And Darkness Covered the Land
As bad as life has become for Israelis, it is far, far worse for Palestinians: Their economy has crumbled; IDF roadblocks prevent Palestinians from getting to work, children from getting to school and the sick from getting to hospitals; missiles and rockets crash through apartment buildings in the middle of the night and tanks rumble down streets maliciously crushing cars. More than 770 Palestinians have been killed and some 16,000 injured by the army and settlers since the onset of the second intifada.
Every Palestinian I talked to was burdened by feelings of sorrow. Yet they have great endurance. I met Laila Atshan, a Palestinian psychologist, for breakfast in October at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. She treats war-related trauma on behalf of the mental-health mission set up by Doctors of the World. Laila is blind, rambunctious, with a laser-sharp wit and a highly infectious laugh. Two nights earlier, she said, she had been at the hotel bar, playing the piano and dancing until 3 am. "It is the first time I had danced in ages," she said. "It was great because it helped relieve my stress."
"I live in Ramallah," she went on. "Being a psychologist, everyone comes to me. My whole life is everyone's problem. And I'm stuck too. I canceled a ticket to the United States after the World Trade Center attack."
Speaking about the intifada, she said, "Violence brings violence. When you put a cat in a corner, it will get violent. People are so cornered economically, to me anything is understandable. A man in Nablus I bought juice from was a suicide bomber. I asked his brother, 'Did he have problems?' And he said, 'Not more than anyone else.'"
One problem that has become even more miserable during this intifada is the daily humiliation Palestinians endure when they pass through Israeli army checkpoints that pepper the occupied territories. They are manned by a rude force of young Israelis, who seem to delight in the discomfort they cause the Arabs. On the road to Ramallah, the checkpoint was bedlam. Palestinians lined up in what appeared to be a lime quarry, waving their documents and screaming at the impassive Israeli soldiers to let them pass through a small, dusty opening for foot traffic. Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian cars and trucks were belching fumes, honking their horns and hardly moving in either direction.
However, a recent report prepared by the IDF's audit department concluded that the checkpoints do not prevent terrorists from entering Israel, their stated purpose. The report actually documented cases of soldiers looting from Palestinians and vandalizing their cars. The senior officers who prepared the report were themselves treated to "arrogant and insulting behavior" by everyone from checkpoint commanders to company commanders, says the report.
Even small children live in dread of Israel's military might. "My daughter is 6 years old," says Samir Saif, an educator from Ramallah, a relatively well-to-do city in a Palestinian autonomous zone. "She is starting to speak to us about politics. She said, 'Let's build a new house for the Jews so they won't occupy ours.' Once at 5 am (after F-16 jet fighters hit a nearby building) she collected her toys and said she was going to Amman [Jordan] because it's safer there. Then she wanted to go to the States, until she realized that they are supporting Israel."