Makram Khoury-Machool: This is Not a Revolt, This is a War – 25 th Anniversary of the First Palestinian Intifada
This article was translated into English 25 years ago by the late Israel Shahak.
Dr. Khoury-Machool contributed this article to The OtherSite – Truth? Justice? Peace?
This Is not a Revolt – This Is a War
A long film, whose end we cannot yet see, began with a long wait at the
Gaza taxi stop in Jaffa. For an hour, not even one taxi arrived. A Gaza taxi
driver who was stuck with his taxi in Jaffa was not in a hurry to take me.
Even on the way he continued to hesitate: “I don’t know if I should have
returned to Gaza today. We all know one thing: if Israel Radio’s Arabic
service says that the situation is calm, it’s a sign that the opposite is true.”
Shortly after 9:30 I got out at Bayt Hanun. I had more than an hour to wait
before my meeting with the leader in the center of Gaza City.
The streets were empty of people. After a few minutes I saw three army
jeeps by the side of the road, and not far from them stood more than ten
soldiers who opened fire down one of the side roads. Walking on south,
toward Gaza, I passed the soldiers, and suddenly I found myself in no-man’s
land. From one side hundreds of demonstrators approached me, throwing
Molotov cocktails, stones, and sticks. Behind me were the Israeli soldiers,
who were now firing at the demonstrators.
I saw the soldiers firing the guns at their stomachs and pointed straight
forward. The bullets passed by me. I heard their whistles. I had not
managed to work out how to get away, when I found I was covered with
blood. I felt no blow or pain. It was as if someone had poured a bottle of
blood over my head. I pulled a red and white kuffiyyah out of my bag and bandaged my head with it.
Meanwhile I moved to the side of the road, away
from the center of the conflict. A passing taxi picked me up and took me
to Shifa Hospital in Gaza. During the whole journey, I heard bursts of fire.
At the entrance to the hospital about thirty doctors in white gowns
stood waiting for casualties. I was the first. They took me into the operating
theater, and ten doctors, including surgeons, all began to treat me at once.
One of them took my blood pressure, a second my temperature; a third
checked my stomach; another connected me to an ECG machine. I was
injured in the face, next to my nose. While they were stitching me up under
a local anesthetic, a lad of about 17 was brought into the hospital. He had
been shot by soldiers at the incident in Bayt Hanun. From the operating
table, I saw in the mirror the barrel of a gun waving nervously across the
windowsill. The second casualty died on the operating table, right next to
I left the theater straight into the hospital courtyard. Seven soldiers
stood at the side and arrested all the youths who came to inquire about the
condition of their wounded comrade. I decided nevertheless to try to reach
the meeting place. A man was waiting for me there, and he took me to the
The condition was that I should not know his name nor other
identifying details such as where he lived, where and what he studied. Later
I saw him in action, giving orders, receiving reports, directing thousands of
people against the army. Twice I saw IDF soldiers withdraw.
He speaks perfect literary Arabic and also good Hebrew. His speech is
open and decisive, laced with figures and data. Every half hour he received
up-to-date information from his people on what was going on in the Gaza
Strip. Around him I saw five people who kept him supplied with news.
During the day, I was with him in various parts of Gaza and the refugee
camps of Jabalya nad Shati’. He always stood erect, steady, almost without
moving. In every place, people were drawn to him as to a magnet. I talked
with him as we walked along the paths and alleys between the houses.
The Gazans who saw me at his side asked what I was doing there. They
expect that journalists, foreigners as well as Israelis, will sit in the military
headquarters or travel about surrounded by 20 jeeps, take a few photo-
graphs, and leave. The leader said about this, “We told all our people not
to believe the signs which say ‘Foreign Press’ because the settlers, the army,
and the occupiers are behind them, in order to hitch a lift and get into the
Strip.” But despite this, he said, “The progressive Jewish journalists are the
most intelligent and best people in Israel.”
The bandage on my head broke some of the barriers of suspicion. As far
as I was able to tell, he spoke to me candidly and with a great deal of
honesty. “They are not really demonstrations and this is not a revolt,” is the
leader’s contribution to the debate in Israel. “This is a war that continues
24 hours a day. We are working in rotation. The order was that the
youngsters should go in the front, facing the fire, and they don’t hesitate to
do so. They block the army’s central route. It is the first time in history that
this has happened. I go through the whole Strip and instruct them in the
camps. It’s not just school children. By now it includes everyone aged from
nought to a hundred. Here is a 55-year-old woman who took part in the
events and was hit with a stick by the soldiers. The women are not afraid.
Ninety percent of the people in Gaza belong to political groups. They don’t
need instructions from anybody. In any case, people who live under
occupation and oppression do not need someone else to incite them.”
How do you organize the demonstrations now?
