If the former treaty-prone PLO signed away Palestine to the Israelis, and if the surrounding Arab States have fallen prey to the economic and military mercy of Israel, the question arises, what is left to be lost by the Palestinians? The moral fabric of the remaining indigenous Palestinian community, of course.
It is not uncommon to hear Palestinians reminisce about days-gone-by when they were ruled by the Israelis, instead of the Palestinian Authority. ‘At least,’ it is said, ‘one used to be able to hate the Israeli soldiers out in the open.’ With the PA now ‘ruling over’ the Palestinians, opinion is sharply divided.
This is perhaps the saddest phase of the current Palestinian situation: Palestinian pitted against Palestinian. The streets of Palestinian cities and towns (in the so-called West Bank) are now policed by under-paid, under-fed, demoralized Palestian policemen. Though the butt of many jokes, these poor underlings are not the problem; rather, it is the upper eschelon to which these poor souls answer that have brought about an unprecedented degeneration of the morals and values of a sizable segment of Palestinian society.
If one examines the coveted city of Ramallah, where Arafat hopes to transfer his government someday, and which strategically lies 10 miles north of the holy city of al-Quds al-Shareef (Jerusalem), one would be shocked to discover that the town has gone through a tremendous disfiguration in the moral sense. Walking down its city center, one is met by a crowd of western-styled youngsters whose origins, upon initial sighting, are not quite clear. Yet they happen to be Palestinians from the Ramallah area.
Hip culture has seeped into the youth through returning Palestinians from abroad, notably the US, and from mindless, westernizing television programs. Young women and girls show off their physiques through surgically-implanted apparel, making them indistinguishable from Israeli girls in Tel Aviv and Natanya. Young men and boys wear designer western jeans hanging so low that only the belts hold them up. These youngsters can be seen around town as late as one o’clock in the morning - girls and boys, hand in hand.
As for places to hang-out, fast food restaurants have sprung up all over the place. (I refuse to give them free advertisement by mentioning their names.) Falafel sandwiches and humus are being replaced by hamburgers and fried chicken. Still, that would not be such a problem if bars had not sprung up everywhere.
Since the P.A. ‘liberated’ Ramallah, and other (un)fortunate towns, 12 bars have been established in an area no larger than a soccer stadium. Two hundred dollar whiskey bottles, formerly used to dress up liquor stores’ window cases, are no longer in stock because of demand. Empty beer bottles and cans now litter empty lots and front-yards of homes, (a scene never witnessed before, despite Ramallah’s previously sizable, but modest, Christian community). I personally witnessed a beer bottle being thrown from a forest-green Land Rover with a P.A. license plate at three in the afternoon, in the heart of town.
Expensive European sports cars crowd in a strip no longer than a quarter of a mile, causing nerve-wrecking congestion for pedestrians and cart vendors. Youngsters, resembling Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio (the latest Hollywood proteges) hang about women’s cosmetic and apparel boutiques, and Levi Jeans stores in groups of 10 to 15. At times so many congregate together that they block the streets and walkways. So crowded have the walkways in some areas become that the mayor of Ramallah issued an ordinance prohibiting the congregation of more than a few young men at a time.
Perhaps most disturbing has been the proliferation of brothels around Ramallah and other Palestinian cities. With the influx of former PLO members, used to the licentious lifestyle of ‘French’ Beirut and ‘French’ Tunisia, whose wives were not permitted by the Israeli authorities to accompany them in the ‘West Bank’, a vacuum for brothels was created, which some unspeakable persons were all too eager to fill.
Illegitimate relationships are acceptable in certain circles, without the least bit of misgiving. A man discovered a young couple illigitimately and indiscretely engaged on the roof-top of his building. Upon calling the police, the man himself was arrested for disturbing the couple, who were after all ‘consenting adults.’
As for order in the streets, the young policemen can sometimes be seen genuinely trying to bring about a sense of orderliness to a town that has had none since the British handed it over to king Husain in 1948. Never had the Israelis allowed a traffic light to be placed at any intersection in any ‘West Bank’ town from fear that an Israeli car may get caught at a red light. The result has been a driving atmosphere unfit for the weak at heart. Despite a monthly salary of $200, which is hardly enough to subsidize their smoking habits, one good thing that has come out of the presence of this sad show of a policeforce is the regulation of traffic.
It has been redirected, traffic violations issued and tires have been booted. In fact, policemen often cooperate, say if one needs to double park for a few minutes. Hence, a sense of comraderie is maintained among fellow Palestinians. Still, the ‘upper eschelon’ in the PA take advantage of lower ranking policemen. As in the case when a man in Ramallah, belonging to a certain PA security branch, discovered that his car had been booted by some hapless policeman, took out his gun and shot the metal casing off his tire, driving off as casually as he had parked.
Not even landlords have been able to escape the effects of the PA’s arrival. On the ‘West Bank,’ rental laws dating back to British times, have always been exclusively in favour of the tenant, giving him/her almost complete right to the property. However, landlords with connections to the PA have been able to evict their tenants, at times with the help of a few marauding, sometimes teen-age, armed PA gunmen. On the other hand, landlords renting to the PA or its members have not been paid for months. When asked why, the PA responds that their budget is in the red. Why and how?
Even education has not gone unscathed. When I asked a young PA member studying at Bir Zayt University how he found the time to prepare for his classes and examinations, he casually replied, ‘That’s easy. When the professor places the test paper on my desk, I place my gun right next to it. I have never failed a course.’ Though this may be an astonishing account, it is a sad commentary on the future generation of Palestinians.
A belated disclaimer is in order. Though the picture is discouraging, it merely describes a corrupt segment of society in Palestine and should not be assumed to represent the majority. Although the land of al-Quds al-Shareef will continue to struggle against the onslaught of disbelievers, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala’s benevolence and mercy will always maintain the sanctity and purity of this revered holy site, insha’Allah.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1998