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Aflame With Revolt

In April 1987 we drew attention to severe tensions within Israel, including those caused by Arab resentment of Israeli policies in the "occupied territories" - the "West Bank" and "Gaza Strip".

The closing weeks of 1987 brought a violent explosion of that resentment throughout both territories, leading to disruption and bloodshed. Harshly repressive action by Israeli security forces failed to subdue the great upsurge of protest, which drew international attention once more to the urgent need for some political solution to the Palestinian problem.

There are 600,000 Arabs in the Gaza Strip, an area of only 150 square miles. 70% of the population have been living in refugee camps for forty years. Despite certain improvements during the years, living standards are still deplorable for a large majority. The West Bank has a population of 800,000 Arabs of whom only 15% are refugees, and there is a rather better general standard of living. Of the total 1.4 million Arabs in both territories, more than half are under 20 and have always lived under Israeli occupation. The majority of young men between fifteen and twenty-five are unemployed, frustrated, embittered.

From their ranks have emerged the "shabab", roving bands of stonethrowing agitators who are the main force behind the disturbances. By erecting street barricades and illegally displaying Palestinian flags they attract the attention of security forces, and then pelt the soldiers or police with rocks before attempting to escape.

A sinister factor has been the influence of Muslim fundamentalists, particularly in the Gaza Strip where there are over 170 mosques. Over recent years the Israeli Government has tolerated fundamentalist activity in the hope that it might divert youth from loyalty to the P.L.O. But the basic fundamentalist hatred of Israel has in the long run fanned political discontent and encouraged youth to the barricades.

The Israeli authorities were taken aback by the scale and intensity of the uprising. The army presence was greatly increased, and a growing number of fatal civilian casualties resulted from the soldiers' reaction to stone-throwing rioters. When international pressure mounted against such extreme measures the army was ordered to resort to severe beatings to enforce submission. Arab feelings could only be incensed by such treatment: as one expressed it, "I want to turn the Palestinian problem into a severe headache in every Israeli head".

The Israeli Government began to realize it was faced with the revolt of an entire population. "It is one national will against another national will", remarked Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He of course represents the section of the Coalition Government which would be prepared to negotiate a measure of autonomy for the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank. But Prime Minister Shamir and his Likud Party are strongly committed to retaining Israeli dominance in both areas. This division of opinion in the Cabinet reflects Israeli public opinion in general - the country is split down the middle on what to do about the Palestinian issue. International opinion holds out little hope of early progress towards any political solution, despite renewed diplomatic attempts by the United States to take a fresh initiative. The tragic impasse remains, with its poignant quota of human misery and suffering.

Both Palestinian and Israeli claims to the occupied territories are supported by religious, historical and political arguments. Ironically Israel includes what seems to the orthodox Jew an overwhelming Biblical reason in their favour - Jehovah's covenant pledge to the Patriarchs that he would give the land to their descendants (as in Gen. 13:17 and other references). God will indeed watch over that promise ultimately to perform it. But meantime this is thwarted by Israel's unbelief, her rejection of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Jeremiah's remarkable message (ch. 30:11) governs the situation: "I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee, but I will not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee with judgement, and will in no wise leave thee unpunished". Israel's discomfiture through Palestinian revolt is but one facet of that on-going process of correction and punishment. On the farther horizon shines the reassuring glorious promise: "Afterward shall the children of Israel ... come with fear unto the LORD and to His goodness in the latter days" (11osea 3:5).