Between Defiance and Flattery

The knowledge of most of the Israeli public about the nature of the IDF presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the character of its activity among the Palestinian population is composed of hatred for the society that sends out suicide bombers.

On March 7, several hundred men and women answered the call of women's organizations in Ramallah and held the traditional demonstration in honor of International Women's Day. Alongside slogans appropriate to the event (equality for women), and nationalist slogans that are usual in such circumstances (an independent state, the occupation is the terror, liberation of detainees and prisoners, the right of return), there were also signs and calls relating to the conduct of the regime ruling Palestinian society. Democracy, rule of law, a fight against corruption. There is a familiar series of such slogans. Each of them is a code for demands and claims directed toward the Palestinian Authority at meetings, in informal discussions at home, and in taxis.

Such demonstrations, with slogans critical of the PA, are not unusual. Sometimes the small number of participants, or perhaps their apparent naivete, raises a smile on the lips of those standing off to the side, even if they identify with the content of the demands. They testify to the existence of a stubborn core of people who believe they must not give up on the public battle, and to the defiance implied by the very conduct of a demonstration calling for the rule of law, and in which the picture of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat is not raised aloft.

On that same March 7, Arafat was still under city-arrest. The participants in the demonstration were women's organizations identified with Fatah [a faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded by Arafat]. They pressured to end the demonstration with a meeting with the PA chairman in his office. When the entirely predictable speeches ended, the female members of Fatah started to shout out calls of support for Arafat. But they were not the majority in the auditorium, and many others did not like the scene of flattery. One of the prominent feminist activists in Ramallah, (who is also prominent at demonstrations in front of IDF roadblocks), then rose from her seat, and shouted out cries considered "opposite": the rule of law, a life of freedom, separation of powers. Others joined her. Some PA members scolded her later, saying this was "not the appropriate time or place."

The Arab television news station Al Jazeera broadcast a few seconds of the event, but without mentioning this subtext of the battle between flattery and defiance. These seconds were broadcast on Israel's Channel Two news as well, exactly at the part where the feminist activist and her friends shouted their calls for democracy. But the sound track had disappeared, apparently already in the original Al Jazeera broadcast. The Hebrew commentary said this was another demonstration of support for Arafat.

The Israeli public's opinion of Palestinian society, and of what happens in it, is constructed mainly from the cumulative impression left by the suicide attacks, very short television clips - that for the most part are copied from broadcasts on foreign television stations and adapted to the thesis about Arafat that is in style that week (strong or weak, popular or not) - arcane intelligence commentaries and isolated forays by a few reporters. The terrifying, almost dictatorial power of television news - here as in the rest of the world - pushes aside any written or spoken text that tries to give nuanced information. What remains in the public awareness is almost a caricature.

The knowledge of most of the Israeli public about the nature of the IDF presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the character of its activity among the Palestinian population - before and during the course of the intifada - is composed of hatred for the society that sends out suicide bombers, reports broadcast from inside the IDF tanks and armored vehicles, and clips that Israeli television draws from Arab television stations, usually after careful filtering out of the sights of destruction that the IDF has left behind in civil institutions, the sight of women weeping beside the bodies of their children killed by IDF fire, and the sight of old men on crutches hopping between the roadblocks, under the cocked rifles of young soldiers.

A desire to know and to transmit unfamiliar truths, additional details about the enemy society, and details that the IDF spokesman does not submit about the actions of the army in the territories, are not treason, as opposed to the commonly held opinion in our parts these days. Anyone who is certain of his political positions and of the justice of his government's policy does not have to fear another non-sneering detail about the Palestinians, or another report on the IDF's behavior, which will not be mentioned in victory albums.