- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

HUWARA, West Bank Bags of potatoes, canisters of water, and pounds of sugar, tea and rice are Moustaffa el-Hajali's personal sandbags against the Israeli invasion he has feared for weeks.
Mr. el-Hajali, the former mayor of this tiny West Bank town, has stockpiled enough staples to sustain his family for two months.
"Palestinians are used to war," he said yesterday, just four hours before Israeli soldiers entered Nablus, the city less than a mile to the north.
His wife, Nihaya, has been busy pickling vegetables and making rich olive-oil soaps. They have picked out video games to keep their four children, ages 10 to 16, from getting too restless.
The 5,000 or so residents of Huwara have been watching for days as Israeli tanks and soldiers rumble up the hill to Nablus, the largest and most militant of the West Bank cities. As the situation in the territories has intensified, so has the pressure in this largely agricultural town.
Mr. el-Hajali, 49, is a soft-spoken man who teaches business administration at Al Najah University in Nablus. He has studied at the University of Texas and earned a master's in Germany. The former mayor said he wants to live in peace with "the Israeli civilians."
But he has no use for the Israeli government, soldiers and settlers who, he says, have harassed the town for years.
"During the last intifada, they cut down all those olive trees," said Mr. el-Hajali, gesturing to the hillsides that separate Huwara from two sprawling Israeli settlements. He also says they have confiscated land.
An old village founded on rich soil, Huwara is surrounded by lush olive trees and its homes ringed with gardens.
The el-Hajalis grow lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, onions, radishes and spinach, which Mrs. el-Hajali confides will help stretch the staples if necessary. "We are better off than those in the cities," she said.
On the roof of the el-Hajali family's spacious three-story home are several piles of stones, a weapon that most Huwara residents now keep handy.
The deep red rocks are no match against the Israeli tanks that rumbled past yesterday afternoon, but they have been a deterrent to the settlers.
Mr. el-Hajali, who served as mayor during less-tumultuous times, said a group of settlers came into the town a year ago and burned down the mosque. Soldiers arrested or beat many of those who tried to defend it, according to several men, who refused to talk to reporters yesterday while Israeli soldiers looked on.
Speaking in his own home, however, Mr. el-Hajali calmly tells about the night that "five or six busloads of Jewish settlers came into the town and broke windows and glass." He said the settlers on occasion ride through the town in vehicles with loudspeakers, taunting the Palestinian residents.
"They come into town at night shouting, 'Take care the settlers are coming,'" he said.
Residents say the police are no better, routinely closing the one road that runs through Huwara so that settlers can pass, or harassing residents.
Mrs. el-Hajali said her son, Saab, 13, a skinny boy with enormous eyes, was slapped and kicked by police on his way to school three weeks ago.
During a brief visit to Huwara yesterday afternoon, the Israeli military presence was plainly visible. Black jeeps with the Israeli military logo were parked on the main street, and residents watched them warily as they spoke.
Sitting in his walled-in garden with cups of tea spiked with sage, Mr. el-Hajali said he will not leave the town he was born in.
Nearby, a loudspeaker sounded a muezzin's recorded call of the faithful to prayer. But 15 minutes later, another announcement was made.
"No one is to walk the streets," an Israeli soldier called in Arabic through a bullhorn. "Anyone walking on the street will be shot."
Mr. el-Hajali says the announcement was now a part of everyday life. "Every day they impose the curfew," he said. "It goes all night, and they announce it is over by 8 or 9 a.m. Sometimes they don't end it, though."
Israeli Defense Forces say they have been imposing a curfew in many Palestinian areas in an effort to crush militancy and terrorism.
"We said it in Arabic, right? That is because we want them to understand," said a spokesman who argued that only troublemakers would defy the order.

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