BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 15 October, 2001, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Palestinian tension pressures Arafat
Yasser Arafat arriving at Heathrow Airport
Yasser Arafat is facing dissent from some sections of the Palestinian community
The BBC's Barbara Plett visits the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank and outlines the divisions which pose a dilemma for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A metal door swings open to welcome the emergency rations to the Balata refugee camp, near the town of Nablus.

This food is delivered by local officials of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. They are helping people in the camp make it through the tough times as the Intifada drags on.

Balata's dirty narrow lanes are pretty bleak even at the best of times. There is no hope here, no future.

The conflict with Israel is still the main concern here. But underneath that there is tension between the town and the camp

It is mostly people from dead end places like this who carry the guns in the uprising. Getting them to put down their weapons now is not so easy. At least that is what one Fatah militant told me.

"Yasser Arafat is the leader of our people but we won't obey his orders for a ceasefire because the Israelis are still shooting, even if he tries to keep us down by force," he said.

Traditional city

Every evening, the call to prayer echoes through the quiet hills as the sun sets over Nablus.

It is a rich old city traditionally run by large wealthy families. If anyone benefited from the attempt to make peace with Israel it was them.

The conflict with Israel is still the main concern here. But underneath that there is tension between the town and the camp.

Palestinian child throws stones at an Israeli tank
The intifada has raged for more than a year
The mayor of Nablus, Hassan Shekker, showed me around a well-equipped centre for children. It is just one of the projects of which he is proud.

Residents of the town have benefited quite a bit from his efforts to improve services. The refugees, however, have not benefited as much.

Shekker acknowledges these class differences but says they don't cause divisions.

"I'm one of the rich families in the city," he said. "I am one of the old families in the city, but I don't believe I have any kind of disagreement with any family or any person on the basis of the Intifada or the authority, or even the PLO."

The enemy within

But the bodyguards who surround Mr Shekker's black four-wheel drive vehicle aren't protecting him from Israelis.

His relations with militants in the camps are strained. He has tried to disarm them and failed. It is the poor who have paid the heaviest price over the past year of fighting and they want something back.

The funerals of eight of Palestinians killed in the Intifada
Nablus is the scene of many confrontations with Israelis
They are demanding an end to Israeli occupation, of course, but ultimately they may ask for more.

"They want to see that there are real changes on the ground regarding the political regime," said Nablus politician Dalal Salameh.

Ms Salameh supports classes that teach teenagers traditional Palestinian dance steps. Culture is seen as part of the struggle. After all, it is a nationalist uprising.

Yasser Arafat has to convince the foot soldiers of the Intifada that his policies will lead to an independent state.

He may also have to widen the circle of power and give them a role in deciding what kind of state it will be.

See also:

15 Oct 01 | Middle East
Arafat's audience at Number 10
22 Aug 01 | Middle East
'Four dead' in Nablus gun battle
14 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel kills Hamas militant
13 Oct 01 | Middle East
Bush urged to act on 'Palestinian state'
12 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair completes Middle East mission
Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories