And Darkness Covered the Land
On March 3 Adham lost a cousin, who was killed in an ambush by soldiers, according to a report prepared by B'Tselem. Adham says the soldiers were dressed in Arab clothing. "One bullet hit his heart and one hit his eye," said the child.
Ahmad's father is a construction worker who has been unemployed since the intifada began. I asked Ahmad, 11, why he thinks the Israelis won't go away. "Because we have fertile land and it has historical importance. And they want to occupy Jerusalem. I don't believe Arafat can solve the problem. I think he's scared of the Israelis. They have advanced weapons and we have only rocks.
"We're not allowed to give up Jerusalem," he went on. "That's what the prophets say. Al-Aqsa is the most beautiful part of Palestine. It's a place we want to be our capital. There is no way to live in peace with the Israelis because they're cheaters."
"If Sharon came here, what would you do?" I asked.
"Before we could even kick him out he'd be dead. If I ever see Sharon I'd like to torture him."
It's no wonder Palestinians despise Sharon. He is the godfather of the settlement movement, the butcher of Beirut and the master of a brutal and relentless occupation. Sharon's requirement that Arafat must enforce a seven-day ceasefire before he will enter into negotiations is a charade. This prerequisite places the Palestinian leader in an impossible situation. Arafat does not have absolute control of the Palestinian streets, nor does he control the Islamic extremists any more than Sharon controls the violent Jewish settlers. Even if Arafat could control terrorism, Sharon has never shown any real intention of bargaining in good faith and allowing the Palestinians to realize their goal of statehood.
Sharon is trying to undermine the Palestinian Authority and delegitimize Arafat. If the US government didn't hold him back, many observers believe, he'd assassinate the Palestinian leader. Recently, however, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Sharon told a visiting diplomat, "We could cause the collapse of the PA and send them all to hell, but we're working slowly, in order to prevent a deterioration of the situation."
Sharon, who opposes a Palestinian state, is very cunning. He knows that the longer the intifada drags on, the more entrenched the extremists on both sides will become and the harder it will be to restart the peace process. He has reportedly stated that he would eventually like to install a quisling Palestinian leadership that wouldn't press him to give up too much territory--in particular, Jerusalem and the holy places--in a final negotiated settlement. Sharon's attempt to demonize Arafat--calling him "our bin Laden"--only strengthens the Palestinian fundamentalists, who call for Israel's destruction. If they take power from Arafat, the intifada will become a jihad in which both sides would be enormous losers.
While Sharon continues to place obstacles in the path of negotiations, the situation on the ground is degenerating. On November 22 five Palestinian children walking to school were blown apart when they stepped on an Israeli booby trap. During a demonstration at their funeral the following day, Israeli soldiers killed a boy during clashes.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlers are picked off in roadside ambushes. And looming over Israel is the ever-present threat of more horrific suicide bombings like the ones that rocked Jerusalem and Haifa in early December.
As evil as terrorism is, however, it doesn't represent an existential threat to Israel. The absence of peace does. Without peace that would result in a viable Palestinian state, Israel will soon be ruling over a hostile majority-Palestinian population, and then "the situation will deteriorate in a very short time into hell," says Yossi Beilin. "I don't know what kind of hell, but it will be hell."