Wine Today, Fuss Tomorrow

Published December 17th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Yitzhak Laor, a Haaretz writer has his own account of the paradoxical peace that was supposed to prevail between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Oslo accords. 

Despite the enthusiasm shown by many Israelis and Palestinians to the peace efforts, very few things changed on the ground, and the Palestinians remained deprived of the least of what they aspired by indulging in peace talks. 

Consequently, things accumulated towards the outbreak of the Intifada. 

The writer draws an analogy between the great Arab poet, Imru al-Qays’s story and the Palestinian-Israeli situation. When the poet was told that his father was murdered by a rival tribe, he did not stop enjoying the fun he was having, but delayed revenge for the following day, when he raged a long war against his enemies. 

 

Following is the full text of the article as published by Haaretz. 

 

 

In October 1995, a large-scale Israeli-Palestinian convention was held at the Church of Notre Dame in Jerusalem - which is to say, the "most neutral" territory a person could find between the Jewish and Arab sectors of this "reunited" city. The convention was financed through the generosity of the Konrad Adenauer Fund, and organized jointly by the Hebrew University's Truman Center and the Palestine Consultancy Group (PCG) in East Jerusalem, founded by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh. The topic was "The Psychology of Peace and Conflict: The Israel-Palestine Experience." 

That was the positive side, if you like, of the "spirit of Oslo," which so many people now peck at like a vulture pecking a rotting carcass - those countless, fleeting openings. In those autumn days gone by, there was indeed a great willingness among the two peoples to make up without reading the fine print, i.e., the declarations of principle. Anyone who reads these declarations today knows that the two peoples were being duped, if it was indeed peace that they were enthusiastic about (and not an endorsement of Israeli occupation of the Palestinians by other means).  

 

In the evening, when the first day of discussions had ended, we, of course, headed for the lovely restaurant on the ground floor of the Notre Dame convent. Some of the Palestinian delegates, however, rushed off to the taxi stand at Damascus Gate. Their permits to leave Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus had already expired two hours before, and they still had to pass through (and around) military checkpoints before reaching home safe and sound. The only ones who stayed to have a bite were Jews and Palestinians from East Jerusalem.  

 

When Imru al-Qays, the great sixth-century Arab poet, was told, in the middle of dinner, that his father had been murdered, his response was "wine today, fuss tomorrow."  

 

The next day, however, the convention went on as usual, without any fuss. Those who had left early, returned, and no one said anything about their permits. Then it was Hala Nassar's turn to speak. According to the brochure, Nassar, a lecturer at Bethlehem University, was supposed to talk about Palestinian theater in East Jerusalem. Nassar apologized. To prepare the lecture, she needed to get to the theater in East Jerusalem to pick up material from the archives, but she had not managed to secure the required permit from the military authorities. 

 

Clamped shut  

 

It was during these months that Palestinians began to be systematically cut off from their capital, cafes, bookshops and other entities connected to their people dwelling in "Judea," "Samaria" and even "Binyamin." (None of the enthusiastic supporters of Oslo ever appreciated the greatness of the loss. The Palestinians, from the standpoint of the liberal left, were always peasants who were supposed to be happy that their olive groves hadn't been expropriated yet.)  

 

In any case, Hala could not prepare her lecture, so she spoke on another topic. In the context of a conference devoted to peace, this sort of thing, like leaving early to get home before the curfew, seemed a little odd. It had something of the ambiguity of the "Oslo spirit" about it. Even stranger was the fact that the handsome book of lecture reprints published after the convention made no mention of her "apology."  

 

As al-Qays liked to say: "Wine today, fuss tomorrow." 

 

In the wake of the terror that followed the Baruch Goldstein massacre, followed by a curfew and more attacks, followed by the assassination of "the Engineer" and more attacks, the territories were clamped shut. But, within the closed-off West Bank, there were "Jewish zones," overflowing with water and budgets, and Palestinian zones, controlled in one way or another by the Israel Defense Forces, full of roadblocks and winding, bumpy roads. On the phone, I promised Hala that I would get her into Israel for a few days. She was afraid to do it without a permit.  

 

Meanwhile, elections were held in Israel. Just before the new government was inaugurated, I phoned MK Yael Dayan. I told her I was trying to arrange for a permit so that my friend could rest up from the horrors of the dry summer in Beit Jala. Dayan was more than helpful.  

 

We failed. So, I decided to make good on an earlier promise, and went to visit Hala and her mother in Beit Jala. They hosted me at their beautiful home, dimly-lit with high ceilings, decorated with rugs and photographs of family members in exile. From a drawer, they took out the mother's old passport from Mandatory times, bearing a West Jerusalem address, along with snapshots of the old house.  

