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Sunday, 24 December 2000

In Holy Land, a somber Christmas

By Matthew Kalman
USA TODAY
24 December 2000

Christmas may not have been officially called off in the town where the Bible says Jesus was born. But the bright flame of peace that lit the region last January now flickers amid the renewed ravages of war.

The new Palestinian intifada (uprising) exploded Sept. 29 after Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Noble Sanctuary, known as the Temple Mount to Jews. Control over the site, holy to both Muslims and Jews, and of much of Jerusalem's Old City is one of the key issues that brought the U.S.-brokered peace process to a standstill after months of unprecedented progress.

Since that visit, Israeli-Palestinian battles have raged on the borders of Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and Gaza. The conflict wore on this week, despite the resumption of low-level talks in an apparent attempt to make the most of the interest and engagement of the outgoing U.S. administration.

For the Arab Christians of Bethlehem, the collapse of the negotiations and the ensuing unrest have precipitated an economic disaster because tourists can't, or won't, come here. The mayor says local businesses are denied vital foreign dollars, further crippling the economy. ''Israel is not allowing tourists to enter Bethlehem, unfortunately,'' Nasser says. ''The economic situation in the city is very bad and is deteriorating. The hotels are empty. The restaurants have no clients. Our workers are denied the right to go outside and earn a living.''

Israel claims that despite the ban on Palestinians leaving Bethlehem, tourists can still enter. The problem is that gun battles at Rachel's Tomb, an enlarged Jewish shrine dedicated to the wife of Jacob

at the main entrance to Bethlehem, causes Israeli troops to blocked the road. A Palestinian man carrying carton of eggs stopped by israeli troops (photo by Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP)

''Bethlehem is open at all times to any foreign citizen,'' Israeli army spokesman Maj. Yarden Vatikai says. ''When there are serious gun battles and the road is dangerous, the army closes it even to tourists. Our intention is to allow free access to all holy sites while not endangering the safety of our visitors.''

The Israeli army also has been denying Palestinians entry into Israel. Because at least 200,000 Palestinians earn their living as day laborers in Israel, many Palestinian households -- both here and elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza -- have no income.

George Mascoby, a guide who works with Near East Tours in Jerusalem, says he has continued to lead tours into Bethlehem since the clashes started. But he says that there are few tourists to take. ''We are in constant touch with our friends in Bethlehem and other places to make sure we are warned in advance of any problems,'' he says. ''If the road is closed, we go somewhere else. The problem is that there are no tourists.''

Vacant rooms, empty streets:

More than $200 million had been invested to prepare for Bethlehem 2000. Half came from the private sector. With the millennium declared a Holy Year for Christians, a grand project was set in motion to rehabilitate the infrastructure to accommodate a record number of foreign visitors. The mayor says 1 million tourists came to Bethlehem in 1999. Until September, it looked as if the number would exceed the year's target of 1.7 million.

The Jacir Palace Inter-Continental Hotel was opened in May in a spectacular renovated merchant's palace built by Suleiman Jacir in 1910. But last week, the hotel's fabulous arched courtyard, whispering fountains and gilded lounges were vacant. The hotel is a few yards from the Rachel's Tomb flash point. Even though its doors remain open, there isn't a single guest in the 250 rooms, even at the knockdown price of $140 a night. The grand opening was canceled and hasn't been rescheduled.

Younis Arar, 29, is the hotel's banquets manager. A Muslim from nearby Hebron, he slips through the Israeli blockade each day and says he supports the uprising, even though it is crippling business. ''We are fighting the occupation, but we are fighting for peace,'' he says. ''What alternative do we have?''

Munib Younan, the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem, says religious leaders must speak out and remind politicians that most people want peace above all else. ''We have to tell our politicians that our grass roots are fed up of injustice, fed up with bloodshed, fed up with fighting, fed up with these prejudices, fed up with retaliation,'' he says.

Bethlehem's mayor insists that despite the conflict, which has reached past Bethlehem's threshold, plans for Christmas will proceed. ''We will have our traditional religious processions, as usual,'' Nasser says. ''We will have a Christmas tree in the square. We will have choirs singing. . . . But what's missing is the smile on the faces of the children.''

Inside the Church of the Nativity, where visitors usually wait in line at least half an hour to descend into the tiny grotto where Jesus is said to have been born 2,000 years ago, there are few visitors and no foreigners at all on this day.

