- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

JERUSALEM — Hardly anyone buys bananas anymore from the cart that Bassem Abu Kauwaik pushes through the dusty streets. He has seven children to feed, a son who needs stomach surgery and no idea how it all will turn out.

“It’s like a test from God,” the 37-year-old says, brow sweaty from another unproductive trip around the Al Amari refugee camp in the West Bank. “I went to relatives and friends begging them for money. I don’t want to tell the children I’m in debt.”

The Palestinian uprising, or intifada, marked its third anniversary last month with no end in sight. More than 2,400 Palestinians and 850 Israelis have been killed, the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace has hit a dead end and the economies on both sides are battered.

Just 25 miles away from Al Amari, among the cafes and skyscrapers of Tel Aviv, things take on a different face. There, Israelis live in dread of suicide bombings. Some avoid buses or crowded places, and people strive for normalcy in a situation that is anything but normal.

Dozens of nightclubs are packed defiantly with revelers each night. At one where patrons often dance atop the bar, student Meytal Segev, 25, has to lean forward to be heard above the thumping music.

“We are living in constant fear,” she says.

The violence erupted on Sept. 28, 2000, at a time when Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization seemed close to a deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Mr. Arafat a state in the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, but both sides discovered how far apart they still were on borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.

Suicide bombings since have turned Israeli streets, markets and cafes into infernos. Palestinian towns have been devastated by Israeli air strikes and invasions.

Even as they deal with the conflict’s intrusions into daily life, many people on both sides say they have given up on peace.

The daily misery of Palestinian life, the sheer difficulty of moving from one town to the next, is illustrated vividly at the Qalandiya Checkpoint in the West Bank, where hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children line up to present IDs to soldiers. Dust swirls in the warm wind as they wait beside concrete barriers and barbed wire set up to thwart attackers.

Palestinians have cut down considerably on travel, deciding it is not worth the risk and trouble.

Routine matters become impossible. A recently married woman has been unable to transport her double bed and a refrigerator 25 miles from her parents’ home in Nablus to her new one near Jericho.

The woman, who didn’t want her name used, said she didn’t have the 500 shekels ($110) — five times the pre-intifada rate — that truck drivers were charging for driving on dirt roads to circumvent checkpoints. She has been sleeping on a mattress on the floor of her shack, and has made do without a refrigerator despite temperatures of more than 100 degrees.

Sick people have died in ambulances held up at checkpoints. The army says militant groups have used medical vehicles for smuggling weapons.

Soldiers fear the people — young women and middle-aged men have been known to blow up suddenly. The people fear the soldiers — 18-year-olds given the power to disrupt lives.

“Every day, I tell them lies just to pass,” says Tariq Udetallah, a lawyer on the way to his office. He has learned that saying he is sick or he works as a schoolteacher can be enough to sway a soldier. He offers his conclusion: “The people are the victims, really. Our people — not the Israeli people.”

Israel, compared with the Palestinian areas, is wealthy, but salaries have fallen by 10 percent during the fighting, more than 10 percent of the work force is jobless, tens of thousands of businesses have shut down and tourism has all but collapsed.

Danger lurks anywhere. In recent weeks, suicide bombings on a Jerusalem bus, at a bus stop near Tel Aviv and at a popular Jerusalem cafe killed 38 persons.

“We’ve trained our minds to put it aside and go on with our lives,” says Chen Weinberg, 28, a TV and film production worker. She avoids crowds and when possible chooses side streets, she says. But on this day she was sitting with a friend at a Tel Aviv cafe just next door to one that was bombed last year.

Everyday events take on a deeper, darker meaning in this environment.

Shani Sulimani, 19, a corporal doing her mandatory military service, was having a butterfly tattooed on her back. “I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow. I’m in the army. So I would like to know that I did things at the time that made me happy.”

The tattoo and body-piercing studio in Tel Aviv is doing a brisk business. On Fridays, when the streets are most crowded, the manager, Ahuva Gal, hires a former soldier to watch for potential attackers. It is one of the few growth sectors in Israel today, but the guard knows that if he tackles the bomber, he probably will die, too.

“I used to go to the movies. Not anymore,” says Mr. Gal, 54. “I’m scared to go to the big market. I’m afraid to be with so many people.”

In an effort to stem the bombings, Israel has closed itself off to Palestinians, and that too has cost jobs.

Saed Ziaden, 46, once drove a truck in Israel delivering construction materials. Now he sells produce in the West Bank, earning a fraction of his old salary. He says the sides should aim for a single-state solution that would allow him back into Israel: “One land, both societies — this is the right way to peace.”

That, to many Israelis, means their Jewish state eventually would be submerged in an Arab majority. Citing a need for tighter security, the Israeli government is building a barrier of fences, trenches and walls that has become a flash point in itself because it cuts deeply into the West Bank to encompass some Jewish settlements.

On the other side of the divide, in Al Amari refugee camp on the edge of Ramallah, worn posters on storefronts picture “martyrs” — those killed by Israel, but also suicide attackers. Graffiti calls for revenge and praises the militant group Hamas.

This poor neighborhood, streets muddied by rivulets from leaky pipes, is a site of past violence and also home to the first Palestinian female suicide bomber. The 27-year-old last year killed an 81-year-old Israeli.

Em Youssef Abu Humaid, 56, was paying the price of her sons’ involvement in the conflict: One was killed years ago in an army raid and four others were in prison. The army often blows up the homes of militants to deter others.

“They have demolished three of our houses. They have said they’ll blow up this one, too,” the woman says, sitting in a living room pre-emptively cleared of most furniture.

“We tried peace. Peace didn’t work,” she said. “So we must fight.”

Israelis say they also have tried. Beyond what Mr. Barak offered, “we can’t offer them more,” says Avi Daba, 46, a cosmetics vendor in Tel Aviv. He says Israel’s leaders should follow through with threats to expel Mr. Arafat in hopes that a future leader will prove more amenable.

Many Palestinians believe Israel never intended to yield much land, pointing to a settler population that was doubling even as the two sides were negotiating peace.

Three years ago, Mr. Arafat controlled two-thirds of Gaza, almost half the West Bank and all the cities. Now Israel has reoccupied many areas, and entire neighborhoods have been devastated, their streets littered with rubble.

Many Palestinians seem determined to carry on the fight, believing that ultimately they either will wear down or outnumber Israel’s Jews. Israelis believe the Palestinians will tire of fighting a stronger enemy and become more amenable to peaceful negotiations and compromise.

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