The Generation That Did Not Know Israel

Marwan Barghouti is not the only Palestinian whose world of associations has been greatly influenced by Israeli-Jewish folklore. They learned that Israel is a multi-dimensional society, not a one-dimensional placard.

Demonstrations in Ramallah, even when they take place in the shadow of Israeli cannon barrels, have turned into a kind of social gathering, an opportunity to exchange information and views on political events. Marwan Barghouti usually participates in these rallies, even when there are clear Israeli threats that he's been targeted by them. "I'm short, so I can hide behind you," he jokes to whoever expresses concern about his safety.

At one of those demonstrations recently, he started speaking in Hebrew with an Israeli woman who was present. Nearby, a PLO man of relatively high standing in the Palestinian Authority, who returned to the territory with the "Tunis people" after 30 years in exile, muttered something about the Hebrew conversations. Barghouti continued chatting in the Israeli woman's language. "Those who came from outside," he explained, "don't know Hebrew. They're goyim."

Barghouti is not the only Palestinian whose world of associations has been greatly influenced by Israeli-Jewish folklore. There's a whole generation of 30-, 40- and 50-year-olds who were born or raised in the territories and learned a lot about Israel. Some worked in Israel, others were active in the resistance against the occupation and were sentenced to long years in prison.

In jail they learned about Israel through the wardens, the Israeli criminals, and their families. At work they met Israeli families, and heard about their troubles, and participated in their family celebrations. For each prison guard who embittered their lives, they remember the guard who offered them a piece of cake baked by his wife, or told of a girlfriend who left him. For every employer who fired them without paying their wages, they remember one who sent money during a curfew or siege.

They learned that Israel is a multi-dimensional society, not a one-dimensional placard. And they took that awareness back to the territories and the political thinking that developed in them. It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of that experience, and what they learned from it, if one wants to understand the support that Barghouti's generation gave to the Madrid and Oslo processes.

True, there was a Palestinian interpretation of those processes, which turned out to be different from Israeli government's understandings. Barghouti and his comrades (and parts of the Israeli peace camp) understood the process would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. The right of return, they believed, would be partially implemented, because as one of them said, "having recognized Israel, we don't intend to undermine its existence as a Jewish state."

But they also expected Israel to recognize its responsibility for the Palestinian disaster of 1948, and they didn't expect that Israel would accelerate the pace of Jewish settlement in the territories.

Arafat may be a one-man ruler, who knew how to maneuver the entire PLO to accept Oslo, but that wouldn't have happened if not for the authentic support of Barghouti's generation for a two-state solution. Indeed, the peace process provided the Fatah leadership with relative comfort that was denied to the rest of the Palestinian population, but that wasn't the reason for their support for Olso. At most, the relative comfort prevented them from responding in time to the continuing settlement activity, the prohibitions by the civil administration on Palestinian construction, and the policies of closure that affected every Palestinian.

During the years of Oslo, Barghouti and his generation - apparently under orders from Arafat - did what they could to keep a lid on a popular uprising. But in September 2000, they joined the sub-currents of political and social anger. They came to the conclusion that the polite negotiations with Israel over an end to the occupation were leading nowhere.

Barghouti's generation listened to the youths who went to throw stones at the symbols of the occupation. The armored jeeps, the checkpoints, the outposts. Many of those youths were shot dead. Barghouti and his colleagues may not have properly calculated the Israeli military response. They did not know in time to stop the phenomenon of "shooting in the air" that gave the IDF the justification in the first week of the intifada to use unprecedented lethal force.

In response to the destruction and the massive number of casualties, the Fatah encouraged "effective fire" from the Palestinian point of view: against soldiers and settlers. Usually, his generation managed to convince the Fatah youth to stay inside the "1967 territories."

The suicide attack in Hadera by a Fatah man does not indicate there was a change in their approach; nor does it prove there was an order handed down from a higher command for it, as opposed to the claims of Israeli intelligence. It only proves that a new generation of Fatah has grown up. It does not know Israel the way Barghouti and his colleagues do.

This is a generation that lost its childhood during the first intifada, and its adolescence was truncated by the suffocating closures of "Oslo." It may not yet be the generation that makes the political decisions in Fatah, but in a society as young as Palestine's, its mark is stamped ever deeper as time goes by. The only Israelis this generation knows well are the soldiers and the settlers. For that generation, Israel is a subsidiary of the army, and its settlements know no borders.