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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Palestinians under siege
Palestinians pile sheep carcasses in a field near Nablus in the West Bank
Palestinians accuse settlers of poisoning their sheep
In the second of two special features on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our correspondent Paul Wood looks at a day in the life of a PLO official as he deals with a community under siege.

Click here to read Paul Wood's first feature - a day in the life of an Israeli minister.

For Palestinians, Israeli occupation is sometimes deadly, often humiliating, mostly just plain inconvenient.

Like all other Palestinians, Saleh Tameri, the senior PLO official in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, is subject to the daily frustration of Israeli roadblocks.

Whether they travel by foot or by car, how many hours they wait, if they pass at all, is determined for Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces.

There is no halfway house between freedom and slavery

Saleh Tameri
"Occupation is evil," he says.

"We are sick, tired and fed up with Israeli occupation and as long as we are under that occupation, we will resist it.

"When we Palestinians endorsed the peace process, we did so because we thought peace meant freedom.

"Living under occupation is physical slavery and there is no halfway house between freedom and slavery."

Drawing a line

Mr Tameri joined the PLO when Israel seized the West Bank in 1967. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General and has dedicated his life to turning the Israelis out of the occupied territories.

Today he is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the senior Palestinian official for dealing with Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Together we go to a hillside in Bethlehem overlooking the settlement of Har Homa - to the Palestinians it is known as Jabal-abu-Ghneim.

The Palestinian protest to stop the creation of a Jewish settlement there was led by Saleh Tameri.

Palestinian woman walks among debris of house demolished by Israeli military in Beit, east Jerusalem
Israel demolishes Palestinian property built without a permit
Now, a complete freeze on all building in such settlements is one Palestinian condition for ending their intifada, or uprising.

The Palestinians say Har Homa represents an attempt by the Israelis to redraw and expand the boundaries of the new state of Israel which might emerge from a final peace agreement.

"It's like a dagger in the heart of Bethlehem," Mr Tameri says, gesturing in the direction of Har Homa.

"And on top of this, on top of the occupation, the siege, we have a campaign of assassinations by the Israelis.

"All this has been going on for 30 years."

No surrender

Looking at the surrounding hills, some under Palestinian control, some under Israeli, I ask if there is not enough room for everyone to build.

"No," he replies. "No, not here. The Israelis took it all."

Israeli troops escort a settler to site near Hebron, West Bank
Every Jewish settlement goes up under armed guard
And if the price of a peace deal with the Israelis is to allow Har Homa to stay, Mr Tameri says it is a price too high to pay.

At his offices in Bethlehem, Mr Tameri sees a stream of people whose lives are made impossible by the occupation.

It dominates every aspect of Palestinian existence.

A woman comes in weeping.

Since the intifada, she has not been able to find work and now she cannot pay for medical treatment for her mother.

"The situation here is devastating," Mr Tameri says.

"Every day we have to deal with dozens of such problems."

Hard road to peace

I ask Mr Tameri if he can see an end to the current conflict.

"We wouldn't have signed the Oslo agreement if we didn't believe that co-existence and peace were inevitable," he says.

Some people say we are doomed to live together but I believe we are blessed to live together

Saleh Tameri

"Some people say we are doomed to live together but I believe we are blessed to live together.

"Deep in our hearts we know that peace is inevitable.

"But before then there will be many more tragedies because of the continued occupation by the Israeli forces."

This is unexpected optimism, especially as the Israelis insist that none of the political issues vital for the Palestinians will be discussed until there have been seven days without violence - and then a six-week "cooling-off" period.

To the Israeli Government, this is "no negotiation under fire".

To the Palestinians, it is a demand to call off their intifada unconditionally, to say that more than 500 Palestinians died for nothing.

No trust

Mr Tameri accuses the Israelis of acting in bad faith.

"What did they do before there were any suicide bombers?" he asks.

Sister of Palestinian activist Samir Abu el-Az at his funeral
The PLO official see many more tragedies ahead
"Even then, they did not implement the Oslo agreement: thousands of young Palestinians are still in jail, more settlements are being built, more land is being confiscated.

"So they are hypocritical at best. They are liars."

For Mr Tameri, the Israelis have always to aimed to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

"They don't want to see a viable Palestinian state, even on one inch of Palestinian soil," he says.

Palestinians like Saleh Tameri say Israel must understand one simple fact: as long as there is occupation, there will be no peace.

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See also:

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27 Apr 01 | Middle East
08 Dec 00 | Middle East
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