“Once, in order to start a demonstration, we would send the children to
organize a disturbance. Now, everyone is out on the streets at 3 in the morning.
Not ten or twenty people, but hundreds. We don’t have a timetable, but we
already have a custom, waves of people going out, at 3 am, in the morning, at
midday, early evening. From the evening until 3 am, we sleep and organize.
Sometimes, if the situation demands it, we even go out at 10 pm, because
during the night, the army doesn’t effectively control the streets and doesn’t
know the local topography, so we are in control. For instance, yesterday in
Jabalya refugee camp, there were demonstrations all night and there was not a
single soldier, even though there was a curfew. The soldiers simply fled,
because thousands of people formed a sort of moving human wall, and nothing
will work against something like that, neither an iron fist nor bullets.”
Aren’t you afraid?
“It is forbidden. It is simply forbidden to be afraid of anything. The
occupation authorities think that if someone dies and they take the body
and permit the burial only during the night, then there will not be any
disturbance. But our thinking has already passed this barrier. The new
system is that we snatch the body from the hospital and bury it and turn this
into a sort of spontaneous demonstration. We also forbade the doctors to
give the bodies to the military authorities, and anyway the doctors are not
in control of this, for we have no difficulty in snatching the bodies. For
instance, in the past few days we have snatched four bodies and organized
night funerals which have turned into demonstrations. Then the whole
area, like Khan Yunis yesterday, is out on the streets. Not a single person
stayed at home. Thirty-five thousand took part in that funeral. During the
funeral, we injured seven soldiers. Yesterday, I made a few trips, from Khan
Yunis to Rafah and from Rafah to al-Burayj. There were tens of thousands,
and until 3 am the army could not break in. The distance between the Gaza
sentries and the army was fifty meters, and the army simply didn’t dare to
In one of the side roads, someone came up to him and said that a
17-year-old boy had been murdered in Bayt Hanun. That was the lad who
had died on the operating table next to me. All the time, he received
reports, how this youth had been struck, whether with a stick or something
else, on what part of the body, and where this had happened. He explained
that the distribution of leaflets from any organization was forbidden, but if
he wanted to he could organize the distribution of leaflets every day,
without problems [sic]. “We already know how to identify their civilian
information. We feel their presence, particularly in the mornings. We have
seen to it that the army does not know who the inciters are. The authorities
will not see another inciter. There is an instruction, and everyone goes out,
quite spontaneously. There are no single inciters.”
When I asked him about the role of the leader in directing the masses,
he was modest. “No, not exactly a leader. More like a giver of order.” But
the hours that I spent in his presence showed that his orders are carried out
with an almost religious obedience.
This is how he sees things. “Out of 650,000 residents of the Strip, the
occupying authorities have so far arrested 47,000. Every one of them is
already his own leader where he lives. The arrest creates a leader. We cause
the politicization of the people, and they like this because they need it. Let
no idiot think that external forces are directing what goes on inside. The
people inside belong to all sorts of organizations, which are like political
parties of the nascent state. Even those who do not belong to any group
identify with the overall struggle.”
Over the years, a sort of quiet hatred has developed among the residents
of the Strip for their compatriots in the West Bank. They feel neglected,
even forgotten. The journalists reporting on events in the territories usually
set out from Jerusalem. They easily reach Ramallah or Bethlehem, but
rarely get to Gaza. So the West Bank naturally gets press coverage, even
when much more important things which are happening in Gaza don’t find
any expression in the media.
Loyalty to what is called “unity of Palestinian ranks” prevents the Gaza
residents from expressing their frustration, but many of them feel that the
national leadership in the West Bank looks down on them in the way
town-dwellers usually regard residents of some distant province. The leader
was only prepared to say these few words about the differences: “The
Gazans, if they decide to do something, carry it out to the end. The West
Bank is almost paradise compared to the Gaza Strip. Even such a simple
thing as a passport is denied to them. The only thing that most of them
have is a refugee card.”
Perhaps this is the reason that the Gaza Strip has always been
distinguished by a large measure of independent action. At the end of the
1960s, the underground groups used to organize under the umbrella of one
of the Palestinian organizations, but even when contact was made with the
leadership outside, it was hard to maintain it. Decisions on activities were
taken in the Strip, and the residents usually got hold of the arms and
sabotage materials by themselves. In recent years, it has been decided to
maintain a strict separation between the armed groups and the activists
considered “political.” In no case have shots been fired at the army from
among the demonstrators, which should have been likely to lead to a
bloodbath. The local leaders are responsible for this discipline.
“Every quarter has its own leader, who is usually some major personality.
