In Gaza Refugee Camp, Residents Talk of Peace Or Struggle Amid Squalor
GAZA CITY, Occupied Gaza Strip (AP) _ Ibrahim Ahmad Taleb has fought in three wars against Israel, and his sons have been wounded and jailed in the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule.
Yet Taleb says he is ready for peace, and prepared to accept new offers of autonomy made by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
″We lost the homeland,″ he said. ″My sons have hard lives. Forty times the army broke onto our home, we have paid a dear price.
″Peace is banging on our door,″ he said. ″We do not want to lose the chance.″
Not everyone agrees. Supporters of the Muslim fundamentalist movement Hamas want to continue the struggle until an Islamic state stands on all of Palestine - including what is now Israel. Differences with the PLO have broken out in armed battles. Taleb, 63, carries a scar on his left shoulder from a bullet he took while defending his village, which was swallowed up with the founding of Israel in 1948. Recently, his 14-year-old son Awni was shot in the forehead with a rubber bullet in a clash with Israeli soldiers.
A resident of the Shati refugee camp, where 50,000 Palestinians are crammed into tiny houses on a dusty strip between Gaza City and the Mediterranean Sea, Taleb is tired of the Palestinians’ 44-year-old struggle against the Jewish state.
Many in Shati are unemployed. Young men spend the hot, sticky days playing soccer and organizing gangs in the Palestinian intefadeh, the uprising against Israeli occupation that has dragged on for 4 1/2 years. Children as young as seven are ready to throw stones at any stranger.
But amid the monotony, the uncollected garbage and the open sewers along the narrow camp walkways, the Palestinians of Shati are debating the prospects of peace with Israel.
″The peace talks are like the breeze blowing from the sea,″ said Deeb Sukar, musing about the U.S.-backed negotiations that Palestinians and Arab nations have been conducting with Israel.
Sukar, 33, is a supporter of Fatah, the mainstream faction of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. It backs the peace talks.
″I accept autonomy and elections,″ said Sukar, who hopes that new developments will lead to a a Palestinian government that will have limited rule over Gaza and the West Bank until their final status is negotiated.
For Sukar and many other Palestinians, the ultimate goal is an independent state in the occupied territories. Others, however, want all of Palestine, including the land that is now Israel.
″Palestine is ours from river to sea,″ said Sukar’s neighbor, Kamal Dayef, a 54-year-old photographer. ″This is the way, to have more children, to liberate Palestine even after 100 years,″ he said, showing off pictures of his 14 daughters and 11 sons.
Taleb, a fighter who has tired of war, has his own sizeable flock - 11 sons and seven daughters. But the toll the uprising has taken on his sons - a total of seven wounds and six jail terms - has convinced him of the need for a speedy and peaceful resolution of problems with the Jews.
The Taleb family lives in five small rooms. Taleb is disappointed that two children are unemployed and one gave up medical studies in Yugoslavia. Four others have jobs; the rest are too young to work.
Taleb fought in 1948, in the 1956 war when he spent four months in an Israeli prison, and finally in the 1967 Six Day War, when the West Bank and Gaza were captured. He worked collecting scrap metal in both Israel and Gaza until the Palestinian uprising broke out.
He said if Rabin was serious about peace, ″Israel must withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.″ He refuses to abandon the idea that Palestinians have a right to return to their homes in Israel or be compensated for lost land.
Taleb said that in his village of Hamam, destroyed and swallowed up into the Israeli city of Ashdod, 18 miles north of the Gaza Strip, his family had 20 acres planted with grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers and melon.
″I have the scar in body and heart,″ he said, pulling up the sleeve on his white robe to show his war wound.