Palestinians Cope With Life Under Curfew

ByHilary Brown

R A M A L L A H, West Bank, June 30, 2002 -- At first glance, the home life of the Awartani family seems pretty perfect.

There is father, Dr. Marwan Awartani, playing chess is one corner of the living room with his teenage son Omar. Mom, Rim Awartani, is curled up in front of the coffee table, playing cards with her 19-year-old daughter Nur. And in the other corner, the oldest son Maher — just back from his first year at Cornell University in New York State, is playing video games with the youngest boy, Salaam.

Salaam means "peace," a thing the whole family longs for.

Home Becomes Prison

But the fact is that their comfortable, well-appointed home has become a prison.

In the space of a few days, the Israeli Army has re-occupied the whole of the West Bank and sent its tanks and armored personnel carriers into every major Palestinian city except Jericho. It has imposed a 24-hour curfew on the cities, and sealed off outlying towns and villages.

That means that almost two million Palestinians in the West Bank are cooped up in their houses, forbidden to move.

Called "Operation Determined Path," the occupation is intended to root out suicide bombers and Palestinian militants on the army's wanted list.

There is no time limit on this operation. It is a violation of the Oslo Accords, a 1993 agreement between Palestinians and Israel, but the Oslo Accords are dead, as far as Israel's hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is concerned. And anyway, he knows he now has the complete support of President Bush.

On both sides of the divide, the joke here is that Sharon actually wrote the president's recent policy speech on the Middle East.

The Awartani's only daughter, Nur, is deeply upset.

"I can't go to my university. I can't go out with my friends. I can't go out with my older brother who is back from the states. I can do nothing," she says, as she paces on a huge treadmill that is now her only form of exercise.

"With such a curfew the assumption is that all Palestinians are evil, every one of them, including my little child," says Dr. Awartani, as Salaam kicks a football around the apartment, something that normally he is not allowed to do.

‘Enables Extremism’

The Awartanis are educated, charming, hospitable people who manage to produce tea and delicious homemade cakes out of an empty larder for an ABCNEWS team.

They abhor suicide bombing. But they see this occupation and rigid curfew as an incubator for such terrorism.

"Living under these conditions doesn't give security to anyone, including the Israelils," says Dr. Awartani. "This kind of environment enables extremism, in every shape and form."

His oldest son Maher, chimes in: "I think they are creating suicide bombers. They're making walking bombs out of every Palestinian with this repression."

Brief Windows

Only twice in the past six days has the Israeli army lifted the curfew in Ramallah. For a few short hours the markets burst to life as people frantically shop for supplies. Watermelons sail through the air as merchants hurriedly unpack their stock. Grapes and peaches and apples are stuffed into plastic bags. Money changes hands — for those who still have the money.

With the curfew, no one can go to work, of course. And even before the re-occupation, the unemployment rate in the West Bank was around 40 percent.

After four hours the curfew comes down and the streets are empty again.

The only vehicles allowed to move, apart from Israeli tanks, jeeps and armored personnel carriers, are ambulances of the Palestinian Red Cross. But that movement is only permitted within the city limits.

According to Dr. Hosam Sharqawi, when an ambulance attempted to come into Ramallah hospital from outside town, the Israeli army stopped it and beat up the medics and the patient.

The occupation of the West Bank was ordered after Palestinian suicide bombers killed 31 Israelis in the space of three days. Israel wants to stop this kind of terror once and for all.

But in the minds of people like the Awartanis, this occupation won't stop the bombers. Rather, it will provide a fertile breeding ground for more.

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