- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

JERUSALEM She wore a dark dress with distinctive embroidery that marked her as coming from one of the West Bank Arab villages near Bethlehem. She had set out at 4:30 a.m. in order to arrive by 7 a.m. at the apartment in Jewish west Jerusalem, where she cleans house.

"It is getting more and more difficult to get from one place to another," she said. "The roads have been cut by the army, and buses travel only small distances. You have to walk most of the way."

Although Israel has banned entry of Palestinians into its territory since the start of the current uprising, the soldiers manning the checkpoints into Israel normally let women through.

She has asked her Israeli employers to call her Miriam, a Hebrew name she believed they would find easier to pronounce than her Arabic name, which she asked not to be used.

She has been cleaning homes for Israelis for 20 years almost half her life and her employers have always found her to be warm, trustworthy and optimistic. But there is an edge to her tone now that had never been there before.

"You can't imagine what it's like," she said. "The only way people can get anywhere is by walking across the hills. The roads have been cut by [Israeli] bulldozers.

"Come there some morning and see. Old people, children, walking through the fields and orchards. It's a movie you've never seen before. If someone is sick and has to be taken to hospital, his family puts him on a chair and carries him until they can get to a main road that's still open. There they wait for a taxi."

She spoke of the Palestinian dead and wounded.

"What will happen if Israel falls one day? The people will want to do the same to you. People don't forget these things." Miriam apologized for saying such things but could not stop.

"You haven't forgotten the Holocaust and you don't even know personally the people who died. Here the people who die have living family brothers, parents, uncles."

Miriam is luckier than most Palestinians because she still can get to work inside Israel and earn a good income by West Bank standards. But she said her legs have become swollen because of the long distances she must cover on foot.

The general situation is taking its toll, too. The soldier at the checkpoint that morning had asked Miriam in a friendly way when he waved her through, "Where's the 'good morning?' " Miriam had offered him a greeting, but her heart wasn't in it.

"The people in the village want a big war. Just to end it. All the Israelis will die and all the Palestinians. This is no life."

Miriam is critical of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "The whole village is against him. Why does he send young boys to throw stones and be killed?" she asked. The remark was surprising because there has been almost no public criticism of the practice by Palestinians.

Miriam apologized again and said she knew nothing about politics. "Why don't we just divide it? Give us our land in the West Bank and part of Jerusalem and everybody will be happy."

The parties have failed, after seven years of effort, to find a solution based on Miriam's formula. What they have fallen back on is a war of attrition.

The Palestinians have declared their intention of making life a hell for the Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by road ambushes and harassing fire on the settlements themselves until Israel decides that the only solution is withdrawal.

The Israeli army, in return, has laid virtual siege to the Palestinian population centers to demonstrate that attrition can cut both ways. The policy suits Israel because it imposes pain without causing casualties, at least directly.

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