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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
'Gentle' incursion raises Palestinian fears
Children walk past burnt out cars in the centre of Ramallah
Reminders of the conflict are all around Ramallah

Palestinians in Ramallah have been noticing a marked difference in how Israeli troops are conducting themselves in the West Bank town, compared with how the army behaved during its five-week incursion three months ago.


This situation is different. We are acting in a lower profile

Israeli defence spokesman Olivier Rafovitz
When Sam Bahour's house was raided recently - after soldiers had spotted his daughter lowering food out of the window to her grandmother living one floor below - he feared the worst.

"My daughter came rushing into my room, pale as can be, yelling that the soldiers were in our house," he says,

"We lived here in April, during the first major invasion of Ramallah. At that point they were ransacking houses, kicking down doors. But this time it was not like that - it was a very disciplined army unit.

Not all the Israeli action in the West Bank has been conducted with dignified formality. In particular, the Palestinian headquarters in Hebron were destroyed, almost certainly with people inside.

But the fact remains that during the present round of incursions, few buildings have been bulldozed.

Boy in Ramallah
The curfew is only lifted for a few hours at a time
And the Red Crescent aid agency has not been reporting anything like the kind of casualties seen back in April.

Speaking to the BBC, the Israeli Defence Force spokesman Olivier Rafovitz came close to acknowledging that its behaviour on that occasion had been a mistake.

"This situation is different. We are acting in a lower profile," he said.

"We are not afraid in Israel to learn. We are doing what we have to do, but we are also adapting ourselves."

Re-occupation worries

If Israel is adopting a new approach of "gentler" incursions, it does not seem to be winning over Palestinian hearts and minds just yet.

During a brief lifting of the curfew, with just a few hours to buy food and medicines and check up on relatives, people in the West Bank still made time to demonstrate against the Israeli presence.


If we don't look to the future, we won't get out of bed in the morning

Sam Bahour
In fact, paradoxically, there are many Palestinians who fear that Israel's relative lack of aggression and destruction this time round bodes ill for the West Bank's future.

The Palestinian Authority's Labour Minister, Ghassan Khatib, expressed a common fear - that the military is quietly establishing the circumstances that will lead to the permanent re-occupation of the West Bank.

"They will ultimately take over everything," he warned.

But the Israeli Government insists that reoccupation is not on the agenda. It says it is in the West Bank to root out terrorist cells, and thus protect its people.

Building a nation

Sam Bahour insists that if Israel withdraws completely, militant attacks against Israelis will eventually stop.

Born and raised in Ohio of Palestinian parents, Mr Bahour was working as a specialist in telecoms until the Oslo agreement, when he decided to move to the newly autonomous West Bank to help build a new nation.

Selling vegetables in Ramallah
Normal life is hard under the Israeli curfew
He did not expect to be living under curfew, with teenage soldiers telling him what to do, and is deeply worried that Israel re-occupation is on the horizon.

"I couldn't play a part in the Intifada because I don't know how to throw rocks. But I know how to build an economy," he said.

"But the Israelis did not even allow us to do that."

"I have to be optimistic that tomorrow will be better than today. If we don't look to the future, we won't get out of bed in the morning."


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26 Jun 02 | Middle East
25 Jun 02 | Middle East
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