Life in the Middle East
The West Bank
Core Countries

Life in the Middle East
by Courtney Kealy

School students in the eighth grade in northern Israel stand still, or place their hands on their faces, in Muslim prayer. They were observing a moment of silence in honor of "Al Naqba," or the catastrophe, as they call their displacement by the founding of Israel in 1948. (AP/Wide World)
On a recent summer's evening in Ramallah, in the West Bank, people enjoyed a rare quiet evening. Crowds walked along the main streets, shopping and socializing well after dark.

At the youth center, adults sat at the cafes sipping coffee or tea and watched their children run from the swings to the slides on the playground. A crowd of teenagers sat on the sidelines under neon lights and watched their friends play basketball on an open-air asphalt court.

But this peaceful scene has not been the norm for more than a year now. Since Palestinians began the Intifada, or uprising, last September, violence between Palestinians and Israelis has become an almost everyday occurrence.

Travel between Palestinian villages is slow and cumbersome because of Israeli Army checkpoints. Cars are snarled in traffic for hours, waiting for permission to move on. Old women in embroidered robes carry packages and hold their childrens' hands as they weave between cars trying to cross through checkpoints on foot. Some children hold towels over their heads to protect them from the searing summertime sun.

Snipers have made travel along some roadways too dangerous to risk. Journalists travel on these roads only in armored cars. Most people avoid driving on them at all. Suicide bombers in public shopping areas have created fear and anxiety around the otherwise routine activities of shopping or riding a bus.

"Last year I took my children to the pool at least 20 times during the summer," said Naqle Atir, a taxi driver from East Jerusalem. He is the father of two boys and a girl, ages 6, 3, and 1. "This year I haven't taken them once."

On the first day of school, September 2, 2001, Israeli children dance under a sign that reads in Hebrew: "Year of Peace and Security." The school is in the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo, Jerusalem, which has been a target of violence in the past.

Photo: AP/Wide World
According to Razi Refnik, the manager of the Iftah security company in Tel Aviv, the demand for security guards at cafes, restaurants, concerts, and kindergarten classrooms has doubled since the Intifada began. A coffee shop on Hillel Street in Jerusalem recently hired a guard to stand in its doorway.

"Yes, we're all scared," said Ephrat Darwy, 16, a worker at the shop.

Negotiations to settle differences between the two sides have so far failed. Israeli leaders say they will not be forced into making concessions by violence. They have called for a complete halt to all violence before returning to peace talks.

Palestinians counter that Israelis are allowing the actions of a single bomber or sniper to determine national policy. Leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat, has condemned the violence, but claims he cannot control every Palestinian. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he must do all he can to protect the citizens of Israel.

"You can't demonize either side," said Ari Alexander, 21, a counselor in Arab-Israeli coexistence programs. "You must take into account each side's reality of fear and danger. Look between the lines and see all the human beings involved in this conflict are devastated by what's going on."

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