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Via Dolorosa:A monologue about the Middle East written and performed by David Hare.
in the Middle East
The headlines from the Middle East are getting more and more violent each day.
A week ago, Israeli forces killed a 4-month-old Palestinian girl and injured 10 other children in a refugee camp. The Israeli police say they were responding to an attack from the camp. The girl, Iman Hijo, is the youngest victim of more than seven months of fighting. At her funeral, thousands of mourners crowded around the baby girl's body. "Long live Palestine!" they chanted as guns fired into the air.
On Wednesday, two 14-year-old boys cut school to go hiking and were found beaten to death in a cave outside of a Jewish settlement.
Police said Kobi Mandel, who recently moved to Israel from Maryland and his friend, Yossi Ishran, may have been killed in a chance encounter with Palestinians, not in a planned attack.
As more brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors die, the growing knots of revenge and blame grow harder to untie. Since September, 418 Palestinians and 79 Israelis have been killed.
A Chance for Peace?
Israelis and Palestinians have been clashing for at least the last 50 years, but things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the past seven months.
When tensions began to escalate last fall, President Clinton created an international committee to investigate what happened and to find out whether the peace process can be saved.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell led the five-member group, which included another former U.S. senator, a former president of Turkey, the European Union's security director and Norway's foreign minister.
Mitchell, a former senator from Maine, proved his ability to help warring parties reach a truce by negotiating peace in Northern Ireland in 1999.
The group's report to President Bush calls for a freeze on Israeli settlements in occupied territories and a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism.
As for what happened last fall, deep mistrust on both sides caused a few provocative events to spin out of control, creating the current "grinding, demoralizing, and dehumanizing conflict" the report said.
Combined with a peace proposal put together by the neighboring countries of Jordan and Egypt, the report may offer the Israelis and the Palestinians a ladder to climb down from the moral high ground that both claim.
But as more and more people die, a quick resolution seems less and less possible.
Settlements and Terrorism
The Palestinians have accepted Mr. Mitchell's report even though it does not call for the international observer force they requested. They may now be willing to denounce terrorism.
Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has so far been reluctant to clamp down on terrorism. If he is too harsh on his own people, he will lose the support he needs to lead. And, like his followers, he is furious at the Israelis for the recent military activity.
When asked about the deaths of the two 14-year-old boys, he said "Today, a small baby in Rafah was exposed to the same tragedy."
However a Palestinian Cabinet minister said "killing civilians is a crime, whether on the Palestinian or the Israeli side."
Even though Palestinian leaders have asked for a high level meeting in Egypt, the leader of Israel, Ariel Sharon dismissed the idea, saying that they would not be pushed to "reward" violence by negotiating under fire. The Israeli government also says they will not discuss the controversial Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territory.
Some 200,000 Jews live in 145 settlements scattered among three million Palestinians on lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The settlements are illegal under international law, but settlers say they have a divine right to live anywhere in the biblical land of Israel.
Even though Mitchell's report says the settlements must not expand, Israeli officials rejected the call to freeze expansion and said that the Mitchell committee had overstepped its authority by even addressing the issue.
Official Israeli government policy forbids the construction of new settlements, but allows the reinforcement of existing ones. Recently, the government put aside millions of dollars to expand the settlements.
Mitchell's report says that the settlements issue must be solved because "Many of the confrontations during this conflict have occurred at points where Palestinians, settlers and security forces protecting the settlers meet," the report said. "Keeping both the peace and these friction points will be very difficult."
ASKING THE LEADERS TO LEAD
Admitting that Palestinians and Israelis have lost all confidence in each other, the report also suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinian leaders undertake measures that might not be popular in order to break the cycle of violence.
"We are asking political leaders to do, for the sake of their people, the politically difficult: to lead without knowing how many will follow," the report says.
In a NewsHour interview, Mitchell said his group focused to three objectives: How to end the violence, how to rebuild confidence, and how to get the parties to resume negotiations. He said this kind of cycle of violence can only end when the two sides outline and then follow concrete steps.
When he helped the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland find a path out of conflict in 1999, it only took a couple of weeks to figure out what steps had to be taken.
"Most of the time was consumed by developing a choreography of how and when the steps were going to be taken to give assurance to each side, in effect, the building of enough confidence to enable them to go forward," he said.
"They have to create a reasonable assurance on each side, if I do (A), you'll do (B); that I'll do (C); and you'll do (D)."
The sides have until May 15 to look at the report and send in comments. Mitchell expects each side to agree with parts of the report that support with their position and disagree with the parts that don't.
"It's human nature," Mitchell said. "The real question will then become, how can this or some other initiative be used as a basis to end the violence, rebuild confidence and bring the parties together. If that happens, this report will have served its purpose."
What do you think? Do you think there is a chance for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians?
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