ISRAEL-OCCUPIED GAZA STRIP — ISRAELI-OCCUPIED GAZA STRIP -- This is a place of infinite misery.
Even the land seems to give up hope as it passes under the gun barrels of wary soldiers at the gate: The lush farmland surrenders to dust that grows only poverty and despair.
Violence, however, flourishes.
Four persons were killed and an estimated 70 others wounded Wednesday when an Israeli military patrol chased a car from a observation post that had been hit by a grenade into a crowded Arab market. Met with a rain of stones and firebombs, the soldiers answered with automatic weapons.
The shooting, the deadliest in a year, prompted widespread demonstrations Thursday, and another 28 Palestinians were injured.
Yesterday, three more Arab deaths were recorded, this time apparently at the hands of Palestinians. The victims were suspected of cooperating with Israelis.
A quick end to this violence is unlikely: "I saw my friend die before my eyes. I saw others die. I want to do something to the occupiers for my friends," said 19-year-old Mohammed.
The simmering desperation of the Gaza Strip, a patch 5 miles wide and 28 miles long that contains 750,000 people, boils hottest in the eight refugee camps within the strip.
A generation born in the camps is now veteran of skirmishes with soldiers. Most families say they have at least one son who has been arrested, injured or killed.
The shooting Wednesday was in the Rafah camp, which sits on the border with Egypt at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. It is less controlled than most camps: Israelis call it "lawless"; Palestinians call it "independent."
Armed Palestinians hold defiant marches in the open there. The Black Panthers, a feared group dedicated to the murder of both Israelis and Palestinian collaborators, is particularly strong.
The camp was placed under strict curfew after the incident. "When it is lifted, there will be hell in Rafah," said Mohammed. "We were an easy target for them this time. We will have revenge."
The shooting prompted protests from the Palestine Liberation Organization and United Nations agencies that work in Gaza.
An official of the Israeli Defense Forces was quoted here saying that an inquiry had cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing.
"It's very difficult to achieve anything," said a 20- year-old who called himself Yasser, in the Jabalya refugee camp.
He is a faithful soldier in the intifada, or uprising, he said, but "we can't expect anything until this occupation is over."
Like others in the Gaza Strip, he declined to give his full name for fear of identification by authorities. He spoke while sitting on the floor of a bare concrete room in the Jabalya refugee camp.
The camp is a squalid collection of crowded homes made of cinder blocks and tin sheets. Sewage trickles down the dusty streets, where battered cars and donkey carts weave around a multitude of children.
Revolutionary slogans are painted on every wall. The walls are whitewashed regularly on orders from the Israeli soldiers, and repainted with slogans at night. The charred remains of tires and barricades of rocks give the place a tired look of war.
There are an estimated 80,000 people living in an area smaller than one square mile in Jabalya, an urban density said to be among the highest in the world. The poverty is enforced: There is little industry here, schools are periodically closed and those with jobs outside the Gaza Strip are routinely kept from work by curfews.
Many families are dependent on food and charity from the United Nations relief organizations.
"What can I do? I want to go to college, but the university is closed. I cannot go abroad. I can't get a pass to work outside," said Wa'el, 17. He said he has already served eight months in prison and been shot in the groin in a demonstration.
Ironically, the violence of the past week brought a brief return to the mass protests that have largely dwindled during the Arab-Israeli peace talks.
"People were waiting to see if something comes out of the peace talks," said a man in the Shati refugee camp.
But even in Rafah there had been comparative quiet before this week, in hopes that the peace talks will succeed where the intifada has not.
"We only stopped the armed struggle during the peace talks," said Mohammed. "If there are not positive results, there will be a violent reaction that will be unbelievable."