Teacher Suad Khair shepherds a class of 7-year-olds from the Greek Catholic school in the nearby town of Beit Sahour, scene of heavy gun battles between Palestinian militia and Israeli soldiers guarding a nearby army base. ''The children are so sad, so afraid,'' she says. ''Every day we wake up not even knowing whether we will finish the school day or whether the fighting will start again.''

In Beit Sahour, traditional site of the Shepherd's Field where news of Jesus' birth was first heard, Majdel Atrash surveys the ragged hole where an Israeli missile smashed into the wall of his children's bedroom a couple of weeks ago. Still nursing the cuts on his arm caused by flying shrapnel, he says it is a miracle no one was more seriously hurt.

''We will still have Christmas, for the children,'' he says, ''But this year, we will have new decorations to hang on our tree.'' With a grim smile, he deposits the contents of a bag on the coffee table: shrapnel and twisted metal, the remains of the bullets and shells dug out of his walls and furniture.

Outside, the children are playing in the garden. One boy, holding a wooden rifle, crouches behind an old stove. The other children throw stones at him until he surrenders. Then they attack and capture him. They call the game intifada -- just like the Israeli-Palestinian battles they see on TV.

Sana' Abu Amsha, 35, a mother of three and English teacher at the Latin School in Beit Jala, on the other side of Bethlehem, is close to tears. She says her children have nightmares and wet their beds because of the nightly gun battles.

''I'm afraid to even let my daughters take part in the marches, in case there is an attack,'' she says. ''Instead of going out and watching the events or visiting friends, I think this Christmas, we will just stay at home and hope that nothing happens.''

On top of the fear, there is anger. The residents of Beit Jala had hoped that the Israeli troop withdrawal from Bethlehem in 1995 -- part of the peace negotiations that aimed to give the Palestinians sovereignty over their land -- would lead to peace and independence. Instead, negotiations dragged on, and now there is war.

Spiritual leaders are urging the Palestinians and Israelis to return to negotiations. The alternative, they say, is unthinkable: a bloodbath in the Holy Land. ''We don't want to see'' Israeli helicopters ''in the heavens,'' Bishop Younan says. ''We want to see the real star of Christmas that is telling the Palestinians we will have our own liberation, we will have our peace, we will have our legitimate rights, and telling the Israelis they will have their security also. When this star is shining in Bethlehem, then it will be full of joy.

Monday, 18 December 2000

War drives tourists from Bethlehem

19 December 2000

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Bethlehem's mayor, Hanna Nasser, looks out over Manger Square from his office window and sighs. The square, with the Church of the Nativity on the far side, should have been the centerpiece of millennium Christmas celebrations. But the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims expected here for the Holy Year events never arrived. In fact, the whole city — with its brand new hotels, rejuvenated square and church and overflowing gift shops — is almost deserted. Nasser dismisses as ''ridiculous'' reports that Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem this year. But he concedes that tourism is almost nonexistent and the celebrations will have a more somber tone after three months of violence in which more than 270 Palestinians — 19 of them from the Bethlehem area — have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

Christmas may not have been officially called off in the town where the Bible says Jesus was born. But the bright flame of peace that lit the region last January now flickers amid the renewed ravages of war.

The new Palestinian intifada (uprising) exploded Sept. 29, after Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Noble Sanctuary, known as the Temple Mount to Jews. Control over the site, holy to both Muslims and Jews, and of much of Jerusalem's Old City is one of the key issues that brought the U.S.-brokered peace process to a standstill after months of unprecedented progress.

Since that fateful visit, Israeli-Palestinian battles have raged on the borders of Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and Gaza. The conflict wore on this week, despite the resumption of low-level talks in an apparent attempt to make the most of the interest and engagement of the outgoing U.S. administration.

Blockade cripples business

For the Arab Christians of Bethlehem, the collapse of the negotiations and the ensuing unrest have precipitated an economic disaster because tourists can't — or won't — come here.

The mayor says local businesses are denied vital foreign dollars, crippling the already weakened economy.
''Israel is not allowing tourists to enter into Bethlehem, unfortunately,'' Nasser says. ''They come to the military checkpoint and they are not allowed to enter the city - it's very bad. Israel has always said that access to all the holy places is guaranteed, but it's not the case.'' He adds: ''The economic situation in the city is very bad and it is deteriorating. The hotels are empty. The restaurants don't work. Our workers are denied the right to go outside and earn a living.''

