The corpses of an old man and a young girl, paraded as evidence of evil. They prove only the depths of hatred

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The Independent Online

An old general and a young girl were buried yesterday on the same landscape. One was honoured as a national dignitary, the victim of an assassin's bullet. The other was treated as an infant martyr, the victim of a soldier's bullet.

An old general and a young girl were buried yesterday on the same landscape. One was honoured as a national dignitary, the victim of an assassin's bullet. The other was treated as an infant martyr, the victim of a soldier's bullet.

Both corpses were paraded as evidence of the evils of each other's enemies. Their deaths will now hasten the onset of an even nastier war, and possibly a wider one – as witnessed by the killings of a Fatah militant wanted by Israel, and two other men near Bethlehem yesterday.

Both the stories of the dead general and the dead Palestinian child were deeply flawed. Truth, always the first casualty in war, was forgotten yesterday. It was the imagery that mattered.

Yesterday afternoon, large numbers of Israelis watched the funeral of Rechavam Zeevi, the 75-year-old Tourism Minister who was shot dead by assassins from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian at the Hyatt hotel in East Jerusalem.

The service was a grand and sombre state occasion, broadcast live on national TV. The old man, the first government minister to be murdered in this way by Arabs, was feted with full honours, with speeches from the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of parliament. He was remembered as a heroic ex-general, a veteran of three wars, a man who played his part in founding the nation.

Only one camera covered the funeral of Reham Ward, carried on the shoulder of a scruffy-looking man perched on the back of a battered pick-up truck leading the procession of several hundred mourners through the West Bank town of Jenin. But the pictures it captured – to be piped to Arab homes – were also powerful and will play their part in deepening the region's hatred.

Poking out of one end of the cloth swaddling her dead body, you could see her childish face, framed in black locks. At the other, a pair of dusty boots.

Unlike the general, the trappings for the girl were modest and makeshift. She went to her grave on a shabby khaki stretcher, adorned by a Palestinian flag and a home-made wreath, woven from palm fronds and purple and white bougainvillaea flowers.

Although only 10 years old, she, too, was honoured by her own as a victim.

Her pall-bearers included paramilitaries from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and "national" security forces, a mark of official respect. As her body was lowered into a freshly dug grave in Jenin's eastern cemetery – enlarged specially to take victims of the intifada – they fired their Kalashnikovs into the air in salute, as befitting a "martyr" and the daughter of a major in the local police.

But there was little honest about the burial of the general. And the girl did not go to the grave with all the truth that she deserved.

For a day, Israel forgot that Rechavam Zeevi was a racist from the far right, whose solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict – the mass deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza – was both evil and a certain formula for lasting conflict. And the Palestinians blurred over crucial details of Reham's death, producing a narrative of their own to suit the occasion. Mourners at her funeral insisted that she was shot dead by a machine-gunner in an Israeli tank, as she played before class in the yard of her school. They said that as the Israeli forces crossed into Jenin – part of the West Bank under full Palestinian control – the tank had begun firing randomly into buildings including the school, called the "Two Ibrahims" school after two men killed in the first intifada.

I went there with a colleague. We found no bullet marks in its eight-foot high wall, and none near the spot where she is said to have fallen. There was no blood. She may well have been killed by the Israelis – so many others young Palestinians have been. But the story of her death was wrong.

The facts do not matter nearly as much as belief. The girl's father, Nabil Ward, believes that she was killed by "stupid arrogant Israelis with hatred in their heart".

He and his family and friends will now oppose Israel – and its American friends – more fiercely than ever, and so will all the Arabs who saw the television pictures of her sad little funeral. That much was clear from the father's speech at the graveside. "I tell Sharon and all criminals and terrorist Jews that they blood of my daughter ... will not be forgotten. Damn you, we have guns too!"

And the Israelis grieving the loss of the general, lionised beyond recognition, will also thirst for retribution still more passionately.

That is what the old cliché the "cycle of violence" means. The wheels were turning rapidly last night. The general and the girl had only been in the ground for a few hours before news broke of the assassination of the three Palestinians near Bethlehem. The Fatah man, Atef Abayat, was wanted for his part in a shooting attack that killed a Jewish settler woman last month. And Palestinian gunmen were shooting again towards the Jewish settlement of Gilo, on Jerusalem's southern edge.

The outside world could only stand back and despair.

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