Feelings of injustice run deep in bloodstained ruins

The latest suicide attacks in Palestinian territory came as no surprise, not only because Hamas had already warned it would be continuing its operations but because the explosive material accumulated within Palestinian society is truly inexhaustible. We visited the area as part of a Greek solidarity mission within the European «Human Shield for Palestine» campaign. Underneath the apparent de-escalation of tension in the wake of the agreement between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the US, the earth is trembling. The Palestinians are suffused with a deep sense of injustice. The Israeli army invaded their territory, causing enormous destruction and killing dozens of civilians and fighters defending their own land, yet Israel was not sanctioned by the international community. We walked through the Jenin refugee camp, where an area in the center of the settlement, at least twice the size of Athens’s Syntagma Square, has been completely flattened. «Sharon has committed crimes here. We do not forget, we do not forgive,» says a sign on the walls of Jenin, whose mayor said he was permitted to enter the camp only a week after the end of the battles. «In the first houses we entered we found at least 10 civilians, some of whom had been shot at point-blank range. I was not allowed to continue. The Israelis have removed the bodies. Who will judge these crimes?» he wondered. The meeting with Yasser Arafat took place in his half-ruined headquarters in Ramallah. Everywhere were the scars of the drawn-out siege, from Arafat himself, now paler than the walls in his office, to his guards’ battered weapons. Occupation and isolation are the daily reality for Palestinians. At any moment the Israeli army can invade a town and arrest suspects, literally destroying everything in its path. Towns are cut off without warning. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are the world’s largest prisons. Since the Israelis’ withdrawal, Palestinian society has rallied around its president. However, the agreement to imprison six Palestinians (monitored by the US and Britain) and to exile or imprison some of those besieged in the Church of the Nativity, combined with the Palestinian Authority’s inability to resist Israel effectively, has led to more tension. Residents of Ramallah and Jenin told us of their shame at the handing over of the six Palestinians. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose secretary and four cadres were included in the six, issued an announcement condemning Arafat’s decision as its members demonstrated in Ramallah. Even Arafat’s party, Fatah, has protested, although more moderately. In our interview with him, Arafat was brief on this issue. «The six Palestinians will never be handed over to Israel, and that is what we have agreed with the US Secretary of State (Colin Powell),» he said, although for most Palestinians, detention by Americans and British undermines Palestinian integrity. The issue is only the tip of the iceberg. «We have made many concessions which have led us nowhere. Now only a truly independent state can provide a solution,» Fatah cadres in Ramallah told us. Views such as these have been gaining ground. The distance between the «street commanders» and the official administration has been marked throughout the second Intifada. Accusations of corruption have now been added to those of compromise with the enemy. A large section of Fatah has joined this emerging front. The hardliners are in no way suggesting replacing Arafat, especially given the pressure from Israel and more extreme elements in the US. Popular Front officials told us that they would guard the «unity of the Palestinian people,» but that they would not give up their right to criticize. The question now is the radical reorganization of the Palestinian Authority. The interesting thing is that this «reorganization from the left» conflicts with pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv to reorganize in a «fight against terrorism.» Of course most Palestinians reject accusations of terrorism, but the outcome of the conflict is unforeseeable. Palestinians’ hands are tied; many people, while condemning Arafat’s actions, wonder what else he could have done.