Palestinians Rafah 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
Four-and-a-half years ago I found myself in a difficult position. This week a problem that began then has been concluded. But I can't say I am pleased with the result.
Clearly based on previous research, Israeli troops decided that a five-story building in Ramallah belonging to Al-Quds University needed to be secured. They must have decided that the building which houses the university's Institute of Modern Media, Al-Quds Educational TV and the university's archeological department would make a perfect headquarters for the IDF's engineering unit.
On the second of April 2002, troops that had made an incursion into Area A of the Palestinian Authority as part of the Defensive Shield operation moved in to take over this strategic location. Troops surrounded the building, detained the few staffers who were manning the educational TV (faculty and students had gone home), after an hour sent them home and turned the building into their headquarters.
My office as director of the institute became the office of the unit's commander, and the campus's large basement cafeteria was turned into a temporary jail.
For 19 days our repeated efforts to get to our offices were physically prevented. Our contacts with Israeli officials all produced the same answer: Don't worry, all your equipment, documents and furniture will be protected and we will return the building to you the same as when we took it.
They didn't. Nineteen days later we retook our building, and it was a mess. Expensive cameras and editing equipment had been stolen, TV monitors were shot up, the petty cash was gone and the entire building was a wreck.
The Israeli army didn't tell us when they were leaving; we heard it from neighbors, and as soon as the morning curfew was lifted a couple of our staff who live nearby went over.
One with a video camera filmed everything: what was left intact, what was broken, and what was missing. All appear on the original tape.
AFTERWARDS we decided to go to court and sue the Israeli army for damages. Last Thursday a three-judge Israeli court, headed by Aharon Farkash, rejected our appeal despite the damning evidence on tape and the lack of any claim by the Israeli army that anyone from the building had done something before or during the Israeli army's incursion.
The Israeli court's refusal to address our legitimate claim, symbolically compensate us for our loss, recognize that loss occurred to us, or even make an attempt to hold the Israeli army responsible will not interest many people. Much more damage has occurred to people's lives and properties. But lofty ideas of peace and justice often come down to a simple personal case.
I WAS not involved in any of the acts that forced Israelis to take revenge on Palestinians back in 2002. Just as I and all the Palestinians were not responsible for the reasons that made Israel occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Almost all my adult life I have tried to work for peace and justice. The same TV studios that the Israeli army wrecked in 2002 continue to produce programs for Palestinian children and adults. We are proud to have produced the first-ever Palestinian version of Sesame Street with Israeli partners, tackling issues of tolerance and mutual respect.
I will not change my plans and my beliefs despite the fact that three Israeli judges didn't find it appropriate to address our legitimate claims for the destruction and loss of property.
Last month thousands of Lebanese had the same experience of loss. They had no access to an Israeli court so the most basic issue of compensation has not been raised. Unlike in their case, however, my office is still under the (direct or indirect) control of the State of Israel.
Our wrecked building was fixed. Our destroyed or missing equipment has been replaced. But the hurt of seeing this wrong go uncorrected will not as easily be fixed.
Perhaps I am naive, but until and unless Israelis have the courage to correct a small wrong done to individual Palestinians, the real peace we all want between our two peoples will continue to elude us.