Palestinians Beginning To Reject Violence....

Mon Mar 12, 2001 11:14 am

Interesting article in today's NYTimes disussing the frustrations of normal pieceful palestinians who are beginning to doubt that the violent daily gunfights aimed at Israel and settlements is worthy afterall..

Palestinians Delicately Begin Debate on Circle of Violence

AL BIREH, West Bank, March 8 — Muhammad Darraj, a 40-year-old construction worker with weathered hands and dirt-caked boots, moved his family into a new apartment with a commanding view of a Jewish settlement several weeks ago. His reasons were pedestrian but loomed large in his life: he wanted to own, not rent.

Now the new apartment is a house of mourning for his 9-year-old son, Odai, who became an accidental "martyr" for the Palestinian cause after an errant Israeli bullet pierced his bedroom window and then his heart while he was playing with a plastic truck last weekend. An apolitical worker, Mr. Darraj still looks stunned that his family has been swept into the current of the conflict, and that government officials and gun-toting militants are parading through his living room with plaques and wreaths.

Mr. Darraj said he felt a surge of hatred toward the Israelis, whose troops were responding to gunfire in an area where Palestinian militants use a half-constructed building to shoot toward the settlement of Psagot. But his teen-age daughter, Jamileh, blames the gunmen, too, and strove to express that sentiment until her father shushed her anxiously.

Other Palestinian voices, though, those of clerics, academics, residents of hard-hit areas and even government officials, are starting to be heard. It is hardly an uprising against the uprising, but it is the beginning of an internal Palestinian debate about the violent nature of the intifada for the first time since late last September.

Some Palestinians are speaking out only against the militants' use of residential neighborhoods as a base, especially after a wave of bystander deaths in Al Bireh, outside Ramallah, during the last few weeks. The sheik at the central mosque here, for instance, condemned the gunmen as "either collaborators or ignorant" in his sermon on March 2.

But the broader question of the intifada's direction is being broached, too. Some Palestinians are gingerly asking if their leaders have a strategy that justifies the devastating loss of life, property, mobility and income — gingerly out of concern that their questioning be mistaken for disloyalty to the nationalist cause and for some out of fear of the gunmen themselves.

Ahmed Qurei, a very senior Palestinian official who is eager to create an opening for dialogue with the new Israeli government, said on Thursday that Palestinians should consider transforming the uprising into a peaceful one. He said so in an interview with foreign journalists, not publicly in the West Bank where he lives, but nonetheless expressing on- camera an incipient shift in tone.

"The intifada will continue," said Mr. Qurei, who is known as Abu Ala. "But it's not necessary for it to be a military intifada. It can take another shape."

Saleh Abdel Jawad, chairman of the political science department at Bir Zeit University, was the first influential Palestinian to condemn both the use of arms during popular demonstrations and the shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers. At first no one wanted to hear his assessment of the Palestinian shooting as "fruitless," even "suicidal," given the military prowess of the Israelis. In late October, an essay he wrote was posted on a Web site in English weeks after he wrote it. It took another month for a Palestinian newspaper to publish his opinion.

"The point was that maybe these are brave young people, but they don't know how to use their arms," he said of the gunmen. "Most of their bullets don't even reach the settlements, but they give the Israelis a pretext to direct far greater firepower back at us. Then there will be a day when the Israelis shoot without waiting for the Palestinian guns to fire first. Today, 99 percent of the population is against the shooting."

Dr. Abdel Jawad lives in an elegant old stone house just around the corner from where a 43-year-old woman was killed by a stray bullet last weekend and behind the ruins of the police station that the Israelis shelled last fall after the mob killing of two Israeli soldiers. The location provides him a unique vantage point; it is also across a valley from a settlement, and young men — probably gunmen, he says — loiter on a stone wall at the end of his street awaiting darkness.

Looking back at the fall, many Palestinians believe that the uprising accomplished something for them. They contend that the Israelis were willing to offer more at the negotiations in Taba in January than they offered in Camp David last July. They also say that the Arab world was reawakened to their quandary and that the failures of the peace effort were clearly demonstrated to the world.

