The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 1st

Is There Hope in the Holy Land?

Groups around the Triangle have organized protests, movie viewings, panel discussions and prayer vigils, trying to have their voices heard in an international conversation.

Mary-Lou Leiser-Smith helped stage a protest in June against Israeli occupation in Palestinian land. "This is a hot button for a lot of people," Leiser-Smith said Tuesday. "We need to be continue to be more proactive and look for a more just solution."

Others, like Burhan Ghanayem of Durham, have been affected more deeply. Ghanayem was born in Palestine and most of his family still lives there.

"We are really in a bad situation here," Ghanayem said. "We know our people are suffering tremendously and we can't do anything to help our loved ones."

About two weeks ago, Ghanayem and his family traveled to Jordan in hopes of visiting other family members in the West Bank. But Ghanayem said their U. S. passports were denied at the Israeli border because of their Palestinian origin.

"We came back very disappointed," he said. "It was frustrating knowing we were one hour away from my father and my family."

But Ghanayem still has faith that the situation will improve. "Without hope, we will die out of frustration," he said. "I still have hope that it will one day be resolved."

The Conflict

Israel has been a land of contention since May 15, 1948, the day after its founding. But since things have heated up again in the Holy Land, many have been wondering if peace will ever be attainable.

The latest conflict began in September after Ariel Sharon, who at that time was Israel's Likud Party chairman, walked atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, an area revered by both Jews and Muslims. The next day, Palestinians began an uprising that has continued through the past ten months.

But some say this was merely the result of tension that had been brewing for some time. "It was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Hannaniah Pinto, a Jewish tour guide who immigrated to Israel 17 years ago.

Pinto said although Israel has seen much conflict in the past, this dispute is more complex. "It looks so confusing in every direction," he said. "I wish it would end soon, but it seems we will be in this situation for a longer time."

Continued Violence

At least 488 Palestinians, 128 Israelis and 13 Israeli Arabs have died since September, with an average of two people dying every day.

"More and more, we are learning that the military actions aren't the answer," Pinto said. "We are seeing that the wounds are just too big and take too long to heal."

Despite the volatility, Pinto said he feels safe. "I never felt I was in danger that could cost my life," he said. "I always lived in very safe areas, in residential places."

But the situation just 20 miles away in the Palestinian village of Beit Jala is much more dangerous.

Jamal Saba, a Palestinian Christian, has lived in Beit Jala all his life. He said this is the worst conflict since he has lived there, much worse than a 1987 Palestinian uprising, called the Intifadah, which saw over 1,400 deaths. Saba said there has been constant fighting between Beit Jala and Gilo, a nearby Jewish settlement.

"I was shot at and my house was bombed," Saba said. "It was on the 15th of November. My house was on fire, so we went to extinguish it and then the Israelis started to shoot at us."

Although Saba's family was not hurt, eight Palestinians were killed and dozens others wounded in the battle.

Saba said life has been difficult in Beit Jala. "People do not have jobs. Frustration, hatred and anger are dominating the atmosphere," he said. "People have been living in fear for the past nine months now. Basically, there is no freedom."

Violence has escalated in the past several weeks, climaxing in June when 21 people were killed and 120 wounded in a devastating terrorist attack that targeted a Tel Aviv disco. Many believe the attack was led by Hamas or Jihad, militant Islamic terrorist groups.

"Terror is very successful," said Eric Zakim, an assistant professor of Israeli culture at Duke University. "It only takes one crazy person to go kill a bunch of people. As long as they can find suicide bombers willing to blow themselves up, the violence will not stop.

"It's a cycle of violence that can't be broken," he said. "There is a desperation on both, where violence is the last gasp."

But Zakim said most in Israel are hopeful for peace, despite the repeated violent actions of few.

"The actors in the violent conflict are a minority," Zakim said. "A vast majority on both sides are interested in solving the problem and achieving peace."

A Peaceful Resolution?

Last summer, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met at Camp David with President Bill Clinton. Although both sides left without coming to a formal agreement, it appeared as though the peace process was improving.

But now the Camp David discussions are in the distant past and the peace process seems to have taken several steps back. "It's going to get worse before it gets better," Zakim said. "There's a vast amount of hatred in the region."

A joint survey done by Israeli and Palestinian researchers found pessimism on both sides, with 59 percent of the Palestinians and 46 percent of the Israelis expecting conflict to continue for five to 10 more years. But the study also found that 73 percent on both sides support a process of reconciliation.

"We should be hopeful for a solution for the problem," Pinto said. "There are too many people being in pain on both sides. We already learned that the violence isn't leading anywhere."

Bringing It Home

Or Mars, executive director of N. C. Hillel, lived in Israel for four and a half years, returning to Chapel Hill last year. "Everybody is for peace," Mars said. "The question is at what cost. And everyone has a different price tag."

Mars said both sides need to reach an agreement and control the violence. "I remember the days that I thought peace was right around the corner," he said. "I would love to have that feeling of euphoria again."

But despite the violence in the region, Mars said he still has faith that peace will be attainable. "I have to believe there is still hope. To say there is no hope is to give in to violence," Mars said. "Nonetheless, I'm realistic that it's only a faint glimpse of hope."

Matt Viser can be reached


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