To go from
that place to the home of the suicide bomber in Jenin, 30 miles
away up in the stony hills of the West Bank, is, many might say,
to travel into the heart of darkness, to dignify the killing by
seeking some comprehension of an outrage that deserves no understanding.
This, at least, has been the common experience of Western reporters,
who have come to expect the angry e-mails of the many who believe
the evil done is such that any article about the real or perceived
miseries that helped drive the killers to the killing is, in itself,
a form of exoneration.
brutal, barbaric human being wanted, you have given her," one reader
of The New
York Times wrote in a letter to the newspaper's editors about
this reporter's account of interviews with the family of Hanadi
Jaradat, the 27-year-old apprentice lawyer who carried out the restaurant
attack. "She wanted notoriety, and your actions not only aided her
in her quest but by featuring her life and family you are an active
participant in encouraging more barbaric men to send more young
people to slaughter innocent civilians."
He added: "You
need to highlight the horror, the waste. The name of the terrorist
and her background should never be mentioned so as not to encourage
the next youth who wants to achieve what his or her warped mind
sees as immortality."
offered a different perspective. One man who sent an e-mail to this
reporter saw the value of putting the Haifa attack into "context"
with an account that chronicled the Jaradat family's experiences
during the intifada and Israel's response — the father's loss of
his job in Haifa when Israel blocked 300,000 Palestinians from working
inside Israel; the 23-year-old son shot dead by Israeli troops hunting
down Islamic Jihad militants as he drank coffee under a tree outside
the family home one morning this past June; the refusal by the Israeli
military to allow the father to go to the Ramban hospital in Haifa
for treatment of a debilitating liver disease; the bomber's nightmares
in the weeks before the end, as described by her mother.
in the Holy Land these days is to be pitched into a miasma of mutual
political recriminations, of action and reprisal, of a spiral of
mutual dehumanization and cruelty, of violence and counterviolence,
all to a point that sanity and compassion seem at risk of being
lost. Yet traveling around Israel and the West Bank, there is every
day the feeling that little of this proceeds from what ordinary
people on both sides believe or want. It is as if many of the nine
million people directly involved in the conflict, Jew and Arab,
Israeli and Palestinian, are trapped in a moral and political maze
that assures deepening misery for both, as if they are bound to
a journey without comprehensible purpose, without expectable end.
To listen to
the most powerful politicians on both sides is to get a different
view, one that is commonly infused with warnings about fresh reprisals,
of terms like "enough is enough," a sort of doomsday lexicon that
seems to narrow the future, not open it up. But out where the miseries
are felt most keenly, among people trying somehow to build lives
that resemble the normality they knew before, the mood is different.
there is still a wealth of kindness, of unstrained courtesy, of
consideration for the other that transcends the historical divide.
In this, a visitor may think, as much as in any road map for peace
drawn up in distant capitals, there is surely the hope that one
day the killing and the indignities will yield to a common life,
if in separate Israeli and Palestinian states.
example, the scene a few days after the bombing along the route
of Israel's new 370-mile security barrier, which failed to prevent
the Haifa bomber from passing through an Israeli checkpoint. Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's government reacted by ordering an indefinite
closure of all entry points to Palestinians along the 90 miles of
fence so far completed.
children were prevented from reaching school, and farmers barred
from their greenhouses, orchards and olive groves. Protests sprang
up all along the fence. But Israeli soldiers sent down the road
that runs beside the fence to disperse the protesters and arrest
some of them seemed to an outsider's eye to be almost apologetic,
even as they acted against the protesters.
many of them — young men and women on reserve duty or call-up —
they appeared, at least in the presence of reporters, to act with
reluctance. Did this mean they opposed the building of a permanent
barrier between Israelis and Palestinians, much of it on land that
runs well inside the West Bank, alienating Palestinians from lands
that fell under Israeli occupation in 1967? The soldiers didn't
say. A visitor could only wonder.
And what of
Ramallah, the West Bank city that is Yasir Arafat's headquarters?
After the Haifa bombing, and the Israeli air attacks on terrorist
camps in Syria that followed within 24 hours, a visitor indistinguishable
in his car from many Israelis could still drive down Rubak Street
in the city center, park a vehicle with Israeli license plates in
plain view on the street, and go for dinner in one of Ramallah's
favorite meat-on-a-spit restaurants. Far from recrimination, or
anything that occasioned fear, Palestinians in the restaurant reached
their hands out in friendship and spoke, those who had any English,
of their yearning for peace. "Bombing not good, bombing not good,"
a young man said, offering a cigarette. Haifa or Syria? the visitor
asked. "Haifa and Syria," he said.
In the week
after the Haifa attack, with right-wing newspapers in Israel calling
still for the arrest, deportation or killing of Mr. Arafat, and
political voices among militants in the West Bank answering in kind,
it was the same almost everywhere. In the streets of Jenin, at night,
a Westerner passing by in an armored Land Rover uncomfortably similar
to the ones used by some Israeli intelligence units, with its wind-and-weather
torn "TV" signs barely visible on the sides, drew cheery waves from
unquestioning young men gathered under street lamps, the generation
from which Islamic Jihad recruits the suicide bombers. At Mr. Arafat's
Ramallah headquarters, Israeli reporters mingled freely with others.
In Israeli homes, if not among West Bank settlers, families spoke
wistfully of their exhaustion with the violence, with even the many
who endorsed the latest Israeli attacks saying they wished fervently
that a way could be found to end the cycle, return the Palestinian
lands and move forward along the path to peace.
would have been the same at any time in the decades of conflict
here. Perhaps, after all, it is the politicians and their formulas
that matter, not the common person's voice, at least as expressed
to an outsider judged eager to hear expressions of good will.
Still, at a
time when all plans for peace seem to be in ruins, when each new
day is at risk of being punctuated by new suicide bombings and new
reprisals by Israeli helicopters and tanks, the experience on the
streets of Israeli cities and the dusty byways of Palestinian towns
cannot mean nothing. At society's foundations, among Israelis and
Palestinians, the possibilities for peace, however improbably, seem
yet to be within grasp.