'The mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. We must learn to live together'

The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers are considering a US-inspired But what do young people on each side think?
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The Independent Online


Salma al Debi, 22, trained as a nurse and now studies business at Al-Quds Open University in Nablus. She works with youths, aged 14 to 18, at the Cultural Centre for Youth Development

"We have a lost generation. May God help them. They feel frustrated. They believe in violence. A culture of death has spread among them. They believe in martyrdom.

"Those who are willing to die as martyrs are in thousands. I saw too many people die during the Israeli incursion into Nablus in April. This radicalised many Palestinian young men. I talk to the young men and women. 'Your people want you to stay alive,' I tell them. Only living people can serve their homeland, not dead. Resist the occupation with knowledge and not death.

"I believe that the tactics of non-violence are more useful than violence. About 65 per cent of the group of 400 young people I work with believe in martyrdom. Their parents are unemployed. They have all sorts of problems. Some of them have become school dropouts. They do odd jobs, selling cigarettes or vegetables.

"The girls have other problems. They get married when they are 13, 14 or 15. This phenomenon existed before the uprising, but it has become larger. It's linked with the culture of death. Parents believe that many young men are dying. They should get married and have children and more children. It is self-defence.

"The road-map is not a real start. There is not a just, comprehensive peace in the road-map. It will not solve the problem of youths: unemployment, dropout, poverty, and the culture of death. I feel we are falling from a high mountain into a deep valley."


Liad Frank, a 22-year-old Jerusalem computer-graphics student, is planning a trip to the Sinai desert, a popular playground for Israeli beach bums during 15 years of occupation, which has been back under Egyptian rule for two decades

"Maybe a few months ago, going to Sinai wouldn't have been a good idea. Now, it's much more realistic. There's no reason not to go. I went to Sinai before I did my army service, but haven't been back since. The atmosphere there is easy-going. You get away from the noise, the politics, the mess.

"Is peace about to break out? It's still quite early. The Oslo accords created hope and didn't get anywhere. But [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is a confident leader. He can command a majority in the Knesset for concessions, something a left-wing leader couldn't do. We have reason to be a bit more optimistic. Every step in the direction of peace influences our daily lives, but it's only a beginning.

"You always have to make plans and look ahead, even in rough times. When there are bombings, young people think of leaving the country, but even then you plan for the future. If things do start to move towards peace - with two states living side by side - I would certainly feel that there's more of a future for me here. It would be a great step for both peoples. It would make me feel a lot more confident living here without fear.

"A lot of people won't be able to forgive and forget - on both sides. It's not going to be easy, but still, it's the only way."


Inaya Nusseibeh, 15, often escorts her father to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where he has a prestigious post as keyholder for the church. Wajih Nusseibeh inherited this post from his father, and his son will take over from him. The post was first given to his family by Saladin about 800 years ago

"On my way to the church, I see Israeli border police stopping young men from the West Bank, students and workers who try to sneak into Jerusalem. They line them against the wall, and they beat them up. I feel very angry, but I cannot help them.

"Most private schools in Jerusalem employ teachers from Ramallah and Bethlehem because they accept low salaries, while teachers from Jerusalem prefer to work in the schools administered by Israel. The Arabic language teacher always comes late. She lives behind the checkpoint. She has to go through back ways to avoid the soldiers. She is always nervous. Once she saw a man dying. The soldiers at the checkpoint noticed that some people went through the field to avoid them. They shouted at a young man to stop. He ran away. They shot him. He was hit in the head and died. This happened four months ago.

"My life is a routine. I go to school in the morning. I return home. I eat and prepare my homework, watch TV and go to bed.

"When I leave school I want to be a lawyer because I want to defend the people. Both sides should stop their attacks because they are killing innocents. My father says that I should not watch the horrible pictures on TV any more because it gives me such bad nightmares. But the road-map is a lie. It makes no sense."


Niki Serri, 31, is a student of computer technology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"If the Ariel Sharon of four years ago met today's version, they would probably exchange blows. I hold him responsible for instigating the intifada- he put the match to combustible materials - and now he has to extinguish the flames. He's feeling the responsibility of being prime minister, and has realised that he can no longer be so extreme in his views. It's his decision - so he can't blame anyone else. He has to be the peacemaker between the right- and left-wing extremes of Israeli society. If it's coming from him, I can afford to be optimistic. He's had to swallow all his declarations of the past and eat his words. Things are looking up right now.

"And I do believe that some of the Palestinians are going to try to stop the terror. There always going to be those who want to perpetuate the situation on both sides. The terror just justifies rightists' desire to kill all the Arabs.

"I am cautiously optimistic - but if this road-map measure doesn't succeed, we will keep on trying. Cultures so foreign to each other can't simply melt together, but sooner or later, it will happen - or we'll all self-destruct."


Adham Atiya, 17, from Jerusalem, went on a summer camp in Maine, United States, with the Seeds of Peace organisation

"We were four in a room, one Egyptian, one Israeli, one Jordanian and me. We played football. We talked. We danced our folkloric Dabkeh dance. The camp organisers told us that we were not allowed our symbols. We could not sing our national anthem, and the Israelis were prohibited from singing theirs.

