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Armed Occupier Is Hardly a Hero
Published on Monday, July 9, 2001 in the Los Angeles Times
Armed Occupier Is Hardly a Hero
by Hanna Nasir
 
A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed a confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces regarding the closure of the Birzeit-Ramallah road. Around 7:30 a.m., a group of university professors and I met at the checkpoint between Ramallah and the campus in Birzeit. We wanted to be assured of the safe and smooth crossing of the students.

Hundreds of students were at that checkpoint, barred by Israeli soldiers from going to their classes. By 8:30 a.m., the number of students rose to about 2,000. They waited patiently as my colleagues and I tried to persuade the officer in charge to let them pass so that they would not miss their classes. Itzick (that is the name I heard the soldiers call him) indicated that he was just following higher orders. But he was allowing some people to pass according to what appeared to be his own whims.

In an effort to touch an element of humanity in the officer, I offered him some fruit and coffee that a student had given me. He refused rudely. He could not see a possible gesture of goodwill from a Palestinian. We all seemed to represent something abhorrent to him. Yet the students were young, cheerful and not much different in age from him. They could have been his partners in a swimming club or on a basketball team.

Of course, he was the stronger partner; he was armed. The students had only their books. Yet he felt uneasy and the students felt more relaxed. They were standing on their home territory, at present occupied, but they knew that someday that territory would be theirs. On the other hand, Itzick probably realized that someday he would have to leave that area for good. He probably didn't fully understand why he should be there at all. But he was acting according to orders, like a robot. A robot with orders to shoot and kill.

At one point, he gave orders for his Jeep to be revved up and seemed ready to drive through the students to disperse them. Only luck and the courage of the students made him stop. Without provocation, he was losing his nerve.

He decided to end the encounter by calling on members of his unit to attack with tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. The students dispersed and everybody went home. The peace process was buried one inch further down.

I do not know if Itzick went home and bragged to his friends about what he had done. Maybe they hailed him as a hero. But to me he is no hero. A hero is somebody who can think and act rationally and humanely, despite orders to the contrary. Itzick was just a robot, and no robot can be a hero.

Since the 1967 war and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has convinced most of its citizens and probably the world to think that the occupation of Palestinian land is justified. Israelis also are convinced that their young soldiers who maintain security in the occupied territories are heroes. They are further convinced that peace is achievable while occupation continues. They do not seem to appreciate the simple fact that the price of peace is the end of occupation.

Almost everybody who occupies other people's lands has learned that lesson. Charles de Gaulle understood it after many years of French occupation of Algeria. The British understood it after years of colonizing India. A country sometimes gets away with being an occupying force for some time, but certainly not forever.

If that reality was understood and acted on by Itzick, then he would have been a hero, on moral grounds at least. But as long as he remains part of an occupying force and as long as he uses a gun to disperse unarmed students who are on their way to study, then a hero he shall never be.

The real heroes are those Palestinian students and staff who are able to confront and resist the occupation while continuing with their daily lives under the most adverse conditions.

Hanna Nasir is president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times

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