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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Middle East's circle of despair
Another explosion: The occupant of this car was killed in the West Bank town of Nablus
Another explosion: The occupant of this car was killed in the West Bank town of Nablus
Hilary Andersson examines the depressing cycle of violence which is ruining the lives of those caught up in the Middle East conflict.

When the sun rises over East Jerusalem it casts a bright white haze over the city. The holy sites are silhouetted against the sky. The mosques, churches and synagogues each sound their pleas their God. Then the colours become normal, the day starts, and the cold ritual of madness begins again.

The soldiers take up positions. The politicians prepare their words of rhetoric. The suicide bombers perfect their plans.

There have been scenes over the last week or so that have not been witnessed here before - the devastation caused by F16 fighter planes, flying over and bombing the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestinian man throws a missile
A Palestinian man throws a missile
This was Ariel Sharon's response to the Netanya bomb blast that left Israeli shoppers scattered across a pavement in the middle of town. His reaction was largely supported in Israel because the bomb attack was so utterly brutal.

In a hospital in Tel Aviv a 20-year-old Russian immigrant to Israel - called German - was sitting at a table, his eyes heavy with lack of sleep.

A week ago his family was out shopping. They were caught in the blast. His brother was killed - his sister is intensive care - and his sister's six-year-old son Sasha, had just come out of intensive care that day.

Scarred

I asked him if the child knew his father was dead. German shook his head. This was the day he was to tell him.

Sasha has been asking for his mother ever since the day of blast - but he has never mentioned a word about his father. His psychologist said he knew inside that something terrible had happened, something too awful to ask about.

An Israeli soldier prepared for action
An Israeli soldier prepared for action
German sat with head on the arm of Sasha's wheelchair - gently carressing the child's light blue pyjamas with his hand. Sasha had two black eyes, shrapnel wounds all over his face and an silent expression of his internal terror and helplessness.

In English, which Sasha couldn't understand, the young uncle started tyring to explain to us the horrific task that lay ahead: "Look at him, look at his state, he pleaded. How can him tell him that his father is dead?"

But the child's psychologist insisted that this must be the day he learned - otherwise his fear would just fester inside. They wheeled him away to a room for the private ordeal that would probably scar him psychologically for all of his days.

Striking back

In another room was his mother. Her life was in danger too. This woman who had only gone shopping had shrapnel wounds all over, third degree burns, two fractured legs - and some of her wounds have become infected.

German's only comment on Israel's response to the bombing, was well, what else can we do?

A Palestinian grips the flag at another Gaza funeral
A Palestinian grips the flag at another Gaza funeral
There is a feeling in Israel that striking back at the Palestinians is the only option because talks have utterly failed.

Many people also believe that if Israel strikes hard enough, the Palestinians will eventually submit. In the back of some Israelis' minds is the mantra which says: "Arabs only understand the language of violence."

Ironically, some Palestinians say the same of Israelis. But both sides are wrong because there are no signs that the violence, no matter how fierce, will make either side submit.

Parlaysed

In a hospital in Gaza this week I met some of the forgotten Palestinian victims of eight months of fighting. A 14-year-old boy had a bullet pass through his spinal cord in his neck.

He will be paralysed for life and can only move his mouth. His despair can't even be imagined.

Another man, 19 years old, had miraculously survived a bullet wound to his head. But his head is mishaped, his memory is gone.

A boy plays with spent cartridges after an exchange of fire
A boy plays with spent cartridges after an exchange of fire
On another bed sat Abdel Lateef Zanin, a well-built man, with a strong face who was lifting weights with his arms.

He had no legs. Both had to be amputated after 20mm bullets sliced through them. He says he had been ferrying away injured people from a riot. He has prosthetic legs now - and can walk with support and great effort.

We went home with him - in a matter-of-fact way he took his legs off, and put them under the stairs. Then he sat in his wheelchair and began to talk.

Violence breeds

He told me he was glad that he had been injured. And he really seemed to mean it.

Everyone has a destiny chosen by God he said, and mine is to suffer for this struggle. The more Sharon and the Israelis hurt us, he went on, the stronger we'll be.

After a week of hell, of death, of blood, pain and of misery that didn't have to happen, one simple truth is so plain: violence breeds violence.

It is not a language. And it brings no dialogue. It is primitive. And when it's all over, the talks will have to start again anyway.


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