In The Mukatah

Uri Avnery

The most dramatic moment occurred the evening after Yom Kippur. We were sitting in the courtyard of Arafat’s Mukatah (compound): a group of Israeli peace activists and Palestinian friends. A mild wind was blowing after a hot day. We were talking about the situation (what else?) and the latest gossip on the Palestinian leadership. From time to time a senior Palestinian Authority official joined us, in between visits to the President.

The tall figure of Jibril Rajoub emerged from between the sandbags that defended the entrance to the building. He had just seen Arafat; he joined our group for a few minutes. ‘We have heard that the Israeli Cabinet is about to meet,’ he announced darkly.

A meeting of the Cabinet – what could it mean if not an attack on the Mukatah?

Rajoub got into his black car and sped away. We exchanged a few words about the possibility of an attack – and then all the lights in the compound went out. A dead silence ensued. Then we heard the approaching drone of a plane.

Nobody said anything. I caught myself thinking: ‘So that’s it!’

And then the lights came back on. The plane passed overhead and flew on in the direction of Amman. We went on talking.

At noon, one of the volunteers had come back to the compound and said that he had been sitting in a coffee shop when shouts were heard: ‘The Israelis are coming!’ The owner of the shop urged his customers to run without stopping to pay. Soon after, two Army jeeps appeared. Ambulance sirens could be heard. The jeeps turned into the narrow street in front of the Mukatah, and drove up and down it. Inside, the rumour spread that it was a reconnaissance patrol before the attack. The jeeps went off to Ramallah’s central square. The children of the neighbourhood threw stones at them – a matter of routine. Calm returned.

We had decided to hurry to the Mukatah on Saturday afternoon, as soon as we heard about the atrocity in Haifa, in which whole families were killed. Within an hour, a group of ten Israeli peace activists was organised. We managed to get into Ramallah, even though it was surrounded by the Israeli Army. With us were thirty peace activists from many countries. If we had had more time, the group might have been larger. But it was the Jewish holiday season, so many potential participants were abroad and others could not join at such short notice.

It was clear that Sharon would try to exploit the latest outrage in order to realise his dream of many years: killing Arafat. This was so obvious that the question immediately arose: was this the real aim of the initiators of the Haifa bombing?

The suicide bomber was a young female lawyer who wanted revenge: both her brother and her cousin had been killed by the Israeli Army. In the Palestinian territories there are now thousands of such people, men and women, each of them a ticking bomb. They don’t need a political motive. An Israeli who orders the killing of Palestinians must know that this may well be the result.

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