Professor Menachem Milson, the Israeli “Arabist” who heads the West Bank occupation forces, compares the intensity and seriousness of the recent unrest there with the war of 1948. The Begin government, determined to root out all assertions of Palestinian nationalism, is trying to destroy those institutions that articulate the Palestinian national identity under occupation. These are the elected municipal councils and mayors, and institutions of higher learning such as Birzeit University. The mayors, representing major social and political forces, embody the support of the vast majority of the population for the Palestine Liberation Organization. The youth and students, armed only with their voices and occasionally with the stones of the earth, confront Israeli troops and settler vigilantes. Both the mayors and the students have to be silenced prior to any Israeli accord with Egypt and the United States over “autonomy” procedures.
So far, Milson’s troops and goon squads have failed miserably to implant collaborationist leadership through the Village Leagues, or to divide Palestinian “moderates” and “extremists.” But following the Sinai withdrawal, annexation forces will increase their momentum: 38 percent of West Bank land has already been confiscated; legal jurisdictions are routinely transferred from Arab municipalities to Israeli settlements; refugee camps are literally sealed off, and towns put under curfew; the Palestinian press is muzzled.
Birzeit has been closed four of the last five months, and many students are still under house arrest. The Golan residents have been on strike more than two months. How long can those under occupation maintain this scale of resistance? The scandalous disarray of the Arab regimes leaves the Palestinians to confront the Israeli assault completely on their own. Support is essential for their struggle to succeed. Strategically, it is critical for people here to mobilize against US aid for the Israeli occupation. US dollars buy the bullets that the troops and settlers aim at unarmed demonstrators, and the tear gas that chokes the alleys of Ramallah and Nablus. We pay for the bulldozers that destroy Palestinian farms in the West Bank, and the cluster bombs that shatter Palestinian lives in Lebanon. Among Israel’s Jewish population, active and vocal opposition to the occupation and to Israeli aggression in Lebanon has coalesced around groups like the Israeli Committee for Solidarity with Birzeit University. In this country, such an opposition has yet to materialize. There is support at a popular level for the principle of Palestinian self-determination and against Israel’s campaign to obliterate the Palestinians as a political community. The necessary task is to unify the resources and energies of existing organizations behind a campaign to end US aid for Israel’s war against the Palestinians.
Two recent instances of blatant political censorship relating to Middle East developments deserve mention here. One is the Boston Symphony’s cancellation of its invitation to Vanessa Redgrave to narrate a performance of Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex.” Redgrave’s unflinching support for the Palestinian cause is broadly echoed throughout the world. In this country, though, it elicits the most crass sort of suppression from the political and cultural establishment.
The second case is the decision of the Public Broadcasting System to pull a documentary about Morocco’s Sahara war from a long-scheduled prime-time slot. The film, “Blood and Sand,” apparently did not suit State Department plans for welcoming King Hassan to Washington this month. The film also exposed Secretary Haig’s cavalier disregard for the facts of the Sahara war in his effort to secure congressional support for military aid to Morocco. Contact your local PBS station and urge them to show “Blood and Sand” to the widest audience.
The Palestine Liberation Organization recently invited to Beirut California state senator John G. Schmitz, a man whose anti-Semitic bigotry is so pronounced that it places him outside the ranks of right-wing organizations like the John Birch Society. At one level, this flirtation with Schmitz begs comparison to Menachem Begin’s opportunistic alliance with Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell. The difference is that Begin’s political practice and philosophical underpinnings correspond quite well with Falwell’s own inclinations. The Palestinian struggle, by contrast, embodies a principled and strategic opposition to racism of any stripe. Whatever the naive maneuvering within the PLO that lay behind the Schmitz invitation and his meeting with chairman Yasser Arafat, it represents a colossal error and an inexcusable lapse of political judgment.