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Ramallah, West Bank


Charles Glass

Most afternoons, the boys

head from their schools down to the edge of town where Israeli tanks and

soldiers are standing by to watch unarmed children wage war. A wide road heads

from the center of Ramallah downhill towards a hotel, the City Inn, where the

Israeli army has set up shop. From there, it rises again towards a settlement,

an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) base and the military court at Beit El. The

kids, whose ages range from twelve to twenty-eight, mill around until a few of

the bolder ones walk towards the line that demarcates the Israeli zone. When

they are about eighty yards from the Israeli troops, they throw a few stones.

The Israeli soldiers in tanks or on foot in riot gear ignore them. Then a few

more boys join the stone-throwing, although the greater number of them hold

back. In the midst of the crowd, a man with a huge brass pot sells coffee. We

could have brought picnics.

Stones fly through the air

without hitting the soldiers, who are, anyway, out of range. The boys return in

triumph to those who lagged behind. People talk , drink coffee and watch the

occupation army down the road. Then a few more lads go forth for another bout of

rock-throwing. The Israelis, apparently bored and impatient with the

Palestinians’ afternoon entertainment, fire heavy machine gun bursts. The stone

throwers run back into the crowd, which itself retreats up the road to hide

behind the taller buildings. No one is hit. A little later, when the young men

venture back onto the exposed road, one or two are felled by live rounds.

Ambulances, which are parked near the crowd every day, rush the boys to a

hospital in town.

In the first month of this

Palestinian rebellion, the Israeli solidiers, police and settlers wounded 7,000

Palestinians. During the entire seven years of the first intifadah that ended in

1993, the total number of Palestinian wounded was 18,000. At the present rate of

injury, the Israelis could wound 84,000 people in a year – or an astounding

588,000 if this intifadah lasts as long as the first. So far, 240 people have

died, about 220 of them Palestinian and twenty Israeli. Lest this battle seem

about body counts and kill ratios, neither side is killing and maiming the other

with the objective of annihilation. Violence is a way of sending messages to the

other side. The Palestinians are saying they want independence within the

pre-1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza, without settlements and soldiers

robbing their independence of meaning. The Israelis are clearly stating, with

every round they fire into a crowd, that they cannot have it. At this stage, the

deus should fly in on his machina and force the two sides to accept peace.

However, the world’s deus lives in Washington and is not imposing full

decolonization of the occupied territories. Anything else seems unlikely to stop

the blood draining from Palestinian and, in smaller numbers, Israeli veins.

One evening, I am sitting

in a house in Ramallah with friends. Their twelve year old son tells me in

fluent English about his school, then drifts off to watch television. Many cups

of tea and coffee later, his father asks the family where the boy is. He has

gone to one of the confrontation points, either to throw stones or watch his

friends throw stones across an open field through a barbed wire fence at Israeli

soldiers in a tin and sand-bag bunker. Later, he comes home unhurt. On another

evening, they tell me, the local leader of Yasser Arafat’s al-Fateh group, a 41

year old man named Moustafa Barghouti, came himself to order young men in a

house nearby to stop shooting at an Israeli settlement on the hill above

Ramallah. Reluctantly, they obeyed. Yet another night, someone set up a machine

gun on a neighbor’s roof and fired into the air. Everyone rushed out to tell him

to stop, lest the Israelis in the settlement above rocket their houses. The

young men folded up the gun and left.

Things are worse in Beit

Jalla, a Christian village next to Bethlehem. Above it sits Gilo, which the

Palestinians call a settlement and the Israelis a neighborhood. (It was built

after 1967 in occupied territory on land confiscated from Palestinians. Israeli

banks gave low-interest loans and the government subsidies to persuade people to

move there.) The IDF closed the town, so I leave my car and walk over concrete

barriers to get in. I visit the Amaya family, whose three-story house wears

bullet holes in windows and walls to show it is one of the closest to Gilo. Each

of the three Amaya brothers lives with his wife and children on a different

floor. The children become terrified after dark. Elias Amaya, who is

thirty-eight and runs a cellphone business, tells me that if anyone shoots at

Gilo near his house, he tells him to stop. Not only because it invites Israeli

tank and rocket fire, but because it is useless. (It may not be as useless as he

thinks, because some Israelis have left Gilo in the last month. House prices,

the greatest indicator of all, are collapsing.) Elias’s sister-in-law said that,

while some of her neighbors have died, she retains friendships with Israelis.

Some have called offering to take her children in until the shooting stops.

Elias says in words familiar to Israelis who settled in Palestine before 1948:

"We need a real state. Not one without weapons, without borders. We need a

minimum to live." This is a rebellion, across the West Bank and Gaza,

against the two O’s: Occupation and Oslo, under whose accords the occupation

continues and the settlements expand.

The Israeli response to

Palestinian attacks has been, to put it midly, disproportionate. The night after

I left Beit Jalla, another Israeli rocket barrage killed a German physician who

lived and worked in the town of 14,000 souls. Amnesty International issued a

report on 19 October, and things are worse now, saying that "Israeli

security forces repeatedly resorted to excessive use of lethal force in

circumstances in which neither their lives nor the lives of others were in

imminent danger, resulting in unlawful killings." Amnesty observers

recorded the repeated use of CS gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and live

ammunition. Yet, Amnesty wrote, the Israelis have experience of effective

non-lethal crowd control. In July and August 1999, riots in Jerusalem "were

policed without resort to firearms." Those demonstrators were

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who like some settlers in the last few weeks, confronted

the army when it disagreed with Israeli policy. Amnesty noted that in fifty

years of Israeli history "no demonstration organized by a Jewish group has

ever been fired on, even by rubber bullets."

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