Mideast pullback irks neighboring towns

July 06, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

QALQILYA, Occupied West Bank -- The impending Israeli withdrawal from this West Bank town means the army post will move from one side of the street to the other.

It is too short a move for the Palestinians of Qalqilya. And it is too far for the Israelis of Kfar Saba, the neighboring town.

"When the army goes, there will be nothing to stop the Arabs from coming over here in terrorist attacks," says Anat, 27, pushing a baby cart in the market of Kfar Saba.

"This will never do us any good because everything the Jews do is for their own benefit," replies Zaher, 34, selling watermelons in the market of Qalqilya. Neither would give a full name.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders say they will sign an agreement July 25 for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from major West Bank towns, after 28 years of military occupation.

But it is not so simple. Towns such as Qalqilya and Kfar Saba, 12 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, stand shoulder-to-shoulder. If the army steps out of one town it virtually steps into the other.

Negotiators studying the West Bank see a stew of Jewish and Palestinian towns that would be difficult to separate. Just to drive here is a test with political clues. One town has a minaret, so it must be Muslim. Another town has red tile roofs, a sign of a Jewish settlement. A checkpoint here means the start of the West Bank -- no road sign marks the border. A donkey cart there suggests a Palestinian farm; Asian field workers mean it is Israeli.

Officials say they will divide the West Bank into three or four classifications, with varying degrees of Israeli army control in each. Israeli troops are to pull out of Palestinian cities, stay in Jewish settlements, and probably will patrol villages and open spaces jointly with Palestinian police.

In Qalqilya, a Palestinian town of 45,000, residents expect that the Israeli military patrols will no longer go through the center of town.

As in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, the pullback would be a relief for the young men of both sides. No longer would nervous Israeli soldiers face a rain of stones. And no longer would Palestinian youths be stopped by men in jeeps bristling with guns, and searched, shoved and arrested at will.

"Just yesterday the soldiers stopped me on the street and beat me up," says Izadine Jabran, 20, a Palestinian sporting a bruised cheek and a bandage on his ankle. He displayed his identity card, ripped to pieces. "They tore it up."

But because Kfar Saba is so close, the Israeli withdrawal from Qalqilya will be only to the municipal boundaries -- to an army post just across a street.

That is no relief to the people of Kfar Saba, a town of 80,000 in Israel but almost on the border of the West Bank. They fear that the lack of army patrols inside Qalqilya will give radical Palestinians a base from which to launch attacks.

"I don't trust the Arabs," says Haim Friedman, 76. "In all my dealings with them, they always lied. It may be good for the soldiers to get out of there, but I feel my personal safety will be endangered."

The mayor of Kfar Saba shakes his head wearily. Yitzhak Wald says he tried for many years to establish cordial relations with the neighboring Palestinian town. Those fragile ties were abruptly cut when the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, began in 1987.

"Maybe that's why the mayor of Qalqilya has to have a bodyguard now," he muses. Indeed, the Israeli-appointed mayor there, Abdul Rahman Abu-Sneineh, is considered by Palestinians to be a collaborator. He has moved into Israel, and comes into Qalqilya only once a week under heavy guard.

"We have tried all the ways of war in the past, with no results," says Mr. Wald. "We have no choice but to go with peace negotiations."

But to travel the short distance between the two towns is to understand the huge gap such negotiations would try to bridge. To travel that road is to cross to a different age.

Qalqilya is a dusty town that has changed little with the times. Women in traditional dresses carry loads in baskets on their heads. The roads are pitted, the sidewalks covered with a sprawl of cheap goods and old refuse. The town's chief industries are the growing of cucumbers in plastic greenhouses and the making of bricks.

In the absence of the appointed mayor, the head of the local Palestine Liberation Organization office, Ahmad Shreim, receives visitors in a dingy, third-story walk-up office crowded with metal chairs and chain-smoking men. They are members of the Palestinian "preventive security" forces and have little to do until Israeli forces withdraw, Mr. Shreim says.

Mr. Shreim spent 21 years in Israeli prisons. He notes flatly: "I carried a gun and fought against Jews."

But "I was the first one in Fatah to give a speech saying we should support the peace process," he says, referring to the largest faction of the PLO. "We're not really satisfied with the agreement, but we support peace."

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