Territories are quiet under curfew, but Palestinians' resentment grows WAR IN THE GULF

January 28, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

ER-RAM, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- "Look at this," offered Fadwa, a 34-year-old mother, presenting a crayon drawing by her son.

The colorful picture in a 9-year-old's style showed triumphant stick figures carrying Iraqi flags firing bullets at Israeli stick figures. Another figure lying prone was covered with the flag of Palestine -- "a martyr," said his mother.

"This is his childhood life," she said.

While most Israelis have resumed some routine of life -- though still wary of Iraqi missiles -- 1.7 million Palestinians remained confined to their homes for the 11th straight day.

The curfew on the West Bank and Gaza Strip was the strictest many could remember. Even boys who normally dart from doorway to doorway in a curfew stayed inside.

Fadwa was worried about her son. He had a sore throat and fever and stayed huddled under a blanket. If he needed a doctor or medicine, she said, they could not go for either.

Even if the mother bundled her sick child and argued with the soldiers, she would be turned back "and I could be beaten," she said matter-of-factly. "We are prisoners here."

Israel has tightened its grip on Palestinian towns for fear of an uprising during the gulf war. So far it has worked. There have been almost no demonstrations, nothing to challenge the supremacy of the soldiers who cruise the dusty streets in jeeps enclosed with wire mesh.

There is a cost to this clampdown. Shuttered from normal life, the Palestinians feel like inmates, and their resentments grow.

In her home behind roadblocks intended to seal off the West Bank, Fadwa and her family talked about their life under curfew. It might explain, she said, why so many Palestinians feel like war victims and side with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The war was announced to her town at 3 a.m. Jan. 17 when an army jeep drove through the streets. All people were confined to their homes, the soldier said, effective immediately.

Fadwa and her family heard it together. Her husband's sister and parents, and Fadwa's four children, were sleeping together in one room sealed from a gas attack. Nine of them were there.

Their home is comfortable. It is an attractive stone middle-class home built two decades ago by the parents.

When the curfew began, they had no immediate needs.

"It is our tradition to keep a lot of food," said Aida, Fadwa's sister-in-law.

Fadwa is an administrator in the school system organized by Palestinians. Aida teaches in one of the schools: Arabic, science and home economics. Fadwa's husband was headwaiter in a restaurant, but with tourists gone, he now is working for a union to try to win working rights for Palestinian restaurant workers.

Confinement soon begins to suffocate, the family said.

"I feel like a bird in a cage," Fadwa said. "Yesterday I was very, very nervous. I don't know why. I just felt something caught in my throat all day."

"We don't feel like human beings," Aida said. "All of our activities are limited. We can't meet with each other. We have nothing to do. We are afraid to even speak openly."

Soon small emergencies arose. Fadwa's father-in-law, a diabetic, thought he had run out of insulin, but "he didn't tell us. He didn't want us to worry." They found some.

The telephone is vital. Aida waited seven years for approval to get it. Most homes on the West Bank do not have one. And the lines are often dead. House-to-house communication over backyard stone fences is amazingly fast.

Once Er-Ram had many farmers, but the curfews and Israeli restrictions ended that, she said. A Palestinian must get a permit to plant a single olive tree.

Because of the curfew and Christmas vacation for this Christian family, her children have been to classes only one day so far this year.

Her two daughters, Maie, 14, and Reem, 12, are ponytailed, pretty and self-conscious. Both were poring over mathematics books.

"I don't want to stay at home," Maie said in precise English. "I want to go back to school to be well-educated." She misses her schoolmates.

On the bed by the girls was an imposing, 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a medieval castle scene. It was half-finished.

Although it is unlikely Iraq would aim a missile at the West Bank, the family sleeps together on mattresses jammed into a sealed room, for fear an errant poison gas rocket will land. They take turns staying awake all night to listen for the air raid siren.

The elder of the family, Saliba, 76, worked for 41 years as an agricultural inspector and watched his home pass from British mandate to Jordan to Israeli-occupied territory.

"This curfew is terrible," he complained. "All the time sitting. We can't go out to speak to neighbors. I can't go out in my garden. All you can do is sit around the house."

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