A decade after traveling to Israel to cover the first intifada (uprising), ABCNEWS State Department correspondent Martha Raddatz returned to the area to see how attitudes have changed about peace and coexistence. The following stories highlight the evolution several individuals have undergone over the last decade:
Twelve years ago few imagined it would ever get this bad. The Palestinians threw mostly stones in 1988, facing tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition to protest Israeli occupation. By the end of the five-year uprising more than 1,000 Palestinian lives were lost and more than 100 Israelis.
But this time, the violence is so much worse. The Palestinians use not only rocks, but also guns. The Israelis use not just guns, but tanks and helicopter gunships. In a period of just two months, more than 250 Palestinians and close to two dozen Israelis have been killed.
A Wedding In 1988, during a brief pause in the fighting there was a wedding in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, which residents saw as a key to Palestinian survival.
Rana Izhaq, a guest at Munear and Eva Mesleh’s wedding, explained, “People have to go on marrying and bringing children, because this is the only way we Arabs, Palestinians, will stay in this country.”
And today, 12 years later, Nadine, Samer and Dina Mesleh have brought joy and hope to their parents and community. But looking back on scenes from that wedding, Izhaq said the memories are both good and bad. “The pride and the excitement, the power and the energy that Palestinians had at that time, they felt they could make changes.” And today she remarked. “It’s very sad to see the loss, but when you see the faces on TV of children, of young people just throwing themselves in the battle, you understand that their dreams have not been met and what they have hoped for hasn’t been achieved. And it is the only way they know how to do it.”
On the day of the Mesleh’s 1988 wedding, the villagers staged a street demonstration chanting: “With blood, with spirit, we’ll sacrifice for you our martyrs.” An hour later, things turned violent with women, young men and many children joining in just as they did across the territories during that first intifada.
That uprising and the 1993 Oslo Peace accords that followed, did result in some positive changes for the Palestinians: They gained full autonomy in the larger towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ending the occupation in those areas. But after seven years of relative calm, the fighting has turned more deadly than ever. And a cycle of anger continues from one generation to the next. “We must continue this struggle we’re fighting for our rights,” said Eva. “Just like these guys who were going out in ’88 fighting and they weren’t afraid.” Her husband added, “It’s not wrong to hate the Jews since they stole our rights.”
A Soldier Twelve years ago Yochai Ben Haim was a young army captain patrolling what was then the occupied West Bank, it was his first experience with Palestinian rage. “You can see in their eyes a lot of hatred,” said Ben Haim. “You can see sometimes a little child of 2 years old, 3 years old who is staring at you with hatred and waving his hand with the victory signal.”
Today, Ben Haim lives in the West Bank, a Jewish settler surrounded by Palestinian villagers. From a hilltop near his home, he and his pregnant wife can hear the sounds of Arab religious leaders over loudspeakers throughout the valley announcing: “The Jews are killing our sons. They took our homes. We will unite.”
Now a teacher of Jewish philosophy at a Yeshiva, Ben Haim tries to put everything into perspective. “I understand people who think maybe we come and disturb and we don’t belong here. But I think they will all see the point that we’re here because it’s the only place for Jews on earth. And if they all cooperate, we will make here a real good place to live.”
But cooperation seems a long way away. Time has changed not only people but places as well. Ramallah, the town that Ben Haim’s company once patrolled with relative ease, is now at the center of the violence.
Before the 1967 war, Jordan controlled all of the West Bank. But since then, close to 150,000 Jews have settled in the predominantly Arab region, and the settlements continue to expand.
Americans in Israel In 1987, Michael Tobin, his wife Deborah and their three children left Brookline, Mass. to start a new life in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, a predominantly Arab region of Israel’s West Bank.
They moved with the hope that Arabs and Jews could learn to live peacefully together. “I’d like it not to be…an either-or situation,” said Michael. “Either we stay and they got to go — or they stay and we have to go. I would like to feel that it is very possible that we two peoples can learn to live peacefully in a country that we both love.”
More than a decade later, Michael admits that he was a bit green back then. “I am now more realistic today than I was then. Twelve years ago in listening to myself I was certainly hoping there would be a positive resolution to all of the conflict and the only resolution has been more conflict.” Deborah, too, was idealistic. But the conflict is now fading her idea of coexistence. “I feel fearful and suspicious in my relationship with Arabs, which I hate,” said Deborah. “But I never know when I’m interacting with someone whether they’re about to stick a knife in my back, god forbid.”
Michael added, “I respect their [the Palestinians] love of this land, I have no respect for the hatred for the violence and for those means and their total misinterpretation of who we are, what Judaism is and what our connection to this land is.”
Unlike many settlers, however, the Tobins said they would leave Efrat if it contributed to a real peace. Something they doubt will happen.
Optimism Turns to Pessimism From a hillside above the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, fellow Efrat resident David Walk points out there has been a good deal firing between the town and Jerusalem.
Walk also brought his family to Efrat more than a dozen years ago from the United States. He arrived, as the Tobins did, full of hope. Back in 1988 he talked enthusiastically about living a fulfilling life.
His tone these days is more tempered. “I guess to a certain extent the recent troubles have awakened us from a little bit of a dream that we were moving toward something quieter and better. We’re very happy now, but I can’t say that with the same joie de vivre, with the same glee that I did 12 years ago.”
Walk, who teaches Jewish law at a Yeshiva near his home, feels a deep religious connection to the land but says he is still willing to share. Something he doubts the Palestinians are willing to do at this point.
“Often you’ll hear their religious and secular leaders say that there is no room for Jews in Israel and that’s saying something much deeper than just the unfairness of sharing the land with us.”
Even with the pessimism that these 12 years have brought, the Tobins, too still talk about coexistence. But like Walk, they seem to believe that the responsibility lies largely with the other side.
“If there’s an orientation and a commitment toward peace on the part of everybody that I don’t see any reason at all why we can’t all live here and work together and create benefit for one side and the other, said Deborah Risk Tobin. “But I don’t see that’s the mentality. I used to believe, but now I don’t believe that’s what the Palestinians are really looking for.”
With that mistrust on both sides and the death toll rising daily it seems likely that a return to this land in another 12 years will find the same hatred and despair that is evident today.