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A Brutal Loss of Innocence: The Trauma of Terror

Andrew Mills

Ottawa Citizen

Report from Jerusalem

On a warm Thursday night, the several thousand young Israelis who have packed West Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall for a concert appear, at first glance, to be acting as if the violent Intifada were not taking place all around them.

As a singer belts out Oriental pop songs, girls in their late teens sporting tube tops and low-rise jeans flirt with guys wearing kippahs atop slicked-back hair. Long lines spill out from the shawarma and falafel stands and young people crowd around tables in the many cafes, drinking beer and smoking.

Only months ago, on a night not unlike tonight, two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up amid crowds at either end of this street. Deadly shrapnel hurtled through the air, and the cream-coloured Jerusalem cobblestones were coated in the blood and half-burned flesh of the nearly 200 young Israelis injured in the blasts. As the narrow streets became choked with hundreds of emergency vehicles, a car bomb exploded,injuring more. By night's end 11 were dead, all between the ages of 14 and 21.

On a closer look at tonight's scene on Ben Yehuda Street, you notice things are not as normal as they first seem. The girls in tube tops cross to the less-crowded side of the street -- suicide bombers tend to strike amid large groups of people. Partygoers periodically scan the street, ticking off the checklists in their heads: Is anyone carrying a backpack that could conceal a bomb? Are anyone's bulky clothes hiding a belt of explosives? And – one question that is undeniably on everyone's list -- have any Arabs ventured into Jewish West Jerusalem tonight?

Many Israelis admit such precautions are less about protecting themselves and more about mustering the psychological strength to venture into the deadly streets of Jerusalem. For real protection, the streets leading to BenYehuda are sealed at checkpoints, where police check handbags and backpacks, wave metal-detecting wands and ask, as do guards all over Israel, "Weapon?"

Weapons are everywhere. One man, who looks about 25, has an arm draped around his blond girlfriend, while an Uzi submachine gun hangs from his other shoulder. Another man in his early 20s sports a shiny handgun in a holster. Dozens of soldiers and police officers wander throughout the crowd,equipped with M-16s.

If every place where an Israeli had been killed in a terrorist attack during the past two years were marked by a monument, several would stand near Ben Yehuda Street: one at the corner, where 15 were killed at the Sbarro pizzeria last summer; one a block away on King George Street, where three shoppers were killed in March; another farther up Jaffa Road, outside the open-air market where a suicide bomber killed six; yet another at the Moment Cafe a few blocks away, where 11 Israelis lost their lives in March. But because some 600 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks during those two years, they have given up erecting memorials. And if this scene on Ben Yehuda Street is any indication, Israelis seem determined to carry on as if the hamatzav -- the "situation," as Israelis euphemistically call the Intifada -- barely existed.

Israelis between 15 and 25 years old grew up in an age of innocence, after the 1993 Oslo peace accord had ushered in one of the most hopeful periods of Israel's history. But two years into the Intifada, everything has changed. Are these young Israelis -- the Oslo generation -- willing to negotiate, or have the last two years of violence pushed them in the opposite direction, erasing trust? Is there any hope for peace?

Twenty-year-old Sherry Ben-Aroya's life changed the moment a credit-card sized chunk of shrapnel -- one of hundreds of nuts and bolts, ball bearings, rusty nails and pieces of scrap metal sent flying through the air by a Palestinian suicide bomber -- pierced the spot between her left ear and eye and shot through her brain, exiting through the top of her head.

Just minutes earlier, on March 27, 2002, a bomber from the West Bank town of Tulkarem had slipped past the guard in the lobby of the Park Hotel in the coastal resort town of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. He had walked to the centre of the crowded dining-room where Sherry was celebrating the Passover seder with her family, and detonated the bomb strapped to his body.

The blast toppled walls and blew out windows, gutting the interior of the hotel. One hundred and fifty were injured, including Sherry and 13 members of her family. Twenty-nine were killed, her father among them. Today, she lives in a room on the ninth floor of the Beit Loewenstein rehabilitation hospital, not far from Netanya in the town of Ra'anana. The right side of her body has been rendered useless. She is blind in her right eye, which rolls lazily off toward the distance. To shake my hand, she holds up her right arm with her left and offers a limp wrist. With the help of a cane and leg braces, she is standing again.

"Terrorist. One, two. Two terrorists. There were two terrorists," she says in Hebrew. "One got sick, so he couldn't participate. Two and nine.Twenty-nine died."

Before the attack, Sherry was fluent in four languages, a "girl-soldier" who had served in an elite intelligence unit of the Israeli Defence Forces. Now she struggles to find the words among what little Hebrew she can remember.She has forgotten French, English and Arabic. For the words she just can't find, Sherry uses word association and numbers.

