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Saturday, 14 April, 2001, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Farewell to Jerusalem
By departing correspondent Paul Adams
A heavy blanket of English cloud hangs over Jerusalem. Drops of rain cling to the mosquito netting. It's chilly and damp.
But the seasons are chasing each other across the sky.
Twenty four hours ago, I sat in the sun-drenched garden in shirtsleeves, watching my two-year-old son, William, scampering on the grass, inspecting bugs, dancing in the sprinklers that water the lawn.
Summer will soon be here and the hills I see from my study window will fade to brown under a bleached sky.
The house is empty, every sound echoing through rooms devoid of books, pictures and carpets.
In these last weeks, we have concentrated on making the most of life here - one last picnic in the forest, one last barbeque on the magnificent, rocky cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea.
Reminding ourselves that, for all the bitterness that surrounds us, life here has been good.
But last night, as darkness fell, the sound of gunfire echoed once more across the valley from the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Jala.
The crack and rattle of small arms followed by the heavy, shuddering sound of Israeli helicopter gunships.
William sometimes looks up when he hears the throbbing of rotor blades passing over the house. He points in the air and says "opters".
Another year here and he would probably start to understand what the opters are doing.
In time, he might even come to dread the sound, as I do.
For the sound of those helicopters haunts me, dragging my thoughts back to the end of last year.
On a cold, blustery night in November, I returned home with my wife Susanna. On a steep, curving road, lined with olive trees, we stopped to watch events in Beit Jala.
The gunships were overhead, firing into the village. Burning brightly, the rockets seemed to take an age to reach their targets.
Hatred and grief
The spectacle was dramatic but we were wrapped in our own thoughts of impending loss.
The following day, we went back to the hospital where William had been born. I waited in the corridor while our second son was delivered, lived for a few moments, and died.
But as I waited, a doctor told me there had been an attack on a bus carrying Jewish children from a settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Some of the children had been terribly maimed.
I stared at the floor, where the jumbled patterns of tiles dissolved and resolved into faces, frozen in expressions of pain and horror.
An Arab woman was wheeled by, gasping with the onset of labour.
At the other end, the door to the nursery swung open - a newborn was being shown to its proud Jewish parents.
The hospital psychologist came by to see how I was doing. I didn't feel much like talking and mentioned the news from Gaza, hoping, I think, to deflect the conversation.
The doctor shook her head. "I don't understand," she said. "There's so much hatred. We just want to feel safe."
My mind churning with the hateful way of the world, I went to the recovery room to share a few moments with Susanna and the baby.
Impossibly small, his eyes still shut and his arms folded in a protective gesture across his chest, it seemed he had heard all about the world outside and wanted nothing to do with it.
So much hatred and so much grief - the past seven months seem to have been about nothing else.
But the sensitive hospital psychologist was missing the point.
Of course it is there, welling up, visible on the burning streets of every town and refugee camp of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But it does not spring from some innate predisposition, as many Israelis would seem to believe.
Calling it anti-Semitism may be tempting but it's wrong.
The Palestinians have ample reason to mistrust and resent their powerful overlord.
The destruction of more than 400 of their villages following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
The exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them driven from their homes by force of arms.
The conquest of what remained of their homeland in 1967 and the subsequent decision to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip - a disastrous policy, illegal under international law, which lies at the very heart of today's violence.
In each case, Arab rejectionism helped to seal their doom, but the Palestinians can hardly be blamed for holding Israel, the victor, responsible for their suffering.
The peace process, entered into by their own leadership and promising so much, came to be seen as the final insult.
They believe, wrongly, that most Palestinians now rule themselves - that the occupation no longer exists. That the uprising which erupted last September is nothing more than a brutal means of negotiation launched by a cynical Palestinian leadership.
In Gilo, the Jewish settlement which faces Beit Jala over a deep ravine, Israelis are dreaming of better days.
The settlement, which sits on a hill, guarding the southern flank of Jerusalem, has been targeted repeatedly in recent months.
The shots fired by Palestinian gunmen have done little damage - certainly not when compared to the gaping wounds inflicted by Israeli helicopters and tanks - but the threat of a bullet passing through a window has been traumatic enough.
When the shooting began, in October, a wall of concrete blocks was quickly erected to shield Jewish homes on this new front line.
The wall, and the tanks that took up positions on the hill overlooking Beit Jala, provided a vivid symbol of the new depths to which Israelis and Palestinians were plunging.
I returned to the wall recently, on a day of fog and driving rain, and found it covered by a mural.
There in gentle colours and soft lines, was, bizarrely, an idealised version of Beit Jala, the very Palestinian village the wall was put up to confront.
The real Beit Jala is now a place where gunmen hide, waiting for nightfall.
But the mural shows an idyllic, sunlit place, where the conflict no longer intrudes and the only Arab is an old man in traditional garb, apparently bearing a gift of fruit as he climbs the hill towards his Jewish neighbours in Gilo.
One day, perhaps not soon, the wall will be torn down and the two sides will look at each other without fear and suspicion.
But for now, it is, like the mural, little more than a fond hope.
The past three and a half years have had their fill of fond hopes, all of them dashed.
Talks and more talks
Early last year, I travelled eagerly to Switzerland for a summit at which it was thought President Clinton would try to steer the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, towards a deal with Israel.
By the chilly waters of Lake Geneva it all came to nought.
Two and a half months later, President Assad was dead.
In July, another summit, at Camp David. Bill Clinton trying again, this time with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak.
More high hopes and an even greater sense of disappointment when it too failed.
I still can't bring myself to part with a receipt from a nearby branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It records that I purchased something called a Combo Eight with three pieces of corn on the cob. But it also says "We welcome the summit and the prospects for peace."
By the time the peacemakers made it to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba, in January, it was all too late.
The negotiations were real, some of the most fruitful in years, but Ehud Barak was kicked out of office a couple of weeks later and the talks counted for nothing.
So many moments of hope - I confess I have allowed myself to be carried away more than once.
And yet I leave Israelis and Palestinians in worse shape than I found them.
Israelis, who dream of getting on with their lives without the fear of being blown up on a bus, have retreated under a tough shell bearing the name of their new prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
So far, it doesn't appear to have made them any safer.
Palestinians, who yearn for statehood on equal terms, despair that Israel will ever give them the chance.
More and more of them have come to believe that violence is the only way.
There is never a good time to leave, and this feels worse than most.
Time to go
To turn our backs on Israeli and Palestinian friends, every one of them fearful of what the coming months will bring, seems almost cowardly.
"Think of us," they say, and we will - a great deal.
But the situation here may get much worse before it improves.
As the hills around our Jerusalem home fade to brown, a long, difficult summer lies ahead.
We buried William's brother up on Mount Scopus, among pine trees, Jerusalem's walls, spires and domes spread out below.
In a city where the living so often invoke the dead as they lay claim to the land, where graves and bones are so important, we have inadvertently become part of something we never expected.
We are leaving a piece of ourselves behind. The experience of life and death in Jerusalem has given us the feeling that we belong here.
A dangerous sentiment perhaps and a warning that it is time to leave.
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