AL QUDS: The Palestinian uprising against Israel has entered its fourth year, making it clear that the bloody conflict in the Middle East cannot be resolved by force, as the loss of more than 3,200 lives since the Intifada began three years ago proves.
Mutual distrust has continued to deepen, and has completely erased the advances made in the peace process of the 1990s, beyond the tenuous hope that was awakened in March with the naming of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister.
But Israelis and Palestinians continue throwing accusations at each other, Abbas resigned last month, and both sides are convinced that the violence will continue to claim lives until somebody changes course.
In three years of Intifada and Israeli military attacks, 2,354 Palestinians — including 130 in suicide attacks — and 867 Israelis have died. Several thousand on both sides of the conflict have been wounded.
Today there are many Palestinians who admit that the “militarisation” of the Intifada was a mistake, clarifying that this refers to the use of arms against Israel, especially the suicide attacks against the civilian population.
“Resorting to armed violence... proved to be detrimental to our national struggle,” said Mohammed Dahlan, Palestinian security chief. He will not be included in the Cabinet formed by Abbas’s successor, the prime minister-designate Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala).
“We have won,” said the commander of the Israeli army, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, in March, when Abbas took office. Yaalon was referring to the fact that the then-prime minister openly condemned terrorism and asserted that the Palestinian suicide attacks had never achieved anything and never would.
Officially, political leaders on both sides maintain that the intention is to achieve peace, that it is indeed possible, that all is not lost.
Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister, insists that he will not negotiate with Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian National Authority, because, he says, all the Palestinian leader has done is “encourage and orchestrate acts of terrorism”.
Arafat, meanwhile, stresses that Israel will not be able to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories forever, and that it will not be Sharon who decides the region’s future.
But the fate of Arafat himself is uncertain, as is the attitude Israel will take towards the new government that Abu Ala is putting together.
Amidst this ambiguity and volley of criticisms are the people — Palestinians and Israelis — who say they are tired of war and anxious for change.
Each side highlights the errors of the other, but both have expressed recognition that their counterparts also suffer, and that everyone needs and wants to live in peace.
Palestinian physician Majed Nassar, assistant director of a medical services union in the Bethlehem area, says he is among the lucky ones because his children have not suffered any physical harm from the Intifada, though he told IPS that everyone has suffered psychologically.
Israeli Orly Amir, 33, employee at a high-tech company, says she believes that Palestinians would rather live in peace, but that their leadership is not heading in that direction.
Palestinian taxi driver Ramzi al-Kurdi, 27, a resident of Ramallah, believes it is inevitable that peace will be achieved, “because the people want it and need it.”
Today it is almost impossible to find Israelis or Palestinians who are unaffected by the three years of Intifada.
And this leads to different philosophies of life, such as Levy’s fatalism: “I have never stopped going out to the cinema or to a cafi out of fear of a suicide attack, because one thing is clear, we all must die. And that is decided up there, not by us here on Earth.”
He said that perhaps because he does not have “a wife and children to worry about,” he has greater freedom to follow a “normal” daily routine. “But I clearly see around me that people are afraid... who knows when the next bomb is going to explode?”
Physician Nassar, resident of Bet Sahur, says there is no dilemma about how to conduct his daily routine, because it no longer depends on him.
“The restrictions on freedom of movement in the past few years have been terrible, and it has been three years since I have travelled outside the country,” he told IPS, adding with a tone of sarcasm that “the Israelis say I am a danger to peace in the region,” but he has no criminal record.
Trying to maintain his sanity in the midst of what feels like “a big prison”, he says there is not much to do in the Palestinian territories “other than work and family life,” as there are no cinemas, theatres or major sports stadiums in the area.
But at least he is comforted by the fact that two of his four children — ages 15 and 17 — live with him and his wife. “They have good friends, and they get together, which helps them have a better life... they are always busy, in computer classes or playing football.”
Most importantly, says the Palestinian, is that none of his children has been hit by a stray Israeli bullet.
His two other children, ages 22 and 24, are studying and working in the United States and have not been home in three years, fearing that they might not make it back to their universities in time for classes due to potential problems with the Israeli authorities.
The Intifada has not necessarily changed people’s basic beliefs in terms of the need for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but distrust between the two has increased. And it has changed the way that many handle adversity.
Amir, the high-tech employee, says she has undergone significant change. “I have gone from desperation to indifference,” she told IPS, adding that her only son, Ido, was born shortly before the Intifada erupted.
“I began my life as a mother when everyone here seemed to be going mad... I wanted to go out to the park with the baby so that he could see the sun and get some fresh air, but I was always looking behind me. I felt like I had to be a recluse, or otherwise I’d be acting irresponsibly.”
“But now I have realized that I can’t go on like that, and I chose to act as if nothing was happening around me. If I didn’t, I would go crazy,” she said.
Taxi driver al-Kurdi has noted a big difference in his life since the Intifada began, saying that the road closings and blockades imposed by the Israeli security forces have taken a toll on his livelihood.
“Fewer people can come and go as they please, and with Palestinian license plates we can no longer drive to Israel, unless we have a very special permit,” he explained to IPS.
Violence fatigue is evident, and anxieties are many, but faith in a better future in the short term is accompanied — for Palestinians and Israelis alike — by profound doubt.—Dawn/The InterPress News Service.