"I met Tayir from Haifa, an Israeli delegate. In the beginning, we had a hard time. I showed her pictures of people assassinated by the Israeli army. She would not believe it. She cried. She spoke about the suicide bombings and how horrible these were. I spoke of the Jewish settlements in our land. The organisers set the rules. We should respect each other.

"We set our rules, too. We could not accept the word 'terrorist' to describe the Palestinian freedom fighter. They said we should not use bad words to describe the Israeli soldiers. We started to understand each other better. We have not exactly become friends, but we can talk. But I ask myself: if Tayir meets me at a checkpoint, as a reserve soldier, what will she do?

"I do not like violence, but I can understand why it happens. We have been under Israeli occupation for many years. Palestinians want a homeland. I agree that our government is corrupt. But this does not justify the Israeli occupation.

"We are human beings and they are human beings. We have to learn how to live together. My Israeli colleagues believe also in the need to stop building settlements and allow us to have our own independent state. If the road-map is about this, then we should work hard to implement it."


Carmit Partoush, a 23-year-old Yemenite Jew, is a security expert at a digital-information security company and was recently forced to take a 20 per cent wage cut. She lives with her parents in the new town of Modi'in. The family traditionally votes Likud

"I'm more concerned about the economic situation than anything else. This is a terrible time to be in Israel. It's so bad here security-wise and economically. Unemployment is rising and there's little hope of finding a good job. Many of my friends have already left for Europe, the US and Australia in search of work after completing their studies. The intifada must be stopped in order to save our economy. The economic situation was much better two and a half years ago.

"I voted Likud because I saw no better alternative. I feel there's been a major shift in Sharon's thinking, but on a personal level, what the politicians decide is not so important - this is our home and we're staying. I don't want the territories - they are a waste of money, resources and the lives of our soldiers. It's impractical to think that we can control them forever. Three years ago, the Labour prime minister, Ehud Barak, tried to give the Palestinians 78 per cent of the land, but they didn't want it.

"I hope Sharon will succeed. He is one of the people without whom we would not be here. I continue to support him. Maybe he knows something we don't. He has so much life experience, so he must be doing the right thing. He's grown over the years - he knows more and is more balanced."


Safa Abdo, 17, from Jerusalem

"I am not certain whether I can go to Birzeit University [in the West Bank]. During the days, when the West Bank is sealed off, students cannot attend their classes. I feel that it is difficult for me to have a good future."

I think the road-map is only a bluff. I do not trust Ariel Sharon. I do not trust our president. I do not trust Abu Mazen [the Palestinian Prime Minister, whose official name is Mahmoud Abbas]. Sharon wants him to start a civil war with Hamas. Arafat does not care about the Palestinian people. He takes orders from [the Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak. He does not look like a statesman. I do not like him.

"I respect Marwan Barghouti [a Fatah leader jailed for sponsoring military attacks against Israel], because he fought the Israeli occupation. I will not accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. All Palestine from the sea to the River Jordan is ours. We are going to liberate all Palestine sooner or later, even if it takes us a hundred years. Palestine is our land. Haifa and Jaffa are Palestinian cities. We cannot erase them from our dream."*


Assaf Halevy, a 21-year-old Hebrew University physics student, completed his army service a year ago, and parades in weekly Peace Now demonstrations outside Ariel Sharon's Jerusalem residence

"I was astonished when I heard on television that the prime minister had broken a taboo and admitted that Israel was 'occupying' 3.5 million Palestinians.

"I told my father I couldn't believe a word he's saying. I want Israel to give back the territories to give us a chance of peace. The problem is that I'm not convinced. One week, he says one thing, the next week, he says the opposite. My father said we have to be optimistic, but I can't see it happening with Sharon and this government. The right-wing parties don't want to give the peace process a chance. They are waiting to say, 'I told you so'. We have 200,000 settlers, and they have the power to control the fate of six million Israelis.

"But I'm frustrated that Yasser Arafat still calls the shots as Palestinian president, and with Abu Mazen. Arafat insists on making demands that he knows can't be met. Why does he keep demanding a right of return for the Palestinian refugees to their old homes in Israel? We can live with most of what the Palestinians want, but Arafat must know that even if he lives for a million years, some things are impossible.

"I want to trust Abu Mazen. But I have a big, big problem with a book that he wrote in which he denies that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Just hearing that makes me so angry. Can he tame the terrorists, as the international road-map for peace demands? He has to be a leader. He has to know how to talk to his people. I believe he wants to control Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but he can't do it. I think it's up to us, not the Palestinian side.

"I believe it is possible to reverse the hatred that was stoked by the intifada. Maybe it will be harder for the Palestinians. I understand why they hate us. The economy is hard for Israelis, but we are surviving. The Palestinians aren't. But when peace comes, the entire world will be investing here, the tourists will come back. That will make things better for both of us.

"People from the right say all Arabs are the same, you can't trust them. But experience with Egypt and Jordan shows they can keep their word. I know some Palestinians want to come back here, but they will have to live with the fact that they can't return. But they will have a chance for a good life in their own country. We have to give it a chance. We have no other option."


