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Israeli soldiers in the West Bank
5.31.02
Politics and Economy:
Transcript: West Bank: Reform, Resistance, Revenge
More on This Story:
Deanna Butu
Transcript

NPR CORRESPONDENT DEBORAH AMOS: It was the largest Israeli military action in a generation — an operation to root out suicide bombers.

The occupation lasted more than a month, now with tanks and troops out of most Palestinian towns, I'm on my way in to see the aftermath and to find out how Palestinians see their future.

As we get close to the Palestinian town of Ramallah, Israeli soldiers block the way.

SOLDIER: Where are you coming from?

AMOS: I'm from the U.S.

SOLDIER: Where are you going to?

AMOS: Ramallah.

SOLDIER: That's a very nice camera.

AMOS: Thank you.

SOLDIER: Can you please close it?

AMOS: Just like the Palestinians, I have to cross an Israeli military check-point. Palestinians tell me these daily restrictions on travel are deeply humiliating.

It can take hours to get through — and even after the long wait, many here are turned back, it is all up to the soldier on duty.

Deanna Butu is also crossing the check point. A lawyer, Butu works for the Palestinian government after moving here from Canada two years ago.

AMOS (ADDRESSING BUTU): So you made it?

DEANNA BUTU: Made it across yeah, they told me that I should just leave this country.

AMOS: The first stop is the town of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, and a target of the Israeli military.

Ramallah is one of the towns in the West Bank under full Palestinian control — or it was until the Israelis invaded.

Palestinians are surrounded by the Israeli military in unconnected islands they compare to apartheid.

The Israeli government says it wanted to root out the infrastructure of terror. The larger target appears to be the infrastructure of daily life.

The damage is everywhere, buses and cars, offices, banks and government buildings.

The Palestinian Authority can not deliver the most basic services. Humanitarian groups say a half million Palestinians will now need help to survive.

DEANNE BUTU, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY LAWYER: I think what they wanted to do was they wanted to destroy the Palestinians. They wanted to destroy our history, our culture, and our very existence. The focus suddenly became on a humanitarian crisis rather than the political crisis we're living in. It's exactly what we're doing now, focusing on rebuilding rather than trying to get a state; which is what we really need.

AMOS: As soon as the tanks pulled out, Palestinians turned out for a massive clean up. University students sweep the streets.

LAW STUDENT, SHANAZ JUBRAN: We are cleaning everything with our hands.

AMOS: The price for an invasion launched to stop suicide attacks. Jubran was against the bombers before the Israeli action. Now, she's not so sure.

JUBRAN: I can't guarantee that if they killed one of my children or if they killed my brother or my father that I will not going to make a suicide operation, yeah.

AMOS: I hear the same answer over and over, hopelessness and a simmering rage.

The Israeli government said massive military force was a message to young militants: they are outmatched and can never win a military conflict.

The middle class got another message: whatever they build can be destroyed anytime.

This shopping mall was hit by the army in March. Now, the cell phone store is a pile of rubble. A hamburger restaurant, the first American franchise, is ruined beyond repair.

A few blocks away Mahmoud Abdullah Saleh is open for business again. Ramallah's largest modern supermarket has the first check out scanner — but these days business is slow. The scanner still works. The company safe is another matter. Saleh says it was blown up by Israeli soldiers during the invasion.

AMOS ADDRESSING SALEH: Why do you think they came to this grocery store?

MAHMOUD ABDULLAH SALEH, STORE OWNER: I think for theft. Nothing could be explained, or justified except the theft.

AMOS: The theft of 15 thousand dollars, says Saleh. When Saleh complained, two Israeli officers brought the money back.

AMOS: Israelis seldom hear these stories — except from Amira Hass, the only Israeli journalist who lives in a Palestinian town. She writes for the Israeli newspaper HA'ARETZ.

She took us to the Palestinian Ministry of Culture.

AMIRAH HASS, JOURNALIST: I've seen a lot of destruction and vandalism during the last weeks, but this one, I must say, it even caught me by surprise.

AMOS: The smell is overwhelming. Before leaving the building Israeli soldiers used it as a massive toilet. They also destroyed a children's painting room.

HASS: How the Israelis think that this is the way to combat terror? How they think to convince Palestinians to live in peace with the Israelis?

AMOS: How to live in peace?

