The talk from Hebron to Ramallah wasn’t about the Israeli “encirclement” (or closure) of Hebron, the lethal attacks that led to it or the military raids on homes. It wasn’t even about the three Palestinians who were killed in last week’s terror attack in Istanbul or the Nablus man who was on his way to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque when he died from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli police officers.
In hushed voices, so as not to compete with Israel Radio in Arabic (on the minibus to Jerusalem) or the Koranic verses blaring from the speakers (on the bus to Ramallah), passengers talked about six other Palestinian fatalities, people who were shot and killed in three incidents linked to family feuds (in Nablus, Ya’bad and the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem). There was no mention of the people who were wounded in similar incidents (in Bethlehem and in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip); perhaps they took place afterward. There was also no mention of the brawl that erupted in Nablus after a few young studs surmised that a woman had broken the rules of Ramadan by wearing a skirt. Other indications of violence against women aren’t discussed in public in any case.
The particulars of each case lose their meaning, leaving only the fear of a tomorrow in which Israel intensifies its assaults against the Palestinians without let or hindrance. The general frustration, the geographic divisions and the social schisms are leading, so people fear, to an internal collapse that is expressed in violent feuds between clans.
Spokesmen for the Palestinian security services, in contrast, seek to reassure people: Everything’s under control; these incidents are regrettable, but there’s a desire to achieve reconciliation; after the holiday the tension will ease. The governor of the Jenin District said the deaths in Ya’bad prove the importance of operations to collect illegal weapons. In an interview published on the website Donia Al-Watan, he said that weapons should be aimed only at the occupation, and those weapons aren’t carried openly.
The slow drip of fatalities in family feuds and other quarrels isn’t new. But because it is a slow drip, the shock, worry and pessimism aren’t concentrated, so they dissipate quickly.
That wasn’t the case with the six people killed and approximately 10 wounded last week. The proximity of the incidents, along with the fact that this is the month of Ramadan, which is supposed to induce spirituality and good manners, was a reminder of the vast quantity of arms held by Palestinian men in the West Bank (including within Jerusalem’s municipal borders). They increased the fear that the Palestinian security services aren’t strong enough to prevent deterioration (blood vengeance) and once again prompted the conclusion that Israel deliberately allows vast quantities of arms to reach the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
One cynic from the Hebron area, who was more interested in the unstable social situation than in the origin of the arms, said with characteristic exaggeration, “Why should the Israelis bother? We’re doing the work quite well. Leave us to ourselves, and we’ll kill each other.”
It’s not easy to accept the theory of internal collapse, which for some of my middle-class friends, justifies sending their children abroad: Let them study there and stay there. It’s hard to believe the prophecies of the coming collapse because the Palestinians always surprise us with their ability to recover from the blows dealt them by the foreign Israeli rule that has been imposed on them. It’s hard because it seems as if despite everything, societal and familial structures of mutual responsibility continue to function, and certain institutions of the Palestinian Authority — weak though it is — do provide safety nets.
The prophecies of collapse are born of the lack of any credible and accepted social and political leadership and of the delay in forging a new leadership. The prophets, it seems, are mired deep in their own inaction, after all the political solutions they supported, and which promised liberation from Israel’s destructive rule, have failed.