The Image of the Israeli: Its Evolution in the Palestinian Mind
Before 1967, my image of the Israeli was formed indirectly from the
many stories I would listen to at our village gatherings, usually
on winter evenings around the gas lamp: nostalgic tales of life in
the days before the Israelis came. The narratives invariably
centered on our relationship to the land we had lost, and the
feeling of loss was strengthened by the stark contrast our young
eyes inevitably noted between the lush, fertile valleys of 1948,
described so vividly in those recollections, and the rocky,
unyielding mountainous terrain which our parents were attempting to
My initial understanding of the image began to evolve through
poems, history classes and school celebrations which gave more
precise features to the Jew who, we learned, had settled Palestine
by force. It continued to develop in my mind until the moment in
1967 when the phantom finally took on flesh. On June 6, I observed
facts with my own eyes as people in our village fled, except for my
father who said to us, "If you want to follow the rest of them like
sheep, go ahead; as for me, I shall not leave my house, I shall
stay at home even if it collapses on my head."
We children went into the mountains, but still, we did not see the
soldiers. Instead, we heard talk about Jabal Al-Mukaber1 and planes
swarming in the air and dropping their bombs on towns and villages
below; we saw the population of entire villages camped out under
the olive trees. But in spite of all this, we still had not seen
the Jew himself, but only his destructive might. This, then, was my
first introduction as a Palestinian freedom-fighter to the Jew. It
created an image which, as a result of personal experiences and
events, was to be modified in years to come, right up to the
In Jordan, I spent almost a month moving among the refugee camps.
Yet the talk of fourteen-year-old youths - my peers - was to honor
our attachment to our home and we decided to risk it. We plotted
behind the backs of our mothers and we infiltrated the Jordan
River, guided by a man from Jericho who showed us the least
dangerous way across the bridge to avoid the Israeli soldiers
guarding our homeland from us, ensuring we would not return to
We walked, six boys, toward Jericho, and before we reached the town
center, we came face-to-face with some soldiers. They arrested us,
but did not humiliate or beat us. They gave us water to drink and
took us by truck to Jericho prison where, because of our young age,
we were placed with the women. For the first time, the image of the
Jew started to focus in my mind: he is a human being after all;
greedy, yet uses his power very judiciously, very rationally.
The following day we were led back to the river in the direction of
Jordan. But I was determined to return. I gathered a group of boys
and we went back, using our first experience as guide. We crossed
the river, but this time we bumped into an Israeli in some deserted
chicken coops. He was not inimical. Indeed, his behavior added to
the clarity of the image in my mind that the Israeli is a human
being like any other; he has his negative and positive sides, has
his strengths and weaknesses, is prone to sickness, and he is even
willing to compromise on the Israeli obsession with security for
the sake of his own personal interest.
The Israeli as Occupier
I remember the day of Jamal Abdel Nasser's death in 1970. I was
among the men who initiated the first acts of defiance by closing
schools, demonstrating and talking about politics and occupation.
Later, as students at the Arabic University of Beirut, we were
armed with first-hand information about the Israelis and the
Occupation. But when I was caught red-handed in possession of
explosives, I saw the Occupation as if I was seeing it for the
first time, for I beheld the manner of arrest and the method of
extraction of confessions, Shin Bet, the police, prisons and
courts, all of which embody the Israeli concept of the Palestinian,
and the desire to crush the Palestinian identity physically and
mentally. I observed the Israeli pragmatism which is subject to no
law save the extraction of confessions; and I perceived the false
claim about democracy, human rights, respect for the individual and
United Nations conventions. I saw brothers, comrades and
fellow-fighters in situations which drove one to the brink, hating
life and ready to give it up by any means.
Yet these Israeli characteristics were to help me and my comrades
to recoup and to view the Israeli identity not as colonialist - for
in colonialism there is some form of construction and development -
whereas behind the Israeli we saw nothing but ruin, destruction,
torture and annihilation of the individual.
The War of Prisons
In jail, we waged a new war, the war of prisons, which taught us
how to comprehend the Israeli personality. We became aware of the
social contradictions, the absence of religious homogeneity and
political pluralism in the Israeli society.
Ketsiot (Al-Naqab) is a detention camp reminiscent of an unthatched
sheep pen; the sheep, however, are left to their own designs,
undisturbed, to move freely inside the pen. The law, on the other
hand, restricts the movements of human beings:
1. It is forbidden to greet anyone in the opposite section of
2. It is forbidden to walk near the barbed wire or in the passages
except with one's hands behind one's back.
3. A quarter of an hour before roll-call, all prisoners have to
crouch with their hands behind their backs, heads bowed, lips
tightly shut, looking at the ground. It is worth noting that this
sector numbers 2,500 civilian human beings.
Reference also has to be made to the quality of food, medical
treatment, and the daily rationing of water which consists of a
two-liter plastic container the prisoner uses for bathing, cleaning
utensils and going to the bathroom.
In this context, the image of the Israeli prison warden for the
Palestinian draws closer to the stories told by mothers about vile
characters thirsty to kill the Arab, the Palestinian, and the
Muslim wherever he is and for whatever reason, without any
This was followed by the recognition that, for the Palestinian to
achieve dignity as a human being, he had to engage in a struggle
with the view of liberating the homeland from occupation.
Subsequently came the realization that it was possible for the
Israeli soldier to be defeated as he was in El Karameh2, the South
[of Lebanon], the October War and even in some instances in
Finally came the stage of the state we call the Occupation and
ourselves as a state in the future, with our conclusion, albeit
timidly, that the struggle has an end and it is possible for us to
coexist in the shadow of two states.
The Israeli Identity
These stages combined have led to the crystallization of the
identity of the Zionist Jew, the Zionist Israeli, the Israeli in
his present form. This was a process which started in early 1974,
and continued until the corridors of Oslo where a new type of
struggle was begun, with new means and with the features of a new
era being fashioned, based on some chapters of the past and visions
of the morrow. However, the peace process notwithstanding, traits
no less dangerous than those in existence prior to Oslo still
characterize the Israeli image.
First, the inability of the Israeli to evolve parallel to the
Palestinian who has reached a conviction that the Israeli is a
human being and, consequently, can no longer visualize millions of
ships in the Mediterranean carrying Israelis away to an as yet
undiscovered continent. The Israeli mind, on the other hand, can
still picture six million trucks heading toward the desert filled
with a people called Palestinians.
Second, there is the Israeli arrogance, conceit and machinations
even at the negotiating table, dominated by a security complex
which cannot transcend the view of the Palestinian in Al-Ansar and
Al-Naqab detention camps, and the Israelis as prison wardens.
Finally, the racial discrimination practiced in the Israeli society
is definitely more pronounced where the Palestinians are concerned.
Any visitor standing on the Occupation border can see the
difference between the yellow and the blue3 similar to that between
the black and white in South Africa.
Although the image remains fluid and can change, the perception of
the Israeli by the Palestinian so far can be summarized as follows:
Israel is the usurper, the displacing agent, the perpetrator of
massacres and the occupier. Israel is the procrastinator, even when
negotiating agreements. Finally, Israel is an expansionist
But, in spite of this negative image, it is to be hoped that the
peace process will constitute the beginning of another process - a
change in the mutual perception between Israelis and Palestinians.
It is only then that both peoples will be able to coexist in
harmony and together uphold the principle of the rights of the
individual and of nations, and finally reap the fruits of peace.