In spite of the fact that much more is known now in the United States about the real conditions of life of the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel, much still remains unknown. The difference between the known and the unknown coincides usually with the difference between "an incident" -- such as Israeli soldiers shooting at a crowd of Palestinian students -- and the everyday social reality. Of the two, it is the social reality which is the more important --and not only in case of the persecuted Palestinian but of all persecuted groups, because of everyday conditions of life determine the real nature and cause of the incidents.
For example: if, when the military governor of the West Bank closes the University of Bir-Zeit, and gives as his reason that a "nationalistic incitement" is being carried out there, what is his meaning when he uses this expression? What actually do the students, or other Palestinians, do in order to commit what is considered by him as this sin?
The answer is very simple. In the opinion of the military governor and his "experts on Arab affairs," everything which can symbolize Palestine, or the Palestinian people, can be and is prohibited. First of all, the very word "Palestine" (whether written in English, Arabic, or Hebrew) can be a criminal offense.Boys are frequently arrested and sentenced to fines and imprisoned for six or more months for the "crime" of writing on their T-shirts the forbidden word "Palestine." To have the Palestinian flag in one's possession, even hidden in a chest, is, of course, a serious crime. To exhibit it in public is even a greater one.
But the prohibition goes much further than the formal flag. The four colors of which the Palestinian flag is composed -- white, black, green and red -- are prohibited to be used too closely in any painting publicly displayed. It is forbidden to the Palestinian painters of the occupied territories to paint a surrealist flower in which one petal will be white, the other black, the third green, and the fourth red; or alternatively pictures of wildlife with white, black, green, and red flowers too close one to the other.
The confiscation process itself is also very simple: the governor, or an officer who represents him, enters a gallery or a shop which sells pictures, orders all the paintings and the posters to be shown to him, and points with his band to the forbidden ones which are then confiscated on the spot. And in some cases the artists arrested as well.
Apart from the paintings with the four "terrible" colors close together, some other examples -- out of many -- can be given. A horse wildly rearing on his hind legs was confiscated because, so the governor said, the name of the picture , which was "The Horse Refuses," is of course a "nationalistic incitement," because it "really means the rejection front." A painting of a dove standing on a window was forbidden because the dove was painted all over with the pattern of the Keffiya (the Arab headdress) and, what is more, the pattern was in red.
In fact, there is no limit to the ingenuity of the military inquisitor, whose aim is cruelty for its own sake directed against a whole people, and who is completely uncontrolled by any systen of law, who is the prosecutor, the judge, and the executor of the sentence in his own case.
Several important consequences follow from this single example of the oppression of the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel from 1967. First, the wide and the dangerous uses of the term "security" as used by the Israeli government, and seemingly accepted by the US administration. "Security" means everything that the government in power wants it to mean, and in fact it means a cruel and deliberate persecution of every Palestinian in the occupied territories.
Second, exactly this system of a total subjection and subjugation involving art is being demanded by the Israeli government as one of the most important of its conditions for "autonomy" as proposed in Camp David and for any other permanent "solution." In the term "security," wholly under Israeli power, the patterns of postage stamps, controls of art forms and songs to be sung on the radio, and many other forms of life would be included.
Third, it means that Americans who do not know about this do not know about the real causes of the "incidents" they read about. The students of Bir-Zeit University were shot at because they wanted to protest against a prohibition of Palestine week, at which such symbols of what the military governor considers "nationalistic incitement" as Palestinian peasant embroidered dresses are displayed, folk tales are collected and retold, paintings are exhibited, and poems are recited. It would be good, even in the interests of the US itself, if the Americans would know better about the real causes why Palestinians feel -- so rightly in my opinion --insulted and humiliated by the State of Israel.
Lastly, the Americans should know that when certain positive things are told about Israel, and the implication is that the term "Israeli" includes the occupied territories too, this simply is not correct and is a source of confusion. In Israel itself, military governors do not have a power to confiscate pictures, and a very considerable amount of democracy does exist for Israeli citizens -- of which I, an Israeli citizen writing this, am a living proof. But the occupied territories are different. They are simply a colony, an area in which a system resembling slavery exists, in which all the Palestinians are oppressed and humiliated by a tyranny call ed the military government.