Israel says it's not to blame. Despite the ban on Palestinians leaving Bethlehem, tourists can still enter, Israeli spokesmen say. The problem is that some of the most ferocious gun battles have been at Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish shrine dedicated to the wife of Jacob at the main entrance to Bethlehem, which is guarded by Israeli troops.

''Bethlehem is open at all times to any foreign citizen,'' Israeli army spokesman Maj. Yarden Vatikai says. ''When there are serious gun battles and the road is dangerous, the army closes it even to tourists. Our intention is to allow free access to all holy sites while not endangering the safety of our visitors.'' The blockade around Bethlehem and other Palestinian areas works both ways. The Israeli army also has been denying Palestinians entry into Israel. Because at least 200,000 Palestinians earn their living as day laborers in Israel, many Palestinian households — both here and elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza - have no income.

George Mascoby, a guide who works with Near East Tours in Jerusalem, says he has continued to lead tours into Bethlehem since the clashes started. But he concedes there are few tourists to take.

''We are in constant touch with our friends in Bethlehem and other places to make sure we are warned in advance of any problems,'' he says. ''If the road is closed, we go somewhere else. The problem is that there are no tourists.''

Joseph Ross, a Philadelphia pastor who has led Christian pilgrims to Israel for decades, had been scheduled to bring a group at the start of December, but 22 canceled.

More than $200 million had been invested — half from the private sector — to prepare for Bethlehem 2000. With the millennium declared a Holy Year for Christians, a grand project was set in motion to rehabilitate the infrastructure to accommodate a record number of foreign visitors. The mayor says 1 million tourists came to Bethlehem in 1999. Until September, it looked as if the number would exceed the year's target of 1.7 million.

The Jacir Palace Inter-Continental Hotel was opened in May in a spectacular renovated merchant's palace built by Suleiman Jacir in 1910.

But last week, the hotel's fabulous arched courtyard, whispering fountains and gilded lounges were vacant. The hotel is a few yards from the Rachel's Tomb flash point. Even though its doors remain open, there isn't a single guest in the 250 rooms — even at the knockdown price of $140 a night. The grand opening was canceled and hasn't been rescheduled.

Younis Arar, 29, is the hotel's banquets manager. A Muslim from nearby Hebron, he slips through the Israeli blockade each day and says he supports the uprising, even though it is crippling business. ''We are fighting the occupation, but we are fighting for peace,'' he says. ''What alternative do we have?''

Munib Younan, the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem, says that religious leaders must speak out and remind the politicians that most people want peace above all else.

''We have to tell our politicians that our grass roots are fed up of injustice, fed up with bloodshed, fed up with fighting, fed up with these prejudices, fed up with retaliation,'' he says.

Bethlehem's mayor has been trying to maintain the spirits of the season. Nasser insists that despite the conflict, which has reached past Bethlehem's threshold, plans for Christmas will proceed.

''We will have our traditional religious processions as usual,'' the mayor says. ''We will have a Christmas tree in the square. We will have choirs singing. We will have the Boy Scouts celebrating. But what's missing is the smile on the faces of the children.''

Inside the Church of the Nativity, where visitors usually wait in line at least half an hour to descend into the tiny grotto where Jesus is said to have been born 2,000 years ago, there are few visitors and no foreigners at all on this day.

Teacher Suad Khair shepherds a class of 7-year-olds from the Greek Catholic school in the nearby town of Beit Sahour, scene of heavy gun battles between Palestinian militia and Israeli soldiers guarding a nearby army base. ''The children are so sad, so afraid,'' she says. ''Every day we wake up not even knowing whether we will finish the school day, or whether the fighting will start again.''

In Beit Sahour, traditional site of the Shepherd's Field where news of Jesus' birth was first heard, Majdel Atrash surveys his shattered windows and the ragged hole where an Israeli missile smashed into the wall of his children's bedroom a couple of weeks ago. Still nursing the cuts on his arm caused by flying shrapnel, he says it is a miracle no one was more seriously hurt.

''We will still have Christmas, for the children,'' he says, ''But this year, we will have new decorations to hang on our tree.'' With a grim smile, he deposits the contents of a bag on the coffee table: shrapnel and twisted metal, the remains of the bullets and shells dug out of his walls and furniture.

Outside, the children are playing in the garden. One boy, holding a wooden rifle, crouches behind an old stove. The other children throw stones at him until he surrenders. Then they attack and capture him. They call the game intifada - just like the battles they see on TV.

