Advertisement
News

2 casualties of hate split on Mideast talks Arab and Israeli help explain why peace is so elusive

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- The memories crept back reluctantly, uninvited, to Amir Abramson.

After three months the Israeli remembered the Palestinian who rushed from the middle of the bus to grab the steering wheel. After a year he recalled the speeding bus plunging over the cliff, breaking as it tumbled and exploded, passengers thrown from the plummeting carriage.

Advertisement

For Bassam al-Shaka'a, a former Palestinian mayor, the memories always were crystalline, sharp as an assassin's blade: The morning routine . . . starting his car outside his home to go to work . . . depressing the clutch . . . the lightning clap from the blast.

He knew immediately who had set the bomb. He thought, for a moment, he could drive to the hospital, but then he saw he had no legs. He crawled with his hands from his burning car.

Advertisement

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators grope for terms to end the conflict within the framework of peace they signed two years ago, they must talk over the voices from past violence. Those voices cry for redress, for revenge and sometimes for reconciliation.

Mr. Abramson, a Jew, and Mr. Shaka'a, an Arab, both are casualties of the past. Both survived. Both can no longer walk. Both still are keenly interested in the outcome of the political struggle.

But each man deals with his history differently. Mr. Shaka'a is hardened. He rejects the current peace plan as a surrender to the foe. Mr. Abramson is inspired. He pleads for more conciliation.

"It's hard not to hate, because hating comes very easily," says Mr. Abramson. "We and the Palestinians have tried to kill each other for 100 years. Neither was successful. The moment we make peace, both sides will win."

Mr. Shaka'a is not so sure.

'Racist philosophy'

"We cannot live side by side with Zionism," he says. "It is a racist philosophy.

"But if Israelis change so they do not have this philosophy, we can live with them," he concedes.

Advertisement

Mr. Shaka'a was the mayor of Nablus -- and an outspoken supporter of the then-outlawed Palestine Liberation Organization -- when members of the Jewish underground fixed a bomb to his car June 2, 1980. It blew off his legs.

That same day, the group set car bombs for two other Palestinian mayors. Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalif lost a foot, and several schoolchildren were injured. Mayor Ibrahim Tawil, of neighboring El-Bireh, was luckier. After hearing of the other two bombs, Israeli forces went to his home. An Israeli soldier searching for the bomb was blinded when the bomb went off in Mr. Tawil's car.

Twenty-five Jewish settlers and members of the Israeli military eventually were convicted for the Jewish underground plots. Most got light sentences -- imprisonment ranging from a few months to two years. Three were given life terms, but their sentences were reduced to seven years by Israeli President Chaim Herzog.

Mr. Shaka'a remained mayor until 1982, when Israel dismissed 13 troublesome elected municipal councils and mayors who had objected to its continuing military rule over the West Bank and Gaza.

Now 64, Mr. Shaka'a maneuvers about in a wheelchair and occasionally uses artificial legs. He stays in touch by telephone with his family's soap factory and with politics. He does not rule out a bid to regain the mayoral post if there are free municipal elections.

'My heart is relaxed'

Advertisement

He says he does not regret any of his opposition to the Israeli authorities. "My heart is very, very relaxed. I did my duty, and I paid a price. If I had 10 new legs, I would do the same thing."

But he no longer supports Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, nor the 1993 agreement between Mr. Arafat and the Israelis.

"It doesn't address the human rights of Palestinians or the national rights," he says. "The Israelis control everything, and Arafat must do what they want."

Mr. Arafat "destroyed the unity of the Palestinian people," he says. Palestinians should reject the Israeli-PLO agreement and regain the spirit of their struggle. "We are on the right side. The Israelis rule by strength, and that strength cannot last forever."

In his home in Jerusalem, Mr. Abramson has a different view of Mr. Arafat. A framed picture on his bookshelf shows the Palestinian leader with his arm clasped around Mr. Abramson.

"Israelis think I am crazy. They cannot sit and talk quietly with me to understand," says the 38-year-old computer consultant.

Advertisement

Mr. Abramson was on Bus 405 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, returning from a weekend with his parents on July 6, 1989, when a young Palestinian shoved aside the driver and wrenched the bus over a 600-foot ravine.

Seventeen people died. Mr. Abramson underwent 33 operations to sew on his severed arm and leg. He was badly burned, paralyzed for 10 months, and still cannot walk.

"For three weeks I was unconscious. The first moment I woke up, I decided I'm not going to look back. I'm going to look forward. I'm going to win," he says.

'I decided not to hate'

"A person can make an effort to cut between his heart and his brain. I did that," he says. "I decided not to hate, not to want revenge, because I believe if you are hating someone you are wasting your emotional resources. It's not the one you hate that is hurt, it's you."

Mr. Abramson says the bus crash did not alter his previous liberal politics.

Advertisement

If anything, he became more convinced that only peace -- and only an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip -- could prevent further terrorism.

As a victim, he had public visibility. He began speaking out for peace, and in 1992 joined a protest against Israel's deportation of 415 Palestinians to southern Lebanon. He helped found the "Peace Bloc," a group of about 200 activists.

"Most Israelis hate us," he acknowledges. "Most Israelis see only one side of the story -- that the Palestinians try to kill us. But both sides are wrong."

He, too, has quarrels with the mechanics of the current peace negotiations. He thinks Israel ought to allow the Palestinians a state.

Many Israelis dismiss his views, saying he must have been mentally affected by the crash, he says.

"To my own mind, I'm a patriot," he says. "I'm not fighting for the Palestinians. I'm fighting for my country. My people."


Advertisement