To Yossi - with kindness - feature by Dr. Hanna Nasir, Birzeit University President
I had not met Captain Yossi before, but I had a rough encounter with him yesterday. I was trying to go to Ramallah from Birzeit in a car driven by a University driver. The cars ahead were going through a dirt road near Beit El and we followed them. With me in the car were two female staff members of the University along with the twelve -year old daughter of one of them - an ordinary car load going home after a day's work.
After last week's suicide attack in Jerusalem, Israel closed off the West Bank and did not allow the Palestinians to go into Israel; there were, however, no official military orders against internal movements in the West Bank itself. Hence our journey from Birzeit to Ramallah was in no way "illegal". Nevertheless, we were told by various people that there was a roadblock near Ramallah and that to avoid it, we would have to go through small dirt roads which the military forces had left open.
The moment we hit the dirt road, a jeep carrying Captain Yossi followed and he shouted at us to stop the car and get out. We did this promptly. He then rudely ordered me to produce my ID. I told him that he could ask for it in a decent manner. Yossi became furious, asserted that he was the Captain in the area, and threatened to arrest me if I did not hand him my ID by the count of ten. I replied that he could count as much as he wanted, I would not give him the ID unless he asked for it politely. One of my companions argued with Yossi, telling him that he was dealing with law-abiding citizens and that there was no reason for any screaming and rudeness. Yossi became even more angry and called for a reinforcement. Within minutes another jeep with four soldiers arrived. They tried to coerce me into getting inside their car for questioning. I refused, explaining that there was no reason for this commotion since nothing illegal had taken place. I added that I had been directed to that area by an Israeli soldier at another roadblock who had said that the only way into Ramallah was via that route. This fueled Yossi's anger and he insisted on going to check my story with this soldier. We went, his jeep following my car, and to his disappointment, my story was confirmed.
In the meantime, a Druze soldier accompanying Yossi was almost apologetic for Yossi's rudeness and he intervened, asking me politely for my ID. I gave it to him willingly. The Druze soldier then passed it to Yossi who checked on his radio and probably found out that he was dealing with an ordinary citizen.
What bothered me most about Yossi was his unnecessary rudeness. This type of rudeness is typical of most soldiers in the area and has absolutely nothing to do with security or suicide attacks. In fact, the harassment of and rudeness towards the Palestinians is general Israeli military behavior. Unfortunately, the peace process has not changed that attitude at all. Of course, one can understand that feelings may be edgy in the aftermath of a suicide attack, but it should be clear that the Palestinians have genuinely condemned the attack. At the same time, the Palestinians cannot be held responsible for it as neither the identity nor the nationality of the attackers is yet known.
Furthermore, the Israelis are not the only party entitled to behave emotionally when loved ones are lost. Almost every Palestinian family has suffered from Israeli practices. I myself was illegally deported to Lebanon by Israel in 1974 and remained in exile for 19 consecutive years. My cousin Kamal Nasir was killed by an Israeli group in Lebanon in 1973. Kamal was a poet with tremendous compassion and commitment to peace. Yet he was not spared by the Israeli bullets. At Birzeit University - the small University that I head, 16 students have been killed over the last fifteen years or so when Israelis used live bullets to disperse student demonstrations.
Yet, within the context of the peace process, I want to think of all these sad events as history and I do not wish to begrudge any Israeli. The Palestinians have made a 180 degree turn since Oslo. True, violence does exist - but it is certainly not official Palestinian policy. The Palestinian authority is doing all that can be done to curtail violence. In contrast, the collective punishments, confiscation of lands and the building of settlements remain official Israeli policy. Unfortunately, the Oslo agreement has not changed that position. Attitudes have not changed either. The sense of hatred, arrogance and rudeness remain strong characteristics, and I witnessed these when I met Yossi yesterday.
I do pity Yossi and those like him. He did not seem at peace with himself because he is probably full of hatred and guilt about what he does and stands for. As for myself, I am very much at ease. I feel no hatred and no desire for vengeance. My guiding star is peace based on justice and reconciliation. Yossi is the antithesis of this approach. I hope Yossi has learnt a lesson from our small encounter and that this lesson will bring us closer towards peace.