He will be known for this high political consciousness, for his charisma, and
he will not have to do that much persuasion, for the situation helps him,
and he will just have to give the signal. Every one of these leaders has
already become a symbol. In a large quarter, there will be two or three
leaders. The detainees are usually political people, who belong to an
ideological current and not necessarily to a particular organization. The
leader creates around himself an organized mass which at any time can go
and do whatever is necessary. In effect, we want the army. We don’t
demonstrate when it isn’t here. We want it in order to confront it, in
whatever way we can.”
Referring to the efficiency of the organization, he said: “Yesterday, five
hundred women went to Bayt Hanun, and they only knew of the planned
trip five minutes before they left. The conscription of all levels of the
population is in effect like a military operation. When we want to operate
through the whole Strip, our short experience has taught us that within a
few minutes we can block the main traffic route leading out from the Strip.
When the army says that it has opened the main road, it is a lie because the
road is blocked by our people.”
He stressed: “It is not correct that the mosques are center of incitement.
We only use the mosque loudspeakers, nothing more. Now the whole
community is united in one front. At the moment, it doesn’t matter who
the organizations are, even though it is known that the Popular Front is
more revolutionary than Fateh. The basic presence on the ground is of the
Popular Front and Fateh, though in terms of numbers, Fateh is bigger.”
Suddenly he disappeared. I don’t know where to. He didn’t say goodbye
or farewell. I met him again about an hour later in Shifa Hospital, in which
his forces had been besieged for the past five hours.
Shortly after 11, I arrived at the Red Cross building, in which about two
hundred lawyers had been barricaded since the morning. At 11:45, they
decided to go out for a silent procession to the hospital, which had filled up
with casualties over the previous two hours. A strange procession in the
Gaza street, many grey heads, tens of men in suits and ties and polished
shoes, marching silently between the smoking tires. In the hospital
courtyard, the leader received them. “Take off your ties and join in with
everyone else,” he told them. Some of the elderly lawyers were offended.
After five minutes, they were all busily throwing stones at the soldiers
surrounding the area.
A small mosque stands next to the hospital. The leader went in, put a
few guards at the door, took over the loudspeakers, and let his men in. The
news of the death of the boy from Bayt Hanun started to spread, and
hundreds of people streamed toward the hospital. Within an hour, thirteen
people arrived at the hospital with gunshot wounds. Among them I saw a
girl who had a bullet in her bottom, and a youth injured in his arm – two
holes, entry and exit wounds of the bullet.
All of the hospital buildings were already full, thousands of people.
Many of them were seeking shelter from the shooting in the streets,
assuming that the army would not enter the hospital. It was hard to pass
along the corridors. Shooting was heard again. Close, very close. The
leader started to send his people out. The youths went out first, the adults
next, and all the women behind them. The leader instructed them to pass
stones from the rear to the front. A chain was formed, and a rain of stones
was thrown out. After each barrage, the leader ordered, “Everyone, inside!”
The soldiers started to fire at a youth on the second floor of the east
wing. He jumped into the courtyard to escape from the shots. A few soldiers
came into the hospital grounds. The youth tried to escape, but saw a soldier
facing him. He stopped running, stood facing the soldier, opened his shirt,
bared his chest and said “Shoot!” The soldier pointed the gun at him and,
from a distance of fifteen meters, fired.
This happened in front of my eyes, less than twenty meters from me.
The soldier’s face is engraved in my memory. From all around shouts were
heard, “Wounded! Wounded!” The shooting continued. The leader or-
dered, “All the women, out, to the wounded.” They went and fetched the
body and put it on a stretcher. I went into the theater. The doctors told me
that the bullet had cut a main artery. Immediately it was known that the
boy was dead, masked youths came and took away the body. The soldiers
withdrew about 300 meters, to ‘Umar al-Makhtar Street.
The youths marched with the body in a short procession and disap-
peared within minutes. A few hundred people arrived with each further
casualty or body. They started to make Molotov cocktails in the hospital.
I saw a little boy take a bottle from the floor, pull out from his pocket a
plastic flask of turpentine and a rag, fill and seal the bottle, light a match,
and throw it. Flames started to rise from the tires which had rolled into the
courtyard. The leader told me that, in addition to the stone and the
Molotov, they had returned to an ancient method: the sling and stone, like
The soldiers, who in one of their assaults had come very close to the
hospital, were trapped between the burning tires, and hundreds of demon-
strators started to surround them. The soldiers tried to flee, but the
demonstrators managed to capture one of them. All of his comrades ran.
The captive was stripped of his clothes. His jacket, his pack, and all of
his equipment were taken. Nobody touched his body, and he was released
wearing only a pair of torn trousers. If they had wanted, they could have
killed him. They opened the pack, searched it, and asked where the
grenades were. Some of them started to dance, with the rifle magazine in
one hand and a “V” sign on the other. They threw the soldier’s jacket and
shirt on the ground, and pressed around to trample on them.