With great difficulty, she reaches beside her hospital bed for a tiny photo album. Pictures of her before the attack show a tall Israeli beauty, with long, tawny hair and olive skin. Today, her body is covered in grayish brown, circular scars made by shrapnel. Her hair is shorn and her features lopsided.

Since the beginning of the Intifada, tragedies such as Sherry's have become horribly formulaic, beginning with a young person going to a night club,buying a slice of pizza, or taking a bus to school, and ending with funerals or outpourings of grief. Attacks on young people provoke extreme national outrage. Following the June 2001 suicide bombing outside the Dolphinarium, a Tel Aviv nightclub, in which 21 youths were killed and 150 wounded, several hundred enraged Jews took to the streets, urging the government to abandon all restraint in retaliation. Protesters marched on a mosque, where they attacked Arab worshippers with stones and set several cars afire. One protester, Etty Koren, who held a placard that read, "We demand revenge," told the Jerusalem Post that "we have to make a border, close (the Palestinians) there, so they will die inside. We don't want them." Another protester, 11-year-old Chen Palatche, on whose sign the word "revenge" had been crossed out and replaced with "WAR," said, "I want to be at war against the Arabs so they won't kill us any more."

"There's always the (possibility) that you might get shot at out here," says Baruch Gerszewski, as he steers his black Land Rover off the main highway,and is waved through a checkpoint into the West Bank. "Thank God the Arabs are such bad shots."

The heavily patrolled road, a bypass used almost exclusively by the more than 200,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, connects the settlements with the rest of Israel. It skirts dusty Palestinian villages and populous cities such as Nablus and Qalqilia. Recently, when the tanks rolled into the West Bank during a crackdown on Palestinians, they left deep divots in its pavement. Baruch was born a Christian in southern California, where he was known as Bruce.
While attending Berkeley in the 1970s, he converted to Judaism.He moved to Israel, where he changed his name to Baruch, got married, and joined the Messianic settler movement. The movement's rabbis argue that the first stage of the redemption of the Jews, and ultimately, the coming of the Messiah, is for Jews to inhabit all of Israel, defined as the land from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean coast in the west. This includes the West Bank, which settlers call by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.

Twenty-two years ago, Baruch and his wife moved to the settlement of Kedumim, where they have raised seven children. If the Intifada has a front line, Kedumim and the other Jewish settlements on the West Bank would be on it. In the past two years, the Israeli government says Palestinian gunmen have fired upon the settlements 683 times. On dangerous bypass roads, including the one on which we are traveling in Baruch's Land Rover, vehicles have been shot at 1,319 times and 563 bombs or landmines have exploded. Since September 2000, 217 Jewish settlers have been killed.

At Karnei Shomron, a settlement a few kilometres from Kedumim, Baruch's daughter Iscah, 15, is meeting her friends at a pizzeria. At this same pizzeria, on a busy Saturday night in February, a Palestinian suicide bomber, who had evaded the heavily armed guards at the settlement's gates, walked in and blew himself up. Three of Iscah's friends were killed.

Most of the teenagers are the children of American Jews turned Israeli settlers. Sixteen-year-old Raquel Preiser's family moved here 10 years ago from Silver Springs, Maryland: "Living here means you're taking your ideals and everything you believe in as a Jew and you're doing it, you're living it. If we weren't living here, it would be more dangerous for the rest of the country."

Like most settlers, Raquel believes the Jewish villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also have a political purpose, in that they maintain permanent Israeli sovereignty and increase security for the rest of Israel. But the settlements are a flashpoint, and many Israelis believe peace will not be possible until the Jews withdraw from the 144 settlements.

Messianic settlers, however, bristle at that notion. "They can't close us down and move us out of here. There are too many of us now," says Raquel."Besides, God promised us the land first." Miriam Rushfield, 16, agrees: "The Palestinians won't give us peace
if we leave the settlements. First they want this land, then they'll want Tel Aviv."

"It is the Palestinians that don't belong here. We don't owe them anything," says 16-year-old Ayelet Keigli, who, along with Raquel, believes peace will come only when all the Palestinians are expelled from the West Bank. "That's not practical," objects Ehud Cohen, 16. "You're talking about a few million people. Where will they go?" "Yeah, nobody wants them," adds Miriam.

"It's the problem of other Arab countries. They have to deal with them, not us," says Raquel. Ehud is still not convinced: "It is simply impossible to just get rid of them," he says. "We have to reoccupy the land and supervise them." Raquel turns from the debate: "We didn't think about this stuff so much before the Intifada, you know."

Next month, after they complete a special police course, Raquel and Miriam will join Karnei Shomron's civilian terrorist patrol, during which two volunteers drive around the settlement at night, "running after terrorists."One volunteer drives and the other is armed. The girls will carry the guns,and, if necessary, shoot: At 16, they're not yet old enough to drive.

