JERUSALEM/HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli Yfat Alon and Palestinian Radi Abu Eisha both view themselves as victims of hatred. And both scoff at talk of peace.
Alon’s mother and niece were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Abu Eisha watched his sick brother die when an ambulance was blocked by Israeli soldiers running just the sort of security controls Alon says are vital to prevent more attackers reaching Israel.
As their leaders prepare for a conference next week that is meant to help end 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Alon and Abu Eisha are still coming to terms with their losses, and neither harbors much hope for a more tranquil future.
Mutual security will be key issue in any peace deal.
One evening in June 2002, Alon’s mother Noa, sister and 5-year-old niece Gal stopped in Jerusalem to change buses. Minutes later, a Palestinian detonated a bomb, killing himself, Noa, Gal and five others.
“I remember thinking my life would never be the same,” said Alon, now 28 and working in Jerusalem as a civil servant.
Alon tries not to think about the man who killed her relatives. She doesn’t understand why he did it. She doesn’t know much about Palestinians and never visits Palestinian towns, which are effectively off limits for Israelis.
But she is very clear on one thing: if Israel had not relaxed restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement around the West Bank city of Ramallah that day in June, her mother and niece would still be alive.
“My life is more important than convenience,” she said. “It’s not easy for any of us but…I’m talking about living or dying.”
Israel has erected hundreds of checkpoints and is building a barrier in and around the West Bank which it says is needed to prevent attacks like the one that killed Alon’s relatives.
Palestinians, who want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, say checkpoints and the barrier amount to collective punishment that hurts civilians like Abu Eisha’s brother.
One Friday in 2005, Abu Eisha returned from his local mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron to find his brother Mohammed sprawled on the bed gasping for breath. He called an ambulance, but it was stopped at an Israeli roadblock and never made it.
Abu Eisha carried his brother to the nearest roadblock and spent more than half an hour begging the Israeli soldiers to either let him out, or let an ambulance in. Mohammed had suffered a heart attack and, while his brother pleaded, he died.
“It’s hard to see someone dying in your arms when you can’t help,” said Abu Eisha in Hebron, a flashpoint town that is home to sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims.
Mistrust runs deep for both Abu Eisha — who sees Israelis as “racist occupiers” — and Alon — who admits that since the attack, she has trouble seeing Palestinians as human beings.
Both struggle to imagine an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israel that feels secure — the stated goal for the negotiators headed for talks in Annapolis, Maryland next week.
“I don’t have hope,” said Abu Eisha, a merchant. “There is no chance for hope in this country.”