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
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
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
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