BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: In Depth: September 11 one year on  
News Front Page
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
September 11 one year on Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
US 'distracted'
Arafat gives blood
Yasser Arafat gives blood after the attacks on the US

Soon after America's great tragedy, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was lying in a hospital bed in Gaza.

He had rushed to donate his blood for America's wounded - making sure the TV cameras were along. As PR stunts go, it was not the most successful.

The blood was never sent as it was not needed. And hospital sources said later that no other Palestinians had followed suit. But Arafat was desperate to show solidarity with America.

He had backed Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and paid for that mistake. This time he wanted to be on the right side of the line. But in the year since then he has learned that shedding his own blood is far from enough.

In the year since the World Trade Center attacks, Palestinian attacks have intensified and Israel has hit back harder and harder

The 11 September attacks shrank the Middle East, reducing the region and its torment to a side-show as America digested its own pain. The conflict here was no longer centre stage - just a small piece of a bigger puzzle.

Different conclusions

On the day itself, hour after hour, every TV set here was showing the same horrific images.

In towns and cities across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, in hungry Palestinian refugee camps and in neatly-sculpted Jewish settlements, the same nightmare was playing out. But as both sides watched, they came to very different conclusions.

Israel expected to benefit from 11 September, from America's new war on terrorism. Palestinians expected to suffer. Everyone understood that the rules of the game had changed.

Long before the dead could even be counted some Israeli officials were trying to benefit from America's anguish - and its desire for revenge.

Bus bombed by Palestinian militants
Palestinian bombings continue
They began a campaign to convince the world that Israel and America were fighting a common enemy.

Israel believed there would be a lot more sympathy and a lot less criticism - whatever tactics it chose to use against the Palestinians.

When America began courting Arab support for its 'coalition against terror', the Arab world wanted a payback. There was pressure for progress on the Palestinian issue.

But the pressure was as inefffective as most Arab protests. The White House gave the Arab world a polite hearing, and little else. It pushed hard for a ceasefire (that was still born), but did not change its policies towards Israel.

On the blacklist

Twelve months on, the White House is talking of a Palestinian state within three years, but only if the Palestinians ditch their elected leader.

Immediately after the New York attacks, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon branded Arafat "our Bin Laden". That name never stuck abroad.

But Arafat's failure or unwillingness to stop the suicide bombers has put him firmly - and it seems irrevocably - on America's blacklist. Washington has tired of his excuses.

Forty eight hours after the attacks I sat outside a modest house in the West Bank town of Jericho. Its parched streets form the oldest town on Earth.

My host was Mohammed Shakbua, a slight man living each day on hardship and hate. He showed me the damage to his home, at Number 1 Intifada Street.

The walls were pockmarked by Israeli bullets. "We were sleeping out on the roof and the bullets passed over our heads," he said.

Damaged Palestinian homes
Israeli security forces have responded to the attacks
When I asked if he was sorry for America's dead, his swift reply drained the heat from the hot desert air. "America backs Israel," he said. "I wish to Allah more of them had been killed."

The night before Israeli tanks had rumbled into Jericho and onto Palestinian soil. After this raid and another in the town of Jenin, 13 Palestinians were dead. Palestinians accused Israel of opportunism, of striking against them while the eyes of America and the world were elsewhere.

Cycle of violence

In the year since the World Trade Center attacks, Palestinian attacks have intensified and Israel has hit back harder and harder.

After waves of suicide bombings the West Bank has been reoccupied twice. Some 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned by curfews for weeks on end.

Two thirds are said to be living below the poverty line - earning less than $2 a day. Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis because of Israel's choking closure of Palestinian areas.

Yousef Arafeh is already living it. His half-built house contains nine boys, three girls and an almost empty fridge.

The day we visited his home, in a Bethlehem refugee camp, most of his children were barefoot. The youngest ones were drinking water in their bottles.

Milk is a luxury Yousef can rarely afford. "When I had a job in Israel," he told me, "the fridge was always full with meat and milk and vegetables. But I haven't worked in two years."

His wife sat quietly by the rough brick wall, exhausted and silent. In a month she will give birth again - to a set of twins.

Yousef's mother, Ghalia, sees only one way out. She told us, repeatedly, that she wants to sell one of the children. She offered us the youngest, Jamal, just two years old.

"I'm serious about selling one of them," she said. "I want to do it because we are so poor. Winter is coming and the children are sleeping on the ground."

Muted response

As she spoke Yousef wrapped his arms around his smiling son, kissing Jamal's cheek and stroking his head. He does not want to let him go, and is relying on God to find a way to feed him.

The conflict here continues to steal lives on both sides

As to Yasser Arafat himself, the Palestinian leader has spent months under siege, his security forces have been attacked and his own compound reduced to rubble.

America's response has often been muted - limited to occasional calls for Israeli restraint, and suggestions that Israel consider the consequences of its actions.

And the Israeli leader has been acting with a freer and a heavier hand. Palestinian extremists have given him every reason to do so.

Ordinary Palestinians and their aspirations are among the casualties of the attacks on the US.

These days it is commonplace to see an Israeli tank parked outside a Palestinian home - just like the family car.

It is no longer a surprise that Palestinian areas look like ghost towns - the inhabitants cowering in their own homes.

And it is a matter of grim routine that Israelis are slaughtered by suicide bombers.

America's focus is directed elsewhere - towards what may be an unwinnable war in Iraq. In the meantime, the conflict here continues to steal lives on both sides.

The Middle East has become a daily soap-opera that Washington cannot quite ignore but seems to watch with the volume turned down.

New York despatches





See also:

25 Jun 02 | Middle East
27 Jun 02 | Middle East
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more September 11 one year on stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more September 11 one year on stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |