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Send Observers to the West Bank, Gaza

November 12, 2000|DAOUD KUTTAB | Daoud Kuttab is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. E-mail:

Hearing about the possibility that an international protection force might be sent to the Palestinian territories reminded me of a day in 1988. I was a journalist returning home from a day covering the intifada in Gaza, and Israeli soldiers on patrol near the Kalandiyeh refugee camp in the northern sector of Jerusalem would not let me into my house.

They said the area was under curfew. It was dark, and it was just me and the group of soldiers. I explained to them that my house was not part of the refugee camp and therefore the curfew didn't apply. They screamed at me and were not willing to understand. I showed them my press card--issued by their own government. Again they wouldn't listen and threw the Israeli-issued press card on the ground. I picked it up and tried calmly but forcefully to explain that I needed to go home where my wife and children were waiting for me. A soldier slapped me on the face so hard that I saw stars.

I knew then, as I know now, that when a civilian confronts armed soldiers, logic is not always what rules the day. My experience has been that whenever foreigners were around, Israeli soldiers acted differently. The moment that these foreigners are gone is the moment that most of the human rights violations take place. It is exactly these moments when a stubborn Palestinian insists on his rights--whether it be to get home or to demand an end to the Israeli occupation--that the real trouble begins.

An end to the Israeli occupation is certainly the fastest and shortest way to end the protests, unrest and violence. But, short of that, a permanent international force that can observe and, if needed, intervene to protect civilians is crucially important. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too wide and deep to be solved simply on the basis of the good will of either or both parties.

Israel, which has ruled over 3 million Palestinians solely through sheer force, has consistently refused to allow international observers. But after the 1994 massacre in Hebron, when an Israeli settler opened fire, killing 29 worshiping Muslims, the late Yitzhak Rabin felt compelled to allow a temporary protection force from Norway. The subsequent Israeli prime ministers, including right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, have approved the presence of this small observer force. It is not a coincidence that the lowest number of deaths and casualties in the recent confrontations has been in the city of Hebron, where these Norwegians are still stationed.

Of course there is a reason why Israel always has rejected the presence of such an international force in the West Bank and Gaza. It not only exposes Israel's human rights violations, but it changes the political and psychological equation.

The Israelis are afraid that with a neutral force they will lose one of the remaining sources of power over Palestinians: the use of individual and collective punishment to pressure Palestinians into accepting Israeli political dictates. Israel has always tried to use its military and political advantage to score political points whether in negotiations or in trying to lower Palestinian aspirations.

Six weeks of daily confrontations between Palestinian civilians rejecting occupation and a fortified Israeli army has produced death, injury and more hatred. To break this cycle of violence, a neutral body must stand in between these two groups in order to bring quiet and peace.

The road to peace in Palestine and the region begins with the need to end the Israeli domination and humiliation of the Palestinian people. The U.S., which felt the need for international intervention in such hot spots as Kosovo, can't turn a blind eye to the yearnings of Palestinians for peace and freedom. An international observer force is the right thing to do now. If such a force can save a single life, this endeavor would be worthwhile.

Such quiet, however, ought not be understood as an alternative to a permanent peace agreement that will end the occupation and allow for a free and independent Palestinian state.

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