 

In the summer of 1996, only Hala and her mother were living in Beit Jala. Her father was staying with relatives who emigrated to Honduras. We went up to the roof. Like all those fortunate to have a roof of their own, the Hamis-Nassar family has a huge metal basin there, a kind of reservoir, in order to collect water during the few hours that there is any (Israel, in general, and the settlements, in particular, guzzle not only their own water but that of the Palestinians).  

 

Afterward, Hala took me to see the "rape of the village." The tunnel road from Gilo to the Etzion Bloc had destroyed the lovely landscape, an ugly bridge above the beauty spots of her childhood. This road, over any Jewish neighborhood in Israel, would have landed the builders in court.  

 

We went for a walk in Areas A, B and C - inside the village. I had been here in the summer of 1967. I remember it as a pretty place, lush and green. Now the place was dried up, the roads crumbling and covered with sand. To reach her aunt's handsome villa on the other side of town, Hala could either "sneak" across or request a permit. The same went for traveling to work at Bethlehem University. This was part of the Oslo agreement in which the left, disappointed by the Palestinian uprising, has never taken an interest.  

 

Again, I tried calling MK Yael Dayan. After that, I tried Minister Yossi Sarid. In the final days of the Peres government, Sarid succeeded. I was supposed to get a phone call. In fact, they did call me several times. From time to time, a woman soldier would ring up and ask for Yitzhak Laor.  

 

"Did you request a permit for Hala Hamis-Nassar of Beit Jala?" she would inquire, and I would say, "Yes." "Send a letter," came the reply, but I already had, and I told her so. Looking at the file, she saw that I was telling the truth. "Okay. Fine," she would say. And then another woman soldier would phone, or maybe it was the same one, asking the same questions, telling me to write a letter I had already written, and then doing me a favor by checking and confirming that it was really there. I yelled at one of them, and she said: "What are you so angry about? You didn't submit the request so long ago." Which was true. Only a month had gone by.  

 

And then, one day, this lieutenant-colonel guy, Shaul, calls up, for verbal confirmation that I asked for a exit permit from Beit Jala and an entry permit to Israel for Hala Hamis-Nassar of Beit Jala. He wanted to know everything: who, what and where. (Yael Dayan later told me: "This is not just some guy. He's the man who decides it all: who goes to visit a relative in the hospital, who gets treated at Hadassah, the works.") 

Electronic circumvention  

They called Hala from the army and told her to come to the district commander's office in the Etzion Bloc to pick up the permit. It was far away, and she had no car. She was afraid. Her students gave her a ride in their car and waited a few blocks away. She went in and got the papers.  

 

We met in Tel Aviv (she took a taxi from Bethlehem together with an old woman laden with baskets of food who was on her way, without a permit, to visit her son in Megiddo Prison). I drove Hala through Ramat Aviv. It was August 1996. It was hot. "How pretty," she said. "Just like Europe." Hello, Hala! University Street reminds you of Europe?  

 

She rested up in my house. I introduced her to my friends. Even Cafe Tamar tooked like an oasis to her. She was happy. Then she went back home, with her permits and her fears. She was awarded a generous German grant to write her doctorate on Palestinian folk theater at the Free University in Berlin. I was happy for her.  

 

When the current fighting began, she wrote me an e-mail, wanting to know what had happened to her neighborhood after Israel's "fitting response to gunfire on Gilo" (at least now this Gilo, which has always been a thorn in the Palestinians' side, is finally being called a settlement by the world media). I found out what I could from Yael Lerer [a human rights activist], who has done more than anyone to disseminate information about the goings-on in the territories since the first wave of violence, the day after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque. 

 

E-mail is an amazingly efficient tool for circumventing the conspiracy of silence in the print media and radio. Anyone who wants to know, can (and anyone who doesn't want to know, can say he never heard a thing).  

 

The buildings were still standing. I passed the information on. After the lynch in Ramallah, Hala's landlady in Germany yelled at her: "What kind of people are you? Barbarians." For the first time since her arrival in Germany in 1996, she blew a fuse. "We've been lynched for 52 years and no one has said a word," she told her Judeophile landlady.  

 

Last week, the old Hamis home in Beit Jala - the home of Hala's aunt - was destroyed. The whole neighborhood was damaged by Israeli missile fire. I heard the news from Hala. Her mother is in Honduras with her father and brothers, but many relatives are still wandering from place to place in the village. Only the hideous tunnel road to the Etzion Bloc, the road which testifies like a thousand witnesses to the "magnanimity of Barak's peace," remains as solid as ever. Dispassionate journalistic lingo, which in the best of cases speaks of "heavy cross fire," has, of course, helped further the destruction.  

 

Later, some agreement will come along and again authors, poets and university lecturers will come together for symposia under the banner of "peace." If a war breaks out, people will again support it, or hide, in the best of cases, behind the IDF's good name 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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