Life goes on in Nablus as residents defy curfew

Palestinians go shopping, Israeli soldiers look on


NABLUS, West Bank - This is what a curfew declared by the Israeli army looked like here yesterday: Taxis jammed downtown streets, vendors hawked fruits and vegetables at the central market, and thousands of residents shopped in stores and strolled the sidewalks.

No Israeli soldiers were to be seen, though they staffed checkpoints and kept watch from the mountains surrounding this commercial center, one of seven West Bank cities occupied by Israeli troops for more than a month in an effort to forestall suicide bombings.

An army spokeswoman said yesterday that Nablus was under curfew and that violators were breaking the law. The city's 120,000 residents were supposed to be confined to their homes.

An army spokesman, Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, said, "We are aware of the situation, and we're acting in accordance with our own considerations."

The "situation" is nothing less than the defiant reclaiming of the streets.

"This is a challenge to the occupation forces," said Zafer Badran, 23, at his market stall. "We're not afraid of them. We want to eat."

The process began a few days ago after the Israeli army thinned out its presence downtown, and people running out of food and money furtively began to open stores and buy supplies. Gradually, their numbers grew.

"At first, I was afraid," said Ala Juma, 28, who sold sundries yesterday from a stand. "But when I saw people coming and going, I was encouraged." Juma is one of many shopkeepers who have been reduced to sidewalk peddling by the business-crushing effects of months of Israeli army blockades and incursions.

Because people "just want a normal life," said Mohammed al Bouz, 35, a clothing wholesaler, they "started to ride in their cars and to go downtown, and they encouraged each other to open the shops." He added, "They have no fear now, and they have nothing to lose."

According to other accounts, the city's governor, Mahmoud al-Aloul, and the mainstream Fatah movement urged residents to break the curfew. Aloul described such action as "a way of civic resistance."

On Tuesday, shopkeepers said, a few Israeli jeeps drove down a main street without incident. The soldiers made no move to close the shops, and no stone was thrown at the jeeps.

In fact, the scene downtown yesterday looked like business as usual. Thousands of shoppers filled the narrow alleys of the old city and the fruit and vegetable market, where stands were piled high with summer produce: grapes, watermelons, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Although it seemed unlikely with so many people crowded together, some shoppers said they feared a sudden return of the Israeli soldiers, who have used stun grenades, tear gas and gunfire to clear the streets.

"We're still afraid, but we have to go out to buy what we need," said Izis Malhis, 30, a teacher. "Life has to go on."

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