FOUR YOUNG ISRAELIS
Yiftach, Yotam, Yuval and Assam are all eighteen. They are all secular Jews who go to the same school in Jerusalem. Next year they will all begin their national service. They all expect to be officers and serve in the Occupied Territories.
“I realize serving in the Territories will be morally tough,” says Yotam. “It is something we must do to serve our country and stop the terror but I will keep to my moral limits. I will not kill a child.”
“I also have moral limits but might have to overstep them,” says Yiftach. “Sometimes it might be necessary to kill a child to kill a terrorist (if they are in the same house, for example), sometimes they use 14 year old children to throw petrol bombs in the hope that we will shoot them so that they can photograph it, sometimes the children will grow up to be terrorists anyway,” then realizing what he has said, he adds: “It’s a war. In war innocent people die and sometimes it is necessary….”
“No it’s never necessary,” interjects Assa.
“I don’t know what it will be like but by serving as officers we can use our influence on the soldiers under us to stop them going too far,” says Yotam.
“Yes, generally the Israeli Army is a moral army but some of the soldiers are simple people and angry and hate Arabs…” says Yuval”
“You see, none of us are bad people,” says Assa. “We hate violence but this is a sacrifice we must make to protect our society. I know that the world considers us as monsters but they are such hypocrites. When we bomb a building with terrorists in it, we warn the people to leave and then bomb it even though this means giving the terrorists time to escape with their weapons. In Iraq the US killed hundreds of thousands of civilians for oil. On September 11 they had one terrorist incident but they bombed hospitals, villages and everything in Afghanistan. We have to live with September 11 every day.”
“What we have to live with is not as bad as September 11 but it’s also worse because we have to live with it all the time,” says Yiftach. “We are always watching each other wondering who the terrorist is.”
“Yes,” adds Yuval, “when I got onto a bus with a bag last week everyone looked at me and my bag wondering if I had explosives in it.”
“Jerusalem is terrible now,” says Yotam, “It’s always been a city with a lot of different cultures and religious traditions who have tried to impose their vision on the city but the terror has brought this tension to the surface so that nobody trusts anyone and everyone is angry and neurotic. We have friends who won’t visit each other because they are frightened of going to downtown. This last New Year there were more police than people in downtown.”
“The worst thing of all,” says Yotam, “is that I know that it’s only a matter of time until either myself or one of my friends will be killed or wounded. We’re always waiting for the next bomb or shooting.”
“We feel ashamed that this is what’s become of our capital and helpless that we can’t do anything about it until next year when we join the Army,” says Yiftach.
I ask what their feelings are towards the settlers.
“I think the settlements were a bad decision,” says Assa. “It was imperialism and if it would help we should evacuate them.”
Yiftach disagrees: “We should evacuate the ones in the Palestinian cities but we need the others to control the territories. The settlers are Israelis and die for our soldiers.”
“Our soldiers die for them!” disagrees Assa.
“If we get a real peace we can withdraw from them all,” Yiftach concedes.
And how do they feel towards the refusers?
“I understand them but I don’t accept their position,” says Assa. “The state of Israel protects its citizens. It provides them with welfare, health and education. It is the obligation of its citizens to repay it by military service.”
On the prospects of coexistence, the friends are also divided.
Yuval speaks first: “My hope is for co-existence between Israel and Palestine. I think this would be good for the whole region. The Arabs will get access to Israeli high technology and the Palestinians will open the markets of the Middle East to Israel.”
“I want peace but not co-existence,” says Yiftach. “They are raised to hate us and they always will. You cannot end such hatred simply with a peace treaty.”
“The majority of Jews and Arabs both want peace and co-existence,” counters Yuval.
“Twenty percent of Israelis are Arabs,” says Assa. “We have no choice but to coexist but… I don’t know how this can happen.”
“We are losing hope that the conflict will end,” says Yotam.
“But we must hope because it is all that keeps us sane,” says Yuval.
“It is very complicated,” Assa asserts, “because there are also millions of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who want to return to Israel but we cannot take them back.”
“We must start with education and teach the children not to hate,” Yuval says.
“We do not teach our children to hate,” Yiftach says. “We teach them to love their country and that we must have our own country.”
“Yes,” agrees Yuval. “We must have our own country because we have lived in other countries before and we were persecuted and killed. This is Zionism. It’s not racism.”
“Zionism is anti-racism,” says Assa, “because we were the victims of racism in Germany and we know where racism ends.”
“But racism is growing,” says Yiftach.
“Yes it’s growing,” Assa agrees. “This war is bad for our society.”
George, Anwar, Vivian and Rani are all eighteen. Vivian, is a student atBethlehem University, the others are all in their final year of school. All four have lived all their lives in Beit Sahur, a suburb of Bethlehem surrounded by hilltop settlements that they have steadily multiplied and expanded throughout their lifetimes.
All four remember the collapse of the Camp David Peace talks and the start of the Intifada in September 2000.
“For years the Peace Process had dragged on with no real results while the settlements continued to grow and we had to apply for permits to travel from town to town,” says Anwar. “When we found out that the settlements were staying, that we would still not be able to travel freely in our own country and that they would not return East Jerusalem we were so disillusioned.”
“Then Sharon entered Al Aksa,” adds Vivian, “and that was the spark.”