If the kids in Karnei Shomron represent one extreme, then 21-year-old Noam Kuzar is at the other. "In Israel, I've always said that I'm not a radical -- it's the rest of society that is," he says, pointing across Jerusalem's Zion Square to a handwritten sign that reads, "MAKE WAR NOT LOVE."

In October 2001, during the early days of the Intifada, Noam was part of the way through the three years of mandatory army service required of every male Israeli, beginning at the age of 18 (women serve 22 months). Although Noam's unit had not yet completed training, hostilities were so extreme that it was called up that month to guard West Bank Jewish settlements such as Kedumim and Karnet Shomron. Noam refused to go.

"When I was drafted, I told my commanding officer that I wasn't willing to serve in the territories," says Noam, who has never set foot in the West Bank or Gaza. "(Palestinians) there don't have basic civil rights. Especially in the last two years, they haven't had the basic right to work or travel, or even to electricity or water. So I just couldn't see myself as a soldier there. I felt that if I went into the occupied territories, I would have made the whole situation worse."

He was the first in a movement that has swelled to more than 500 soldiers who disobey orders and suffer the consequences rather than go into the territories, where they might have to kill Palestinians, destroy their homes, or enforce curfews on them.

Many Israelis grew alarmed in February, when more than 100 reservists signed a petition published in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth declaring they would not serve in the territories and denouncing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as "corrupting the entire Israeli society."

These refuseniks are not pacifists: They are willing to fight in defence of Israel, but they condemn military service in the occupied territories.The petition stated that soldiers had been issued commands that "had nothing to do with the security of our country," and had "the sole purpose of perpetuating our control" over the Palestinians. "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."

The day after he refused, Noam was sent to prison for four months.Since then, according to Yesh Gvul, a peace group that represents refuseniks,48 more soldiers have been imprisoned.

Israel's military brass have been quick to point out that the refusenik movement has only 500 members in an army of an estimated 186,000 soldiers and 30,000 reservists. As well, several hundred reservists signed a counter-petition that accused the refuseniks of "lies, distortions and unbridled defamation of the army."

In heavily militarized Israel, where service in the Israeli Defence Forces is the crucial requirement for a citizen's acceptance into society, the refuseniks have very little support. Many predict a social backlash that will haunt the refuseniks for the rest of their lives in addition to the official discrimination they will face when applying for education and
social benefits.

But the refuseniks remain steadfast in their beliefs. "We are the Chinese young man standing in front of the tank," refusenik reservist Assag Oron wrote recently, recalling the battle for democracy in Tiananmen Square. "And you? If you are nowhere to be seen, you are probably inside the tank, advising the driver."

Revital Dabush, and her fiance, Yehuda Halfon, have joined a group of friends at Ashkelon beach, just up the coast from the Gaza strip.

Two years before the Intifada, Revital, 24, had completed her army service and entered university, where she enrolled in Middle Eastern studies and business administration. At the time, the prospect of a lasting peace was so strong that a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern politics would have placed her at the cutting edge upon graduation. By then, she thought, Arab and Israeli ties would be stronger than ever.

"Peace with the Palestinians was supposed to be the beginning of something much bigger," she says. "I thought that the next big opportunities for business development in Israel were in the Palestinian areas, which were opening up at the time. I thought I might eventually go into international relations and had this dream of one day being ambassador to Syria."

But by the time she had graduated, the Intifada was under way, and Revital's plans have been dashed. The only job she has been able to find is in a bank in Jerusalem. "I was optimistic, but after all this," Revital says,"I have become very, very pessimistic."

Seth Davis, one of Revital's friends, used to think of himself as a left-winger. "I believe in democracy. I've always thought there are some good people on the Arab side, but I now realize that two or three years ago I was wrong about the way to achieve peace."

Like many of the Oslo generation, Seth placed his faith in the peace process. Concessions were essential. Land could be exchanged for peace. Many young Israelis feel humiliated that they invested so much faith in a peace that has failed so miserably. "What we tried to do -- letting the Palestinians rule, giving them money --didn't work," Seth says, shrugging his shoulders. "I was wrong. We were wrong. It wasn't the right strategy.

"The Palestinians -- or at least their leadership -- are not normal.They need to be supervised all the time," says Seth. "The only solution today is to build walls that separate Jews and Arabs. We don't want to integrate any more. And after that separation, maybe, in two or three generations, peace will come."

Israel's student population has traditionally eschewed the hardened right-wing, lending support to centrist or left-wing parties. But not anymore. "It didn't use to be legitimate among my peers to be right-wing on campus. It was popular to be on the left," says Yehuda Halfon, 24, Revital's fiance, who is a member of the youth wing of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's conservative Likud Party.