But about 375 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded during the last five months, and the Palestinian economy is losing $11 million a day, by United Nations estimates. International and internal border crossings are closed, and Palestinian movement inside the West Bank and Gaza is extremely limited by Israeli security.

And while Palestinian militants call for the uprising to escalate with Ariel Sharon installed as Israeli prime minister, some Palestinian intellectuals, professionals and business owners are trying to rise above their emotions and shake their heads clear. They are asking if there is, as a journalist, Daoud Kuttab, put it in a recent column, a "point of diminishing returns."

"For the first time since the outbreak of this wave of protests," Mr. Kuttab wrote, "Palestinian thinkers are starting to ask some of the hard questions: Where is all this leading to? Shouldn't we have accepted the Clinton ideas? Where does the return in Palestine and the Arab world to the 70's and 80's rhetoric get us? Are we entering into a dark tunnel without an end in sight?"

From his hillside home on the outskirts of this city, Ahmed Orabi is asking himself such questions, but very quietly. He is the owner of an auto parts store in Ramallah who used to commute twice a week to Tel Aviv, but his business has shrunk and his life is circumscribed because of travel restrictions.

The construction site next door is a haven for gunmen who shoot toward the settlement of Psagot, and most nights Mr. Orabi and his family huddle in a single back bedroom in fear of the return fire from Israeli troops. There are no shelters, no sandbags, no civil defense structures on the Palestinian side of this conflict.

"No one has the courage to confront the gunmen or to complain to the Authority or to raise this issue too publicly," Mr. Orabi said. "We don't want to be accused of opposing the intifada. But there is no rationale for what these thugs are doing. Their actions are risking the safety of the whole neighborhood. Last week the Israeli shells hit a school for the blind."

His wife, Sana, said, "We want it to stop, and we think the Authority could stop the intifada or make it peaceful. But if you open your mouth, some will accuse you of doing the Israelis' bidding."

The tide is turning, however, if even Marwan Barghouti, who is known as the brazen young commander of the uprising, speaks out against shootings from populated areas — as does Sheik Hassan Yusef, a Hamas spokesman here. Such shootings, Sheik Yusef said, ultimately "help to push people to migrate willingly from their residential areas and help Israel to create a security zone for the settlements on the edges of our Palestinian towns."

Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a prominent human rights advocate, suggested in a recent newspaper column that violence itself must be rethought. He narrated a conversation between a man and his wife in which the wife suggests that Palestinians consider abandoning "proclamations of vengeance and bullets" to embrace a genuine movement of peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation.

"Did you men ever think of playing Palestinian music or prayer calls over loudspeakers aimed at the settlements?" the woman asks her stunned husband. "Or surrounding settlements with a human ring without throwing one stone? I'll go even further and call upon men to organize a demonstration where all guns are gathered in front of peace activists and human rights advocates from around the world."

Such thinking is hardly universal. Mourning Obai Darraj, a neighbor said: "Jews must know all over the world that as you make Palestinians your targets, we will make every Jew a target for us. Tell the people of New York they are not far from our hands."

It remains to be seen whether Palestinians want — or dare — to rise up and demand a different form of protest against the Israeli occupation. Israeli military officials do not anticipate that things will cool down.

Ordinary Palestinian civilians complain that the government is leaving them in the dark about its strategy, and wonder if there even is one.

A longtime critic of the occupation and of the failings of the peace effort, Dr. Abdul Jawad is also outspoken about the Palestinian Authority's shortcomings.

Dr. Abdul Jawad said he believed early last year that Palestinian frustration was building toward an uprising but wondered if it would be against Israel or the Palestinian Authority itself. As the deaths mounted and border closings tightened, the Palestinians stood united against Israel.

But now frustration with the Palestinian leadership is re-emerging. Most express it only tentatively, but the gunmen who killed the head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation — a man widely suspected of corruption — expressed themselves far more forcefully.

Asked if international donors were pressuring the Palestinian Authority to reform itself, Mr. Qurei said, "The pressure is from our people."

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