I asked them, “What are you so happy about?” and they replied, “It is
the greatest humiliation for the occupation.”
After this victory, the leader found a few minutes for me. “Once it was
difficult to hold even a strike,” he said. “Today, they strike easily. The army
opens the shops, and they close them. Rashad al-Shawwa, who no longer
has any influence, says that what is happening in the Strip is an expression
of people’s despair. But those in despair do not struggle. They surrender.
We don’t actually have firearms, but even so, if the situation continues we
won’t only push the soldiers back to Eretz Junction [the major road junction
outside the Gaza Strip], but to Tel Aviv.”
My injury started to bother me. A few doctors ran after me, offering me
ice compresses. One offered me antibiotic capsules. By the way, after
midnight, when the hell was already behind me, I was forced to wait for four
hours for treatment in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
A further casualty, who had been shot in the head, was brought to the
hospital gate. He died a short time later. His body was snatched. The
soldiers again entered the hospital courtyard. Bursts of fire were heard in the
building. The echo added to the noise and confusion. People started to
barricade themselves inside. There were already a few casualties, but there
had been no time to treat them. The leader shouted to the women to go out
and treat the wounded, despite the danger.
For each casualty, twenty people rushed to give blood. Twenty-eight
casualties arrived within a short time, three of them with serious injuries.
One of them died at 7 pm. In the operating theater, tens of doctors were
working without a break, like a conveyor belt. At about 1 pm, a
ten-year-old boy was shot in the hospital courtyard, in the sight of his
mother. His body was wrapped in a green hospital sheet and placed on a
wooden board, adorned with two palm fronds.
I went up to the roof. At 3:15, the aerial attack started; a helicopter
circled 18 times and dropped tear gas grenades. Everyone started to cough.
Those who didn’t get gas from above got it from below. Shots were heard
from the direction of the helicopter. I heard the army loudspeaker
announce that the hospital had been declared a closed military area. The
area was attacked from three sides. The iron gates were broken down at
once, and 45 minutes of shooting started. Forty Gazans were arrested. Many
were injured. I saw a man running, dragging his foot.
I felt like a live target. It’s good that my tape is on, I thought. At least
it will be able to record how I was killed. Meanwhile, about thirty jeeps
entered the hospital area, and shots were heard from all directions. Some of
the injured jumped over the hospital fence into the neighboring orchard.
Others fled into the alleys between the nearby houses, into which it is hard
for the army to penetrate. I heard the shouts of the mukhtars, who are being
beaten with sticks.
I went into one of the nearby houses and dialed the Ministry of Defense,
the prime minister’s office. Engaged. No line. I dialed the Knesset. They
told me that there was not a single Knesset member on the premises. “They
are somewhere in the area, but it is impossible to get hold of them.” The
operator managed to get hold of Tawfiq Ziyad. “I will raise this in the
Knesset,” he told me. I also contacted the Red Cross. They said they would
come. They didn’t come. I checked my pulse. One-hundred and twenty
beats per minute.
A demonstration of thousands of people from Shati’ refugee camp
reached the hospital. They had heard of the deaths. In the street, I met the
doctor who had seen me when I was injured in the morning. He suggested
that I rest at his house, with the help of some pills for the pain. Another
doctor was sitting in his house. They both checked me. They said that
perhaps I had a broken chin. At 4 pm, the curfew started. Night began to
fall. The army cut off the electric supply, and the residents sat in dark
homes and lit candles. In the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon lit
the first candle of Hanukkah in his new home.
I went onto the roof of the doctor’s house. All around, there were
gatherings of people and burning tires. The soldiers had disappeared. The
darkness, say the Gazans, is the best weapon against the occupation forces.
There were thousands of people in the streets. That was what the curfew
looked like. I contacted the paper, seeking a way out. Two Gazans checked
the terrain and told me that the main road was blocked. The doctor
suggested that I slept at his place. At 9 pm, the electricity returned. “Now
the stone rules the streets,” they warned me. “Whoever goes out is in
danger.” I decided to go out.
I walked about a kilometer through the empty streets to the police
station. The gate was locked. The police pulled out their guns and pointed
them at me and only after they had checked my documents permitted me
to enter. When the car from the military government came to take me to
Eretz Junction, a few police went up to the roof of the police station in
order to protect me for the ten meters I had to walk in the street to the car.
At Eretz Junction, less than ten kilometers from the center of the
events, a few drowsy reservists sat. They asked me what was going on in
Gaza and how I had been injured. I told them that I had been asked to act
as a referee in a basketball match between Maccabi Hebron and Hapoel
Gaza. The crowd attacked me, I explained to them, and said that the
referee was a son of a whore. One of the reservists told me that he was a
basketball player himself. He asked me about the level of the Arab players
and who won the match.