced

away or they will destroy all of Israel. I understand

their fears. Another little girl, Maram, would confirm

their every anxiety: "All Israelis have weapons. There

are no innocent Israelis... Peace will only happen

when the Jews go back where they came from," she says

in a thin, reedy voice. But, frightening though her

sentiments are, the only Israelis Maram has ever met

are soldiers and settlers - what is she supposed to



There is a possibility - perhaps slim - that a

generation of children growing up in a secure,

peaceful Palestinian state will come in time to meet

and like their Israeli neighbours. In contrast, it is

a certainty that every child growing up under Israeli

occupation will grow a violent hatred of Israel, just

as surely as they grow hair and teeth. I would not be

surprised to see Maram's picture on that long-ignored

flickering TV screen in five years' time, in a CNN

report explaining that she has blown herself up in Tel



Why have Israeli governments for 35 years chosen a

route that is doomed to failure? This occupation is

not only evil, it is insane; and if the road-map ends

up going the same way as the Oslo peace process and

fails to create a Palestinian state, then there will

be a thousand more Maramís in the generations to come.


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