On the other side of Bethlehem, in the middle-class town of Beit Jala, Father Yacoub of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas is collecting his own pieces of shrapnel. Palestinian gunmen from nearby refugee camps have been coming into Beit Jala almost every night for the past two months and firing at the nearby Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. Israeli forces have responded with machine-guns, tank shells and laser-guided missiles fired from Cobra helicopters.

Early this month, the gunmen managed to draw Israeli fire toward the church — even though Israeli army officials declared they were avoiding this obvious attempt to draw the region's Christians into the conflict. The damage was small: a shattered window, a damaged light and a bullet-hole in the patriarch's chair. But the psychological impact is incalculable.

The 75-year-old church stands over a fourth-century shrine built to commemorate St. Nicholas, the saint also known as Santa Claus. St. Nicholas lived in the cave beneath the site for two years. But not even the thought of reindeer and sleigh bells will be enough to lift the spirit of Beit Jala this Christmas.

''We will have prayer services, but no other celebrations,'' Father Yacoub says.

Fear and anger

Sana' Abu Amsha, 35, a mother of three and English teacher at the nearby Latin School, is close to tears. ''My daughters are 10 and 8 years old and we have been discussing whether we should decorate the Christmas tree,'' she says. ''They want me to, but I can't. To decorate the tree, it means that inside you must have peace, you must feel happy, but we are not.''

She says her children are having nightmares and wetting their beds because of the nightly gun battles.
''I'm afraid to even let my daughters take part in the marches, in case there is an attack,'' she says. ''Instead of going out and watching the events or visiting friends, I think this Christmas, we will just stay at home and hope that nothing happens.''

On top of the fear, there is anger. The residents of Beit Jala had hoped that the Israeli troop withdrawal from Bethlehem in 1995 — part of the peace negotiations that aimed to give the Palestinians sovereignty over their land — would lead to peace and independence. Instead, negotiations dragged on, and now there is war.

Both sides blamed

Blame is cast in both directions. The Israelis are criticized for Sharon's visit to the Noble Sanctuary in September. And the Israeli army is feared and distrusted for feeding the nationalistic frenzy by responding to rock-throwing throngs with heavy weaponry.

But the local Christian community also has issues with the Palestinian Authority - the quasi-governmental body established under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Thousands of Christians have left the Bethlehem area and gone abroad because of what they regard as an anti-Christian bias in the Palestinian Authority. And now they blame Arafat for failing to stop the violence.

''Why did the gunmen have to come up here and shoot?'' asks one Beit Jala resident as he inspects the damage to the church of St. Nicholas. ''Arafat doesn't care if all the Christians get killed.''

There are similar misgivings in Beit Sahour, where residents say masked gunmen hid in their gardens to shoot at the nearby Israeli army base.

''We're scared of them, simple as that,'' says a local man, who speaks on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals. ''We'd like them to go away, but they have guns and they are officers from the Palestinian Authority security forces. We're not in a position to argue.''

Spiritual leaders are urging the Palestinians and Israelis to return to negotiations. The alternative, they say, is unthinkable: a bloodbath in the Holy Land.

''We don't want to see the Cobra and Apache in the heavens,'' Bishop Younan says. ''We want to see the real star of Christmas that is telling the Palestinians we will have our own liberation, we will have our peace, we will have our legitimate rights, and telling the Israelis they will have their security also. When this star is shining in Bethlehem, then it will be full of joy.''

Monday, 11 December 2000

Parents protest risk to children

Palestinian leaders, militia come under fire as recent clashes take dozens of young lives

GLOBE & MAIL
Monday, December 11, 2000

By Matthew Kalman

TULKARM, WEST BANK -- Some Palestinian parents are starting to speak out against their leaders, saying children are being encouraged to risk their lives in clashes with Israeli troops.
After more than two months under the control of armed gunmen loyal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, residents of the West Bank town of Tulkarm have, in an unprecedented step, demanded that local militia stop sending their children to take part in gun battles. Six Tulkarm youths have been killed in more than two months of clashes.

"We don't want to send our sons to the front line, but they are being taken by the Palestinian Authority," Aisheh, a 43-year-old mother of six, said in an interview. She said she decided to speak out after her 17-year-old son was hit in the head by a rubber bullet last week, but asked that her full name not be published for fear of reprisals.

Israel has come under international criticism for the deaths of at least 38 Palestinian children under the age 17 in the upsurge of violence that began Sept. 28 and has claimed more than 300 lives, most of them Palestinian. Nearly 1,000 Palestinian children have been injured.

Bassam Abu Sharif, a special adviser to Mr. Arafat, condemned Israeli troops for "cold-blooded killing" and angrily denied Israeli accusations that the Palestinian Authority has sent children to the front of demonstrations to act as a human shield for armed gunmen.

"We don't send children -- nobody can send children -- and we don't hide behind children," Mr. Abu Sharif said in an interview. "We have never used kids, we will never use kids. We love our children the same way other human beings love their children."

He said Palestinian police officers try to dissuade children from taking part in clashes.

But Aisheh, the mother, said the decision to put children on the front line is being carried out by officials from the Palestinian Authority security forces and the militia of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement.

"When school finishes, Palestinian Authority security cars go around collecting children from the streets and sending them to the killing fields," she said. "This is very serious because they are children and they are unarmed."

When the school day or Friday prayers are over, she said, children are taken to El-Khadouri at the western entrance to Tulkarm, where there are daily clashes with Israeli troops.

Her husband, Abdelghani, said parents had been stopped from speaking out. "No one here dares to say publicly that he is against sending his own children to the front line," he said.

"Some parents who have tried to protest have been condemned as fifth columnists and threatened. . . . Once the children are injured, it's the families who have to spend days and weeks at their bedside. From that point on, no one cares about them, except for their own family."

He added that the children of Palestinian officials were noticeably absent from the deadly demonstrations.

"Why don't our leaders send their own children to be killed? The answer is because most of their children have already been sent abroad to safety in Europe and the United States," Abdelghani said.

The couple are not alone in their complaints. The Tulkarm Women's Union sent a rare letter of protest to Mr. Arafat last week demanding he stop using children as cannon fodder.

"Our children are being sent into the streets to face heavily armed Israeli soldiers," the letter says. ". . . We urge you to issue instructions to your police force to stop sending innocent children to their death." The letter concludes, "We love our children and we want them to live."

Palestinian media have also been criticized for encouraging children to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at armed Israeli troops.

Palestinian television regularly broadcasts images of children carrying weapons and staging mock attacks on Israelis.

And the Palestinian media exalt those killed as martyrs for Allah, "emphasizing that dying a martyr's death was the realization of their hopes," noted Itamar Marcus, director of the Palestinian Media Watch monitoring group.

Saturday, 9 December 2000

Ten die in Mideast clashes

GLOBE & MAIL
Saturday, December 9, 2000

By Matthew Kalman

HEBRON, WEST BANK -- One of the bloodiest days in more than two months of violence erupted yesterday, leaving seven Palestinians and three Israelis dead.
Israel blockaded all West Bank cities last night, after a "day of rage" in which some Palestinians daubed their anger in blood on walls inside Jerusalem's Old City.

"The entry and exit [of Palestinians] from Area A, with the exception of humanitarian cases, will be prohibited," an army statement said, referring to territory under Palestinian control in the West Bank.

The killings yesterday took the recent death toll to more than 300, including 36 Israeli soldiers and civilians. The violence occurred as Palestinian activists marked the Dec. 8, 1987, start of the six-year intifada (uprising) that ended only once the Oslo peace accords had been signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"The uprising is a strategic choice of the Palestinian people, and it can't be stopped. There will be an escalation in the coming days," said Marwan Barghouti, head of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank.

The battles took place after Palestinians poured out of mosques following Ramadan prayers. In the deadliest incident, four Palestinian policemen and a civilian were killed in the West Bank town of Jenin when an Israeli tank fired shells at a Palestinian police post. The army said the shells were fired at four suspicious figures whom soldiers spotted in the distance.

Outside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, scores of Palestinians threw rocks; Israeli police fired rubber-coated steel pellets, tear gas and stun grenades.

A Palestinian was killed and six injured. Several Israeli police officers were also hurt. The confrontation spilled over into the Via Dolorosa, the biblical path followed by Christ to his crucifixion.

A pool of blood was left after Samir Ammar Mashni, 16, was shot dead. Palestinian youths dipped their hands in his blood, held them aloft in a show of defiance and then made handprints on the stone walls lining the alley.

Earlier, Palestinians sprayed an Israeli van with gunfire, killing a schoolteacher and a driver, and wounding another passenger. The van was on a bypass road used by settlers travelling around the West Bank city of Hebron, near the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Rina Didovsky, 39, who had six children, had been on her way to school in Kiryat Arba. The driver of the van, who was was critically wounded, died later. The gunmen fled into a nearby village controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

On a settler bypass road near the town of Jericho, Palestinians fired on an Israeli bus, killing one passenger and wounding another.

"The cowardly attack on civilians will not break our spirit and our determined struggle against violence and terrorism," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "As we have proven in the past, heinous murderers will not escape without punishment."

The attacks were the latest in a series of deadly shootings and bombings against Israeli civilians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Two weeks ago, two teachers were killed and several children seriously wounded when the bus they were taking to school was bombed in Gaza. Two sisters and a brother lost parts of their legs.

A soldier, who had been escorting a civilian car through the West Bank, underwent an emergency operation Thursday after he was shot in another drive-by attack. A woman and a civilian were wounded.

Leaders of the 190,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip say such attacks have become daily events, but are noticed only when someone is killed.

Many are calling on the Israeli army to ban Palestinians from travelling in private cars in the area. Zvi Katsover, mayor of Kiryat Arba, called on the Israeli government to order soldiers to pursue attackers into Palestinian-controlled territory.

"It's a wonder that there aren't worse attacks," he told Israel Radio. "The attackers take no risks. No one deters them, no one stops them, no one catches them."

Many Palestinian leaders, including Mr. Arafat, have encouraged attacks against settlers, saying they are legitimate targets for the gunmen.

Friday, 8 December 2000

Let our kids alone, Arafat told

Matthew Kalman

USA TODAY December 8 2000 Page 16A

TULKARM, WEST BANK -- In a rare letter of protest sent this week to
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian women's group demanded that
the Palestinian Authority stop using children as cannon fodder.

''Our children are being sent into the streets to face heavily armed Israeli
soldiers,'' said the letter from the Tulkarm Women's Union -- a local branch
of the Palestinian Women's Union, a trade-union group that promotes the
status of women in the Palestinian Authority.

''The Palestinian Authority must put an end to this phenomenon. We urge you
to issue instructions to your police force to stop sending innocent children
to their death.''

The letter adds weight to complaints from parents who are beginning to speak
out despite what they say has been two months of intimidation by armed
gunmen loyal to Arafat.

''We don't want to send our sons to the front line, but they are being taken
by the Palestinian Authority,'' says Aisheh, 43, a mother of six in the West
Bank city of Tulkarm. She says she decided to speak out after her
17-year-old son was hit in the head by a rubber bullet last week. He
suffered a concussion.

Like other protesting parents, Aisheh declines to allow her full name to be
published for fear of reprisals. A nurse from Gaza who spoke out on
Palestinian TV against sending children to the flash points was condemned in
the Palestinian media as a traitor. Other individuals who refuse to allow
their names to be published say they have been threatened by armed Fatah
officials for discouraging their children from participating in the clashes.

Israel has faced international criticism for the deaths of at least 38
children under the age of 17 in more than two months of conflict in which
nearly 300 people have died. Nearly 1,000 children have been injured. The
Palestinians consider anyone under the age of 17 a child. But children just
entering their teens -- and some even younger -- have been injured in the
region's worst violence in nearly a decade.

Despite their parents' objections, many Palestinian children appear eager to
fight the Israelis and even become martyrs for the Palestinian cause: an
independent state.

An Israeli human rights group this week charged that Israeli soldiers
routinely open fire on unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. But the group,
B'Tselem -- created in 1989, according to its Web site, to ''change Israeli
policy'' to protect Palestinians -- also said the Palestinian leadership was
making little effort to keep children and gunmen away from potentially
violent confrontations.

Bassam Abu Sharif, a special adviser to Arafat, has accused Israeli troops
of ''cold-blooded killing.'' He denies Israeli accusations that the
Palestinian Authority has placed children at the front of demonstrations to
act as human shields for armed gunmen.

''We don't send children -- nobody can send children -- and we don't hide
behind children,'' Abu Sharif says. ''The kids in the demonstrations were
there because they were out of school. We love our children the same way
other human beings love their children.''

Israeli army chiefs point out that not all the children killed in the recent
clashes have been innocent bystanders. They say their snipers have orders to
shoot anyone shooting or throwing Molotov cocktails at them, but some of the
attackers have been as young as 12.

The most famous casualty of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict was
Mohammed Al-Dourra, a 12-year-old boy shot dead on the second day of
fighting as he took cover in his father's arms during a gun battle in the
Gaza Strip. His last moments were caught on camera by a French TV crew and
broadcast around the world.

Abu Sharif says Palestinian police are trying to dissuade children from
taking part in clashes with Israeli soldiers. He adds: ''These kids are on
the streets. For them, banners and demonstrations are a festival.''

But Aisheh says the militia of Arafat's Fatah movement and the Palestinian
security forces provide transportation and encouragement to children eager
to answer the call to combat Israel's continued presence on Arab land.

''When school finishes, Palestinian Authority security cars go around
collecting children from the streets and sending them to the killing
fields,'' she says. ''This is very serious because they are children and
they are unarmed.''

Palestinian Authority TV broadcasts constant images of children carrying
weapons and staging mock attacks on Israelis.

Over the summer, children as young as 12 were trained in the use of
Kalshnikov rifles and other weapons at special camps by Fatah officials.

Ramahan Sahadi Abed Rabbah, 13, was asked by the official Palestinian
Authority newspaper why he participated in clashes with soldiers. ''My
purpose is not to be wounded, but something more sublime -- martyrdom,'' he
replied.

''As the number of those killed rises, the Palestinian media extol and exalt
not only those killed, but also their willingness to die as martyrs for
Allah, emphasizing that dying a martyr's death was the realization of their
hopes,'' says Itamar Marcus, director of the Palestinian Media Watch
monitoring group.

Palestinian Authority TV and newspapers also have come under fire, accused
of encouraging children to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at armed
Israeli troops.

Aisheh's husband, Abdelghani, says intimidation has kept parents from
speaking out.

''No one here dares to say publicly that he is against sending his own
children to the front line,'' he says. ''Some parents who have tried to
protest have been condemned as fifth columnists (traitors) and threatened.''

Palestinian sentenced to death for spying

GLOBE & MAIL
Friday, December 8, 2000

By Matthew Kalman

NABLUS, WEST BANK -- A Palestinian labourer was sentenced to death yesterday after he was convicted of spying for Israel and aiding the assassination last week of a leader of the radical anti-Israeli organization Hamas.

The trial of Alan Bani Odeh, 25, in a Palestinian court yesterday lasted just 90 minutes. The three-judge panel concluded that he supplied a booby-trapped car to his cousin, Ibrahim Bani Odeh, 34, acknowledged by Hamas as a senior commander of its military wing, which has carried out numerous attacks on Israeli targets.

The prosecutor said the driver's seat of the car had been rigged with an explosive device by Israeli secret-service agents. The bomb was detonated as Ibrahim Bani Odeh was driving through Nablus.

As the verdict and sentence were read out, the crowd inside the court applauded and chanted "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great.)

The bearded defendant, surrounded by six police officers, admitted that he had been in contact with Israel's Shin Bet secret service, but denied any prior knowledge of his cousin's assassination.

Ibrahim Bani Odeh had been in a Palestinian jail for two years as part of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's crackdown on Hamas cells in the West Bank. He was released just days before his death, along with dozens of other Islamic extremists held by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian officials say Alan Bani Odeh fled to Israel after the assassination but was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Preventive Security force and returned to Nablus.

Israeli officials have denied any connection to either man or to the assassination. They did not protest against the apparent abduction of the defendant from Israel, a breach of the Oslo peace accords.

Several other Palestinian radicals have died in similar circumstances recently. Hussein Abayat, commander of a Bethlehem militia belonging to Mr. Arafat's mainstream Fatah group, was killed last month when a laser-guided missile from an Israeli helicopter hit his car.

Alan Bani Odeh is the first Palestinian to be sentenced to death by a Palestinian court on charges of collaborating with Israel. However, several Palestinians suspected of assisting Israel have been killed or kidnapped in recent weeks by Palestinian police and activists.

Thirty-one Palestinians have been sentenced to death by Palestinian courts since the establishment of the Palestinian authority in 1994. Three have been executed.

Hamas welcomed the quick trial and death sentence yesterday. "This will deter other criminals from collaborating with the Zionist enemy," it said in a statement.

But Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, whose offer to defend Alan Bani Odeh was rebuffed, said: "This kangaroo court which tried and sentenced Mr. Bani Odeh to death in less than two hours reveals the true face of Palestinian justice. It is an unthinkable affront to the norms of international justice."

Ms. Darshan-Leitner is the lawyer who acted for Daniel Weiz, the Israeli soldier extradited to Canada in October and charged with the murder of Matti Baranovski.