Today’s NY Times Editorial Observer: When the Silent Majority Are the Real Martyrs

Posted on January 22, 2005


Editorial Observer: When the Silent Majority Are the Real Martyrs

January 22, 2005

Jericho, West Bank – Two weeks ago, Shrook Ziad, a
17-year-old Palestinian student, showed up at the polling
place here in this ancient Biblical city to watch her
fellow Palestinians vote in Sunday’s elections.

Miss Ziad couldn’t vote herself – she’s too young – and she
wasn’t sure she would even if she could. Sitting on a
cement barrier in the middle of her school’s courtyard, she
surveyed her surroundings with disgust. “The teachers here
are no good,” she said. “The Palestinian Authority is no
good. The martyrs are no good. The economy is no good.”

Traveling around the deeply scarred occupied territories
here, where gunmen roam freely and posters of suicide
bombers, made up like rock stars, adorn the walls, it’s
hard to get away from the feeling that this is a place with
no room for you unless you are an extremist.

Miss Ziad and her cadre of four young girlfriends, each one
more cynical than the next, say their biggest concerns are
whether they will be able to finish school and get jobs.
They want what most teenagers want: to go to the movies.
They dream of one day going to Dubai, in the United Arab
Emirates, for a shopping trip.

But “it doesn’t seem like there’s somewhere for us here,”
she says.

Indeed not. On both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian
divide, the people in the middle are hostages to the ones
on the extreme ends.

It’s the same thing on the other side of the Green Line,
from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The Israeli government is going
out of its way to coddle the ultra-right-wingers, who have
vowed all manner of madness if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
goes ahead with what most rational people agree is
something that Israel has to do: disengage from the bedlam
that is Gaza, where some one million Palestinians dwarf a
handful of Jewish settlements, engaging the Israeli Army
daily with landmines, handmade rockets and suicide bombers.

The reality is that if Israel hopes to remain a Jewish
state, then it must bow to demographics and get out of Gaza
and the West Bank, where the Palestinian population far
outpaces the Jewish population.

Mr. Sharon has been fighting mightily in the Israeli
Parliament, or Knesset, to hold together a majority
government that will stick for the estimated seven to eight
months it will take to disengage from Gaza. Last week he
achieved his goal by the skin of his teeth. But
disengagement foes have continued to demonstrate and the
news media remain filled with their outrage.

Such anti-disengagement extremists, one Israeli Army
general warned last week, are “more dangerous than any
flying rocket” lobbed by militant Palestinians in Gaza. But
the government is loath to crack down on them – one Israeli
official said the issue is too “emotional” – even when
these settlers refuse to leave illegal settlements.

Instead, Israeli soldiers stand guard outside these
settlements to protect them from Palestinian attacks, at
the risk of their own lives. Israeli soldiers are routinely
killed while patrolling the settlements.

So the extremists control the show, on both sides of the
Green Line. Since assuming the presidency of the
Palestinian Authority last week, Mahmoud Abbas has been
devoting all of his time to trying to coax, cajole and
threaten members of Hamas into laying down their arms and
suicide bombs long enough for Mr. Abbas to get Mr. Sharon
back to the table. But Hamas isn’t even willing to stop the
killing long enough to let Israel pull out of Gaza,
something Hamas allegedly wants.

So the people in the middle continue to pay the price. Last
month, Israeli defense forces say, they spotted Hamas
gunmen in a strawberry field in Gaza assembling a rocket to
launch at Israeli targets. But by the time Israel tanks
fired a single shell, hitting the field, the Hamas gunmen
were gone, and in their place were 13 young boys, most from
the same family, playing marbles. Seven were killed; their
parents had to pick body parts from the bushes and trees.

Israeli officials estimate that probably 70 percent of Jews
here want Israel to disengage from the occupied
territories. Palestinian officials say they don’t know the
number of Palestinians who want Hamas and other gunmen and
suicide bombers to stop attacking Israelis, but some 62
percent of Palestinians voted for Mr. Abbas, the closest
thing the Palestinians have to a pragmatic leader, who has
said terror attacks are “useless” and should be stopped.

No one here believes the violence will end any time soon.
The people at the extremes will keep yelling and lobbing
rockets. And the people in the middle, from the boys in the
berry fields to the Israeli soldiers on guard duty to
Shrook Ziad, will continue to be the real martyrs.

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