Profile: Mood of Palestinians in the Fifth Year of the Current Intifada

All Things Considered: October 14, 2004

Palestinians Debate Tactics of Uprising


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Israeli news reports say Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to pull troops out of a huge refugee camp in Gaza. Israel's offensive there is in its third week. At least 100 Palestinians have been killed and over 400 wounded. The incursion into the Jabaliya refugee camp was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks on nearby Israeli towns. Jabaliya is where the first uprising against Israeli occupation, or intifada, erupted in 1987. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on how residents of Gaza view their second intifada, now in its fifth year.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

For Palestinians, the price of four years of fighting with Israel has been disproportionate. This year, for every Israeli killed, five Palestinians have died.


McCARTHY: It's a trend borne out in Israel's current operation in northern Gaza, where daily funerals are a mixture of militancy and mourning. Some 100 Palestinians have perished. The Israeli army reports that one of its soldiers has been killed.

Since the second intifada erupted in September 2000, approximately 1,000 Israelis have lost their lives; 3,000 Palestinians have been killed. The unequal losses reflect the unequal strength of the two sides. The Palestinians deploy street fighters, suicide bombers and crude Qassam rockets; Israel deploys tanks, helicopter gunships and warplanes.


McCARTHY: Gaza surgeons say the nature of the casualties in the past two weeks has been appalling: men decapitated, boys blown to bits, a bullet lodged in the brain of a teen-aged girl.

Somaiah Filfell(ph) lies in a hospital bed connected to an IV drip. She says she had been serving her children tea to calm them from the noise of Israeli bulldozers ripping up their land outside. Suddenly, she says, Israeli troops opened fire at their house, wounding her husband and all nine of their children, one of them gravely. Somaiah's voice is barely audible in the crowded hospital room, but her message is clear.

Ms. SOMAIAH FILFELL: (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: `I wish that an Israeli family would suffer the same fate as mine,' she says.


McCARTHY: Outside in this impoverished place, militancy is on display. An anti-tank rocket sits atop a cart camouflaged with a blanket. An al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade gunman sporting a Nike cap and an AK-47 patrols the streets. `I'll resist,' he says, `as long as the Israelis destroy Palestinian homes.' The 22-year-old militant named Mohamed(ph) says the intifada will not end even if the Israelis evacuate Gaza entirely.

MOHAMED (Militant): (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: `We're looking forward to the Israelis withdrawing from all of the West Bank and Jerusalem. If a Palestinian is harmed in the West Bank,' he says, `I am harmed here in Gaza.'

The gunman then lifts his shirt, exposing a mass of scars from years of fighting Israelis. Does he think he'll survive this latest incursion? he's asked. `It's God who will decide,' he says, adding, `We are all looking forward to martyrdom.'

Glorifying death, according to psychiatrist Iyad Sarraj, has been one of the most damaging effects of the intifada. The doctor and human rights advocate says that the psychology of the people has changed with many younger Palestinians instinctively prepared to sacrifice their lives.

Dr. IYAD SARRAJ (Psychiatrist): The suicide bombing in one word is defying defeat. And the principle behind it is that it is better to die in dignity rather than to live in humiliation and shame.

McCARTHY: Sarraj says the intifada has been a disaster from the start. Unchecked, it's produced not only a cult of death, but also vigilantism, revenge killings and a frayed social fabric.

Dr. SARRAJ: There is now serious problem with conducting ourselves internally. There are so many militias and so many mafiosis and so many security officers and so many arms, and there's no law and order.

McCARTHY: And, says Sarraj, the Palestinians have lost the sympathy of the world community. He says the militants' tactic of blowing up civilians riding in Israeli buses has seen to that.

Dr. SARRAJ: Tragically and stupidly, the Palestinians have linked themselves to Osama bin Laden and the international terror. So Bush and Sharon have a free field to say, `We are combatting terror. And, look, it is not only Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan; it is also Palestinians killing civilians,' and they have all the justification.

McCARTHY: But Gaza's elder statesman, Haidar Abdul-Shafi, says the spirit of the intifada must be seen as what he calls `a sincere expression of the masses.'

Mr. HAIDAR ABDUL-SHAFI (Gaza Statesman): That we are under terrible aggression by the Israelis, and that there is no way for us except to fight. And this is the spirit of the intifada.

McCARTHY: But Abdul-Shafi calls the tactics of suicide bombings and Qassam rockets stupid, and says they represent the failure of the Palestinian leadership to rein in the militants and create a national unity government. He says Yasser Arafat could have done it, but that the Palestinian leader has shown more concern for his own political survival.

Mr. ABDUL-SHAFI: I'm sorry to say that we are dedicating much of our potential to personal, familial and factional interests, and that's our main failure.

McCARTHY: Palestinian diplomat Mahmoud Ajrami says there is only one way to subdue the radical elements prolonging the intifada.

Mr. MAHMOUD AJRAMI (Palestinian Diplomat): If a settlement were offered to the Palestinians, we will isolate that tendency. Give us a settlement, a real just compromise, you know, and all these radicals will be isolated in the corner and they will diminish.

McCARTHY: PLO executive committee member Zakaria Al-Agha agrees, but says Israel has done nothing to improve prospects for peace and a Palestinian state. He says Palestinians don't desire to continue fighting, but says the circumstances compel them to.

Mr. ZAKARIA AL-AGHA (PLO Executive Committee Member): We are obliged. Our people is not willing to surrender, but we are willing to stop if the Israelis stopped. This is something just.

McCARTHY: Dr. Iyad Sarraj fears a further hardening of the resistance. Militants he sees tell him of their desire to use chemical weapons. And he worries, too, that the high-stakes, life-and-death struggle of the intifada has become addictive for those who have survived it.

Dr. SARRAJ: And when you have the thrill once, you want to repeat it.

McCARTHY: Back at Gaza's main hospital, surgeon Jamal Socca(ph) says he sees no letup in the intifada. A drawing of resistance fighters sits beside his desk, a gift from militants, he says, for saving their lives.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: Outside, a Palestinian uses a bullhorn to announce the death of another militant.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) What do you expect from a people who feel poverty, who lose their children, lose their brothers, their fathers? What do you expect from them who are losing everything?

McCARTHY: They prefer to die, he says, than to live such a life. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Gaza.

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