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Saturday, 28 July, 2001, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Mid-East violence kills man of peace
Wreckage from rocket attack on Palestinian police point
Israel has hit Palestinian areas with rocket fire
Israel has targeted and killed about 30 Palestinians since the current uprising began 10 months ago. But Palestinian and Israeli human rights workers say 10 innocent bystanders have been killed in these attacks. From Jerusalem Orla Guerin tells the story of one of them.

They sit facing one another on cheap plastic chairs - forming a small circle of grief.

There are men from several generations, sipping the small cups of bitter coffee that Palestinians serve in mourning.

They are the friends and relatives of Ishac and Omar Saada - two brothers killed recently in an Israeli missile strike in the town of Bethlehem last week.

To them one dead Palestinian is just the same as another

Palestinian man
Two men whose lives were dramatically different, but who suffered the same death.

Omar was the militant one - he was a long-time member of the Islamic extremist group Hamas, a veteran of Israeli and Palestinian jails.

A bomber, said Israel, who was planning another attack at the time of his death. Maybe so - but there was no arrest or trial or proof.

Ran to help

Omar was killed with another Hamas activist when the first two missiles struck.

They were the intended targets of the attack - the Israeli army had done what it came to do.

In his house across the road Ishac heard the noise. He raced out, barefoot, shouting that he was going to help his brother. A friend joined him.

Palestinians say it was three minutes later - when Ishac and his friend were at the site - that the army fired again. Another missile landed. They were blown to pieces.

Funeral of assassinated Israeli
Israel says the assassinations are an act of self defence

The Israel army said afterwards it had killed a number of Hamas activists.

In death, Ishac was branded a terrorist by association. In fact he was a school teacher who had spent years working for peace.

Inside Ishac's simple poor house there is the sound of small feet in sandals clattering on bare tiles.

He left 10 children behind, including 11-year-old Sukaina. She drags herself across the tiles on her elbows to be nearer to her Mother, Adla. Sukaina has been paralysed from birth.

"Ishac was a great father," Adla told me. "He treated his children well. He wanted very much to buy Sukaina a wheelchair, but we are a big family and he didn't have the money."

Political differences

Adla spoke with her head bent and her hands clasped tightly in her lap. Last month she and Ishac celebrated 24 years of marriage.

On the wall beside her - a poster announcing her husband's death. Ishac is smiling and wearing a suit and tie. He had a round face and a moustache.

Boy brandishing a gun at a Palestinian funeral
Ishac tried to teach peace to Palestinian children

Alongside this a picture of his brother Omar - younger by six years - with full beard, brandishing a rifle.

The two brothers did not argue about politics, Adla says, each went his own way.

For Ishac that meant becoming a peace activist. For 28 years he taught at the Terra Santa school in Bethlehem. But he wanted to reach out to Israeli children too, so he helped devise a new curriculum for Israeli and Palestinian pupils in the 11th grade.

At the very hour he was buried he was due to attend a workshop with Israeli teachers.

Preaching peace

In recent months Ishac told Israeli colleagues how difficult it was to preach peace to his children - after all the terrible things they had seen.

I don't know what to do or what to believe. Everything seems hopeless

Nafiz, friend of Ishac Saada

But there was no choice, he said, because the alternative was to let their hearts be filled by hate.

Alone now and unprotected, Adla does not want to talk about her husband's contacts with Israelis.

She looks nervous when I ask about his involvement with teachers on the other side.

Peace has become a dirty word in Bethlehem - to many Palestinians any dealings with Israelis are an act of betrayal.

Memory soiled

For the moment, at least, Adla would rather forget what her husband was struggling for.

But Ishac's friends in a leading Israeli-Palestinian peace organisation, IPCRI, want his contribution to be remembered.

Family of 17-year-old Ronen Landau, shooting victim
Families on both sides are mourning innocent victims

For them there are two tragedies - his death, and the soiling of his memory by Israeli statements about the missile attack.

I asked the Israeli army to explain how it was that they killed a man like Ishac. "Ask the Palestinians why they are still carrying out attacks" was their only response.

The army has yet to admit that one of the four men it killed in Bethlehem was not a bomber or a gunmen, but a man of peace.

There has been no apology.

The men mourning outside Ishac's house said they did not expect the Israelis to make one.

"To them one dead Palestinian is just the same as another," an old man said.

Faith in peace

The mourners praised both brothers and spoke of how they loved their children and worked hard all their lives. There was no comment about Ishac's peace work, or Omar's bloody past.

Palestinians protest against targeted killings
Anger against is Israel is running high

But among the group was someone who had shared Ishac's faith in peace.

Nafiz was a friend and neighbour. Like Ishac he was originally a teacher and later he got involved in politics.

"I participated in the Madrid peace conference in 1991," he told me. "I was one of the people who went out on the streets demonstrating against suicide bombers. But that was then," he said, his voice trailing off.

When he spoke again it was a small weary voice, "I don't know what to do or what to believe," he said. "Everything seems hopeless."

Key stories




See also:

28 Jul 01 | Middle East
27 Jul 01 | Middle East
24 Jul 01 | Middle East
23 Jul 01 | Middle East
18 Jul 01 | Middle East
09 Jul 01 | Middle East
04 Jul 01 | Middle East
02 Jul 01 | Middle East
29 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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