Arab uprising has brought pride, hope and terror


December 09, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- It started with a traffic accident five years ago today. An Israeli truck struck a station wagon in Gaza, killing four Palestinians, and the uprising was on.

Intifada, the Arabic word for uprising, was like the conflict itself. The word became a familiar, wearying, daily companion. Like so much here, it rings differently in the ears of the two sides.

To most Israelis, it is an alarm bell of low-grade terrorism, warning of a hail of rocks, a flash of a knife blade. The intifada has penned Israelis into old boundaries, tarnished the proud shine of their young country and gotten them accustomed to looking in fear over their shoulders.

To most Palestinians, it is the klaxon of national pride. It is something they are doing for themselves after so many disappointing years of relying on others.

Yusef Abu Sharkh knows the cost of the intifada. He is a construction worker. He leaves his house in the Gaza Strip at 2:30 every morning to travel 120 miles to work for an Israeli company in Nazareth so that he can feed his seven children.

This month, while he was at work, his neighborhood witnessed a multiplication of funerals. When 25-year-old Ahmed al-Husari was killed in a clash with Israelis, the gathering at his funeral brought another clash, which killed Amir Sharkh, 12, and his funeral brought another clash, which killed Khalid al-Ustaz, 19.

The youngest victim was Yusef's son. The boy was walking in the market with his mother, holding a plate for breakfast, when he was shot in the neck and head. Yusef learned about it when he got home late that night.

"The army just started shooting," he said. "As long as there is an occupation, there will be killings like this, and killers."

Elat Usher knows the cost of the intifada. She is a schoolteacher in a small Israeli farming community along the Jordan Valley called Moshav Beqaot. She and her husband, Abraham, moved there 16 years ago for the rural life.

On a Friday last year, Abraham went early to start the irrigation pumps in the date grove so that he could return to take the family dog to the veterinarian. With him was a Palestinian worker, a man known and trusted in the community.

According to later accounts, the man took money from a radical Palestinian group to kill an Israeli. Abraham Usher, 39, was stabbed to death as he leaned into his car to get a tool.

"What did killing this farmer in the fields achieve? Nothing," said his widow, who has two children.

The sides are assuredly unequal. In the five years of the intifada, 923 Palestinians and 111 Israelis have died. For most of those years, the Israelis have been armed with automatic weapons and the Palestinians with rocks.

When the intifada began, it was swept along by huge crowds flushed with the hope that their sheer numbers would turn out the occupiers. For 20 years, Israel had strangled the West Bank and Gaza Strip with ambivalence, unable to embrace 2 million Arab residents as citizens in a larger Israel, but also unwilling to let them go.

The intifada has failed to win the Palestinians freedom. But, like a blowfish that inflates itself with poisonous spines, the uprising 00 has made the territories impossible for Israel to swallow.

"The intifada has helped us Israelis understand that there is not any chance for a real, just peace unless we recognize the Green Line," said Tamar Gozansky, a member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. That line marked the borders of Israel before its armies swept into the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war.

For 15 years, the right-wing Likud government printed maps that did not show the Green Line and poured money into new settlements in the occupied territories in a bid to make those lands Jewish.

The settlers who shared that biblical vision claim success: The intifada prompted a "Zionist reflex," the settlers said this week, and the number of Jewish residents in the territories doubled to nearly 120,000.

But their victory cry is hollow. Palestinians did not retreat in the face of Jewish settlements, as some Israelis expected. They stayed, and their birthrate has ensured that the West Bank and Gaza are inexorably Arab. Settlers make up 6 percent of the population.

But stalemate has turned the intifada all the more sour. The enthusiastic crowds have dwindled.

As the demonstrations waned, a deepened frustration propelled some to worse violence. Shooting incidents in the occupied territories have accelerated steadily, according to the Israeli army, from 38 in the first year of the intifada to 344 in 1992.

Only some of those shots are aimed at Israelis. With no laws, courts or police of their own, Palestinians have turned on themselves to enforce allegiance. Killings of alleged Palestinian "collaborators" by other Palestinians outnumber deaths at the hands of the Israelis.

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