Store manager Saleh has no answers — only anger over the tight Israeli restrictions that squeeze the economy, and make life increasingly difficult for the family, his children and his wife Maha.

MAHA, SALEH'S WIFE: It's very bad to feel like a prisoner. Its like a prison, for me and for my kids.

SALEH: I think most of the people have this feeling, they don't want their children to grow in such conditions. They want them to feel their childhood they want them to play, to go anywhere, to go to the sea. We could not go anywhere.

AMOS: Maha's brother is even more vehement.

AYMEN SBEIEH, MAHA'S BROTHER: Humiliation, Checkpoints, all the time. You get humiliated all the time living through humiliation. You want to go to Jerusalem, it's a disaster. You want to go to work, to business, impossible. Huge stumbling blocks, all the time.

AMOS: Restrictions that are going to get tougher as the Israeli government rings eight Palestinian towns with additional barbed wire this week.

SBEIEH: And actually that does build up something inside you as a human being. One day you feel like you are going to retaliate against the occupier, or just give up.

AMOS: The children's games are rougher now. It is new and upsetting to Maha.

MAHA: There is no childhood for the children the Palestinian children, how can they feel it with occupation, with shooting everywhere, with hearing about the killing, the F-16, the bombs, how can they feel their childhood?

AMOS: In the bedroom, they play Arabs against the Jews. But in this household there is a more personal battle — should they stay or should they go.

SALEH: I have no plans. Before, I had plans, now even my wife is talking about immigration. Because we see no end, no future. She wants her kids and herself to feel some freedom I understand that. But for me as a Palestinian, I have my duty, I have to try to help people, and I cannot think only about myself.

AMOS: If the middle class give up hope for a peaceful, negotiated settlement, that strengthens radicals who say only violence will force an end to Israeli occupation.

Many of those radicals live in the refugee camp of Jenin — a place well known now because some of the most severe fighting in the war took place here.

Human rights groups reported no massacre in Jenin, but just look at the damage.

Four thousand Palestinians did lose their homes here — an engineering team makes sure other houses are safe.

This was Israeli retaliation for 23 suicide bombers who came from this camp, many of them trained and sent to their targets by Islamic Jihad — a group Israel vows to destroy.

Bassam al Shaheedi is one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad

AMOS (ADDRESSING AL SHAEEDI): Are there going to be more suicide bombers from Jenin?

BASSAM AL SHAHEEDI, LEADER, ISLAMIC JIHAD: I think the number of suicide bombers will double. Every time Sharon attacks with violence, the reaction will increase and there will be more suicide bombers.

AMOS: Al Shaheedi insists that I see what is left of his second floor apartment — destroyed in an Israeli helicopter attack. He's lost a house, he says, but gained new supporters.

AL SHAEEDI: Most of the young people in the camp want to join Islamic Jihad because it expresses what they are feeling. We want all people to live in peace, but we are being attacked, and we are defending ourselves"

AMOS: And suicide bombers have already resumed their attacks.

This is the man who is supposed to stop them.

The Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, is under international pressure to keep a lid on the violence. But will he? Or can he?

Arafat's popularity is sinking again...not just with the radicals, but with an overwhelming major of Palestinians who want democratic reform, an end to the incompetence and corruption of the men who surround Arafat, profiteering, Palestinians say, while so many live in misery.

DEANNA BUTU: Corruption is an issue. Corruption is an issue that will have to be dealt with by the Palestinians.

I don't want to reform Palestinian society simply because Israel is telling me to reform it or simply because America is telling me to reform it, I want it to be reformed because it needs to be reformed.

SOUNDS FROM DEMONSTRATION: Palestine, Palestine, Palestine

AMOS: These demonstrators are demanding regular elections — an independent court — a free press. Dr. Mustapha Barghoutti leads the march.

DR. MUSTAPHA BARGHOUTTI: People are upset about how things are happening now.

AMOS: What do you want to change?

DR. MUSTAPHA BARGHOUTTI: A lot.

BUTU: People have been kicked and beaten for the past twenty months. There is a sense that we have to find a different way now.

AMOS: Reform, resistance, revenge — competing reactions to the longest invasion this generation has ever seenĚ — and there is very little talk of peace.

AYMEN SBEIEH: Giving up is not within our character. What we are trying today is rip out our freedom. There will be a price paid, so many people are coming to this conviction that we have to fight for it.


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