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For Palestinians, “Peace Process” Is A Bitter Joke

September 29, 1996

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ After four deadly days, Jews and Arabs have forced down the lid on Pandora’s Box, but few Palestinians now speak of the ``peace process″ without a sneer or a sigh.

Ibrahim al-Zamareh lost the faith on Saturday afternoon in his comfortable hilltop home when an Israeli soldier’s stray rubber bullet smashed into his wife’s face, less than an inch from her right eye.

Back from the hospital, Insherah Zamareh sank into a couch and grimaced with pain as she listened to her mild-mannered husband, a builder of houses, talk revolution.

``We stopped intifada after seven years because we wanted peace,″ Zamareh, 46, said of the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. ``But if we have to start again, we are ready to go 100 years.″

He glanced at his glowering son-in-law, a Palestinian soldier in a Toronto Blue Jays T-shirt, and then up at the photo of a son ambushed and killed last year by extremist Jewish settlers.

``We believed in this process,″ he said. ``We put flowers in our gun barrels and forgot all of our martyrs. Then this (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu came and damaged it all.″

The spark that inflamed the Holy Land was a new access to the Wailing Wall through a tunnel along the base of a revered mosque. But such smaller issues as Insherah Zamareh’s eye are the tinder.

Now only Israeli force and energetic efforts by Yasser Arafat’s police are holding back a fresh explosion throughout territory that by now is supposed to be tranquil under Palestinian control.

Hours before Insherah was shot, Palestinian troops in Ramallah turned back 1,500 shouting Bir Zeit University students intent on storming an Israeli checkpoint.

By loudspeaker, a police official swore solidarity but begged for calm, warning that a careless stone could trigger a massacre. The Israelis, he said, had heavy artillery and helicopter gunships.

But with Israel and the West Bank separated only by invisible borders, with Jewish settlements peppered throughout Arab lands, conflict is always possible.

As Zamareh tells it, Insherah was simply looking out the window at three armored cars stopped on the road far below. Several of about 20 soldiers began firing at random, apparently for the hell of it.

It is clear why Israeli patrols are nervous. After initial rounds of familiar stone-throwing last week, troops came under fire from Palestinian police with whom they had until recently conducted joint patrols.

Up in Jerusalem, posters exhort: ``Visit Hebron! Touch the very foundations of Jewish history. Commune with our forefathers and our national roots.″ It is not very good advice.

Hebron, with 94,000 inhabitants, is the last Palestinian city still occupied by Israeli forces. At its outskirts, several thousand Jews live in the militantly conservative settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Normally tense, Hebron was patrolled heavily when Israelis and Palestinians began fighting last Wednesday. After more stones were thrown early Sunday, a total curfew cleared the streets.

``What can they expect but trouble?″ asked Hassan Abu Zalata, 29, married to Zamareh’s daughter. ``If there is not peace, there will be killing.″

His sentiments were echoed down the hill, where youngsters waited with rocks and iron bars to rain on passing Israeli cars. Milling youths declared themselves part of Hebron’s liberation army.

``We have no jobs, no money from the Palestinian authority, no future, no anything,″ said Haitham Karaja, tracing circles in the dirt with a sandaled foot. ``We’ve nothing to do but throw stones.″

Karaja decided against using his Bethlehem University chemistry degree for making bombs, like some of his friends do. Violence is not the answer, he said, but he does not know what is.

Feelings are similar throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Najeh Ghanimah, a matronly English teacher in Ramallah, watched the Bir Zeit students decide reluctantly not to face bullets with stones, especially if they first had to overwhelm their own police.

``They will come back again,″ she said, shaking her head sadly. ``When these kids see their friends killed, do you think they will stop? I don’t think so.″

Like the Zamarehs, she rejoiced when Arafat talked peace with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, since slain, and she held out high hopes. Now, she fears peace may be an impossible dream.

``We have killing, not peace,″ she said. ``You cannot have both at once. It is not enough for our people to hear about peace, to smell it. We must see it. The Israelis are showing the opposite.″

Netanyahu insists that he is committed to the process he inherited. Israel has every sovereign and spiritual right to open the tunnel, he said. If Palestinians disturb the peace, he must respond.

Clashes that killed 57 Palestinians have also taken 14 Israeli lives. Among a Jewish population with mixed feelings toward Arabs in their midst, there is bitterness and confusion.

Like the Palestinians, Israeli forces are going to extremes to avoid conflict. Checkpoints scattered throughout Arab territory look for signs of potential trouble.

Although many Israelis attribute the new tension to hard-line agitators, Palestinians see it differently. For most, the tunnel entrance is an affront to their rights in Jerusalem and a serious threat: Jewish terrorists might plant enough explosives in the passageway to bring down Al Aqsa mosque.

And now after the violence, the tunnel has receded as the issue.

``We want what was promised to us, what we expected,″ Zamareh said in Hebron. ``We will have Palestinian control in our own land. If we cannot get this by peace, we will get it anyway we can.″

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