Hasan Hamoudeh, 16, lives in Qubeibeh, a West Bank village close to Jerusalem. He studies computers at Al-Quds Open University at the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem

"I go to the university campus three days a week. I and two other students from the village have to avoid three checkpoints. We use six vans that take us through long back ways. Before the uprising, the trip took us only 15 minutes. Now it takes 90 minutes. Passengers used to take only one vehicle and pay 7 shekels (about £1) for the trip. Now I pay 40 shekels.

"When I arrive at the main Ramallah-Jerusalem road, I have to walk a long distance. Jerusalem taxi-drivers cannot carry anyone who has a West Bank identity card. The police seize the cars and revoke the driving licence for a month. I do not feel safe. I might be shot trying to bypass a roadblock.

"My cousin, Dia Hamoudeh, who lives in East Jerusalem, is no better off. He was trying to help wounded people shot by Israeli border police after a Friday prayer inside the al-Aqsa mosque two years ago. My cousin told me that the border police beat him and broke his left leg. He failed at school. He works in a fish shop in a market in West Jerusalem where several suicide bombings took place.

"He said to me, 'As I wash the floor, and sell fish to customers, I think about suicide bombings. I think about occupation. I think about Arab governments. I think about the world. Israel is not going to give us a state, through negotiation. The resistance should continue'."


Emy Akbali, 23, is from the Israeli commuter town of Ra'anana, north-east of Tel Aviv, and is married with a 10-month-old baby. She voted for the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party in the January Knesset elections

"I don't agree with giving back lands. The moment we withdraw, the terrorists will fill in the spaces. It's our country, not theirs!

"I want to have a big family in a big country. Sharon's policy change has not affected the way my husband and I think. In fact, our views are sharper than ever. We're against the Palestinians. The war in Iraq didn't change anything, except for Ariel Sharon, perhaps, which I don't like but I'm reconciled to it.

Sharon is under pressure from the Americans - he has no choice but to make such declarations. If the pressure continues, I believe that he will capitulate. I just hope that he will not divide Jerusalem.

"It could be that he's capable of dismantling the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, but if he does, it will be a great disaster for Israel. If he thinks it will stop the terror attacks, he'll do it.

"He's supposed to be representing those who elected him, but he's doing the opposite. Such an issue should be put before a national referendum to see whether the people agree. In the meantime, opposition to Bush's road-map is bound to grow."


Ala'a al Agha, 23, a student of law, from Khan Yunis, works as an assistant to the Palestinian prosecutor in Nablus

"Israel has destroyed most of the police stations and Palestinian Authority headquarters in West Bank cities, so we use abandoned apartments and stores. We rent buildings. We use them as courts and police stations. In a single room, you might see three judges, five policemen, two clerks and one or two secretaries. It is not a great atmosphere, but we are functioning. We keep hundreds of criminals in apartments under our control.

"The road-map has given us a lot of hope. We are ready for the next phase, but I do not think that the situation will be quickly improved. Israel might withdraw from the West Bank. But they will keep their control of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and West Bank. They will keep their control of the borders with Egypt and Jordan. Our sovereignty will be incomplete. We have no other choice.

"Abu Mazen will succeed in controlling Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He will not allow the continuation of the suicide bombings. He will use force if his diplomatic efforts fail. But if Israel continues its incursions, it will be difficult for him to achieve his goal. I am not pessimistic. I believe things will work in the end. A Palestinian state will be established. But the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. There will be no corruption. The state will be monitored by Europe, the US and Israel. There will be a lot of improvements."


Salim Ma'ari, 27, is a minibus driver from the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Ara. He lived for six years in Tel Aviv, and knows his Jewish neighbours well

"The whole village is talking about the cabinet decision. Inshallah [God willing], let's give Sharon a chance. But can we trust him? What happened this week surprised me. Sharon's decision will affect the way that all Israelis think about the Palestinians. Suddenly, there's room for optimism. My Arab and peace-loving Jewish friends are happy, but we're suspicious because it's Ariel Sharon we're talking about - the same Sharon whose hands are stained with Arab blood.

"How could he use a word such as 'occupation'? It doesn't seem right. He's always been a murderer, and now, suddenly, in his old age, he's talking about peace. Where's the Sharon who demanded seven days of no hostilities before talking peace, and refused to hold negotiations under fire? Something inside him has broken in the face of Palestinian violence.

"Can Sharon deliver? We want it to happen. The fear is that it's just a trick to get out of the economic crisis. For now, he's talking about a Palestinian state, albeit a state in quotes - but we'll give him a chance. As prime minister, he's acting in Israel's interests. If the situation is not good for the Palestinians, it's not good for Israelis, either. He has understood that - to my great sorrow, only after gallons of blood have been shed. He's a hard man, and he's sitting in a government of extremists, yet he's the only one capable of pulling the settlers out of the territories.

"I don't want to look for who's right or wrong. I just want my people to be free. I hope Abu Mazen will put a lid on the Palestinian extremists, but, ultimately, peace depends on Sharon and Hamas. Abu Mazen is just a conduit."

Additional reporting by Daniel Ben-Tal