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Violence hardens attitudes on both sides in conflict

THE BALTIMORE SUN

JERUSALEM - In an upscale Jewish neighborhood of this bitterly disputed capital, two customers in a gourmet wine shop are overheard discussing the best bomb to drop in the Palestinian city of Ramallah where two Israeli soldiers were beaten and knifed to death by an Arab mob last week.

A Palestinian businessman whose tour company escorts Israelis and other visitors to historic sites in the West Bank deplores the mob's methods - he prefers a classic war to win his people's long-delayed rights.

The past two weeks of Israeli-Palestinian conflict have hardened attitudes on both sides to such an extent that it will be difficult for Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to return from tomorrow's Sharm el Sheikh peace summit with any deal their two peoples can trust.

For Palestinians, the turning point came early in what they call the "Battle for Jerusalem," when Israeli troops fired on young rioters with lethally aimed rubber bullets and live ammunition.

For Israelis, it became decisive Thursday, with what many saw as the "subhuman" lynching of two reserve soldiers in a Palestinian police station in Ramallah.

The passions, at once bitter and cruel, have been fed by what each side's media chose to emphasize - in Israel, the orchestrated nature of the battle, with Arafat pulling the strings; and in the Palestinian press and broadcasts, the iron-fisted pummeling by the Israeli war machine and its grade-school casualties.

Adel Yahya mixes regularly with Israelis on a more equal footing than do most Palestinians, whose contact with Israelis is limited to bosses or border guards. Yahya runs the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange, which offers tours of historic and archaeological sites in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians, he says, feel "very, very strong anger and frustration and humiliation."

"There is a very strong will on the part of the people to change the status quo - no matter what the costs or what the sacrifices will be," he said.

Western governments, he complained, are more concerned about the fate of three Israeli hostages in Lebanon than with the scores of dead Palestinians.

On Thursday's lynching, many Palestinians deplored the method of killing but not the result, he said.

"People were delighted to see Israeli soldiers killed, but the way it happened was not approved by many. The anger was beyond control - one has to control his anger. Palestinians don't want to see scenes of mobs killing and throwing a body out of a window.

"I prefer total war to going back to the previous situation," he said.

Lunching with his family at the Herzliya marina, a symbol of Israeli prosperity and the secular Tel Aviv lifestyle, shoe store owner Marcus Avram said scenes of the Ramallah lynching that were played and replayed on Israeli television shattered his hopes.

"I saw that my dream that peace will come can't be true. We have no partners for peace. There is so much hate and a desire to destroy," said Avram, who emigrated from Romania 52 years ago. Before, "I thought all human beings are human beings," said the 68-year-old businessman.

Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli human rights lawyer with Palestinian clients, overheard the conversation in the wine shop in Jerusalem the other day.

"People are easily manipulated when they see what they see on television," he said. "They are acting with a lot of anger. They can only see their side. The event of Thursday was a turning point for many people."

The extraordinary nature and duration of the clashes have many liberal Israelis rethinking their political views and perceptions of their so-called peace partners in the years since the historic 1993 signing of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn. Others, mainly the conservative right and hard-liners, are engaging in a collective "I told you so."

But Lecker says, "I don't think you can analyze the past. You can only analyze the present."

Perhaps even more troubling for moderate and dovish Israelis was the hostility that erupted within Israel, between Jews and the country's Arab citizens, who have been neglected by the state.

If Israelis don't feel secure driving the road from Tel Aviv to Haifa - the artery that travels from Jewish Tel Aviv through the Israeli Arab population centers and the scene of recent stone-throwing by local Israeli Arabs - that is a disturbing reality for many Jews who have little or no contact with West Bank Palestinians.

Arik Ascherman, a key figure in the peace group Rabbis for Human Rights, who has campaigned against the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes built without a permit in East Jerusalem, is one of the few Israelis who openly ventures into Palestinian neighborhoods of the West Bank wearing a Jewish skullcap.

He found the Ramallah scenes "awful, sickening, terrible," but still is trying to regroup a shocked and torn peace movement.

"People who have tried to portray things as 'All the Palestinians love us and are saints' have only done us all a disservice," he said. "I know many, many Palestinians have a great anger and hatred against us and would prefer that we disappear.

"You don't make peace with your friends, but with your enemies."

Ibrahim Fawzi, an Israeli Arab restaurant owner, has experienced the change in attitudes firsthand. His Lebanese-style restaurant in Abu Ghosh, an Israeli Arab town 20 minutes west of Jerusalem, is usually packed with Israelis on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath when most Jewish-run businesses are closed.

Now his business is down 80 percent, he said. A few loyal customers have broached the subject of the Palestinian riots and the disturbances staged by Arab citizens in the north of Israel.

"We are connected emotionally with these people," the 35-year-old chef said of the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinians were hopeful that a peace plan would end their days in occupation, but now they feel an agreement will never be realized, and Israeli Arabs are tired of being treated like second-class citizens, he said.

Mustafa Barghouti, a public health physician and former peace negotiator, gave up on the Oslo accords while tending Palestinians wounded by Israel's firepower, a barrage that included helicopter-launched rockets and tank gunfire.

He escorted a Red Cross representative through Ramallah Hospital yesterday and talked about the 24 children under the age of 15 who were killed and the 1,341 children injured in the clashes.

He stood at the bedside of a 27-year-old Palestinian man who is brain-dead from the rubber bullet that smashed through his skull.

What of the horrific beating deaths of the two Israeli soldiers? "Unacceptable." said the doctor, who runs a number of local health clinics. "If I was there, I would have prevented them."

He pointed to the Palestinian casualties. He spoke of the week-old disappearance and death of Issam Hamad, a 39-year-old father of five, who Palestinians believe was tortured and killed by Jewish settlers, an accusation that exacerbated the rioting in Ramallah during two days. Israeli police say Hamad was killed in an automobile accident.

But he identified the underlying cause of the rage as the failed peace process: its never-ending delays, the unabated expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas and the overall economic decline in the territories.

Many Israelis and supporters in the international community point to Barak as the concession-maker, for his proposal on control of Jerusalem that would have given the Palestinians a greater say in parts of the Holy City. But Barghouti said people forget that Palestinians have compromised greatly by agreeing to live in a state that would be only 22 percent of the land they claim to be theirs.

"These formulas don't work," he said of the peace process. "Thirty-three years of occupation is more than any people, any country should have to endure."

The clashes of the past two weeks are a "new uprising," he said, referring to street protests of 1998-1993 that led to the Oslo accords.

"It's not about throwing stones," he said. "It's about a whole new mind-set where people decide finally to defy the rules of the occupier. This is an intifada. This is the uprising of independence."

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