“They came with force to take the land then negotiated how much they were going to give back. We were not allowed to claim any of the land we lost in ‘48 and then they said they would return only part of what they took in ’67. It was like steeling something from someone, deciding to return only a fraction and then claiming they were being unreasonable to complain.”
“And now the world calls us terrorists,” Rani adds. “In any occupied country the people have the right to resist. When the French resisted the Nazis they were heroes but when we fight back we are terrorists.”
“It is true that the resistance kills children but they kill more of ours,” says Vivian. “When one of their children is killed the world cries and calls Arafat a terrorist but when one of ours dies they don’t care. There is no one to see our suffering in Palestine they destroyed our television and radio station to keep the world from seeing it.”
“Only when Mohamed Adura was killed did the world see their cruelty and they asked the photographer who filmed his murder not to show it but there are hundreds of other children murdered like him who are not filmed,” says Anwar. “You see, it’s not fair to condemn our violence and not theirs. I am against violence but there is an Arab saying: ‘What is taken by force cannot be taken back except by force.’ If the Jews had come to this land and lived in peace they could have lived peacefully with us but they came as occupiers. Before the world condemns us they should ask themselves ‘What would I do if I were a Palestinian youth?’”
“They could not answer such a question,” Vivian says. “It’s impossible for them to imagine living under occupation and how desperate things are for us. Yesterday my classmates from Jerusalem tried to return home and the soldiers at the checkpoint threatened them with tear gas. When they ran away they shot at them. How can the rest of the world imagine having to live under such conditions? It doesn’t matter anyway because even if international public opinion were with us, their governments are controlled by America even the Arab countries won’t condemn Israel.”
When asked how the violence has affected the community, George speaks first.
“We are suffering economically. My father, for example, works in a plastics factory but because of the blockade they cannot get supplies or transport their produce but the community is becoming stronger. We feel like a family that suffer together and must retaliate.”
Vivian disagrees: “People are traumatized by the violence and lashing out. They use guns to threaten each other over petty disputes.”
“Vivian and I live beneath Gilo Settlement,” says Rani. “Every night we have to be home at 7 o’clock. Every night there is shooting. We’ve have bullet holes in our house and broken windows.”
“We cannot go out to meet friends. We are always worried about the shooting and cannot sleep for the air raids. It’s also affecting our education: schools and universities are always closing because of the attacks.”
“Our cultural development is also affected,” adds Anwar. “I am an actor. It is my dream to act in a big city but I cannot even go to Ramallah to join an acting company there. All that’s left for us is to eat, sleep and study. Apart from that I have my music. I am not violent and will not throw stones but I will fight with my music to show that despite their oppression they cannot crush us even though there is no record company to record our music.”
When asked about what they think of the Israeli soldiers, Anwar speaks for them all.
“They are terrorists. They have no hearts or feelings. No one who has feelings could kill a child.”
“They have ‘Born to Kill” written on their helmets,” adds Rani.
And the settlers?
“Terrorists,” says Vivian.
“They take our land and kill us,” says Rani. At Hadr they have shot children in the street and hit them with cars. When we had a peaceful march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem they blocked it. They stopped an ambulance with a pregnant woman inside so she had to give birth at a checkpoint. They are like the soldiers. They have no feelings.”
Concerning the Israeli people in general feelings are more mixed.
“They are normal people like us with rights and feelings,” says Vivian. “Some of them are against their government. We only want them to respect us.”
“Some of them have joined us at checkpoints in demonstrations against the occupation,” notes George.
“They are like any other people,” says Anwar, “but their media and government tell them only one side of the story. I do not blame them; if they knew the facts of the occupation they would change their minds. Some of them hate us but that is because of their government.”
“They are divided into two parts,” says Rani. Some want peace and coexistence. The religious ones don’t want any Palestinians here. I can live with the good ones but not the fanatics. How can I live with people who want to kill me?”
Their views on the Palestinian militants are also mixed.
“Suicide bombings are wrong,” says Anwar, “but every action has an equal and opposite reaction. They fight against the occupation. It is impossible to deny a people the right of self defense and the occupiers should understand this.”
“They want to make the land free,” says Rani. “Like all Palestinians they have suffered from Israeli violence and oppression.”
“As a Christian I do not support them,” says George, “but violence begets violence so that’s what Israel gets. They are normal people who have lost their rights and land so they retaliate against their enemy.”
“Nobody likes the violence,” says Anwar. “The Christian religion is a peaceful religion. Islam is also a peaceful religion but it says not to surrender your rights without resistance. But violence should be the last form of resistance. I think this is the same for the Jews and all religions but no one follows the teachings of their faith.”
“Nobody knows the best way to resist the occupation,” says Vivian. “Some do it with stones, other by attacking soldiers and settlers, others with dialogue and others with suicide bombings.”
“It is very complicated, there is no easy answer. Sometimes I think it is impossible to end the occupation.”
And hopes for the future?
“Peace and freedom for both countries,” says Vivian. “And for myself I’d like to study abroad and get an MA in International Relations.”
“Freedom and human rights and free access to Jerusalem,” says George.
“I want to be recognized as a real citizen with a nation and a state,” says Anwar. “I want to study abroad and then return to help my country and I would also like to visit Jaffa which is my mother city which I have never seen.”
[George, Anwar, Vivian and Rani are assumed names. They did not wish to reveal their real names for fear of harassment by the Israeli authorities.]
Michael Shaik is a freelance journalist from Australia who has been travelling around Europe and the Middle East since May.
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