"I once had to be careful about what I said. Now you can feel this change in the university. It's actually popular to come out and say, 'I'm in the Likud.' " says Yehuda, who studies at Hebrew University. "When we said, 'Don't give Palestinians guns,' when we said, 'Arafat is not of peace,' the rest of Israel called us prophets of lies. Now, not just students, but most of Israel's population has moved towards my beliefs."

In August elections, the national students' union abandoned the left-of-centre Labour Party, its traditional leadership, and elected a Likud party member as its leader.

Israel's teenage population has also shifted to the right, according to a poll published in April 2002, in the weekly magazine Jerusalem. Thirty-one per cent of Israeli teenagers responded that the security situation has moved their political stance to the right. Fifty-three per cent responded that the most fitting person to lead Israel is either Benyamin Netanyahu or Ariel Sharon, both right-wing Likudniks.

The Oslo Generation used to look to former Labour prime minister Ehud Barak and the late Labour prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for inspiration.But no more -- the Oslo generation has learned how to hate.

"You don't have to learn hate around here these days," says Prof. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, co-director of the Givat Haviva Jewish-Arab Center for Peace."Hate is in the air."

Despite the fact that many hardliners in Israel have called them naive, helpless, and even traitorous for teaching young Jews and Arabs the principles of democracy, compromise and dialogue in order to reverse the tendency towards hatred and intolerance, Ms. Ozacky-Lazar and her colleagues at Givat Haviva have refused to give in.

"People have lost hope, they're sad, angry and they don't want to deal with these issues," she says, "but they must."

Last Tuesday, the ground at Givat Haviva rumbled and the sky filled with smoke when a car bomb exploded at a bus stop only a short walk from the Peace Center's front gates. Fourteen were killed and more than 50 injured, but such carnage is nothing new in this part of northern Israel,where the main road, Highway 65, is the deadliest in the state. More than 65 have been killed on that route in suicide bombings over the last two years.

Nevertheless, the work continues at Givat Haviva, Israel's oldest and largestpeaceeducation institute. In September 2000, when the violence broke out, literally all around them, the Arab and Jewish staff here grew concerned the work they had been doing for decades would be forgotten. Their worst fears have not come true -- yet.

Although the Likud government has recently cut Givat Haviva's funding "they do not see democracy and peace education as a priority," says Mohammad Darawshe, the institute's director of public relations -- overall attendance has grown by 20 per cent since September 2000. Last year, Givat Haviva was awarded the UNESCO prize for peace education.

Ms. Ozacky-Lazar's team focuses on the grassroots of this generational conflict: the young Israeli Arabs and Jews who will be instrumental in ultimately either perpetuating this conflict or bringing it to an end. (The institute cannot offer programs for Palestinian youths from the occupied territories, who are precluded from attending by travel restrictions.)

"We hope that we are creating the next leaders of Israeli society," says Mr.Darawshe. As Jews and Arabs in Israel barely speak to one another any more, the idea here is for them to meet, or at least to begin to think of the enemy as a human being. "We want them to be able to discuss their feelings on an equal basis; not on the battlefield, but in a calm atmosphere," says Ms.Ozacky- Lazar. "We want them to stop being so afraid of each other, because fear is such a bad advisor."

In one of last year's programs, called Through Others' Eyes, 10 Israeli-Arab teenagers and 10 Israeli-Jewish youths learned about photography,visited one another's homes to take pictures and then developed the photos and presented them in an exhibition.

"We wanted them first of all to know each other and speak with each other," says Etti Amram, who facilitated the program. "But when we take photographs in such intimate places, through the lens and photography, the distances close."

The project did not go off without problems. Some of the Jewish parents were not willing to allow their children to travel to Arab villages, but after the group had visited the Jewish homes and the parents had got to know the Arab teens, they allowed their children to go.

"One day, there was a bomb near here, but the next day we still went to visit a home in an Arab village," says Etti. "I was adamant that we had to go."

The project seems to have been a success. "In the first meeting
you could see the Arabs in one corner and the Jewish kids in the other," says Etti."But after they went to each other's homes, and realized how similar they all were, they became one group. They became friends. Here it's OK."

Etti Amram and the staff at Givat Haviva are among the few Jews and Arabs in Israel who refuse to give in. For most of the Oslo generation, however,fear has replaced hope, hate has replaced the desire to understand, and with each attack, an entire generation edges ever closer to the hard line taken by the settlers.

When it comes to dealing with the Palestinians, more and more young people are beginning to share the defiant attitude of Ayelet Kegli, one of the 16-year-olds at the Karnei Shomron settlement: "Look, they're these crazy suicide bombers who want to kill innocent people and we cannot change them, so we have to get rid of them. They're not really people at all."

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