"The 1967-war revisited (Part II)
by Khalid Amayreh
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: Full Story Part 1
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.