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Sunday, September 5, 1999 Published at 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK

Deal done - but distrust remains

Mourning for the Jewish couple killed walking in the woods

By Jerusalem correspondent Hilary Andersson

While the politics raged this week, two people were ignoring it.

Yehiel, a 26-year-old and his gir friend of 21.

Middle East
The two lovers who lived in Northern Israel had decided to drive to a forest near their homes in the town of Megiddo. There they went on a walk.

The next day they were the headline news. They had been killed.

The incident sent shudders through Israeli society. There hasn't been a bus bomb or a cafe blown up here in months.

That paranoia born of the Jewish experience reared its head. And the people wondered could the dark shadow of violence have now returned? And we once again being hunted?

Racism is normal

The bodies showed signs that it may have been a criminal attack not a political one, but still one of the next day's papers read: "Arab Israelis were the killers".

[ image: The deal is done - but reconciliation between peoples is harder still]
The deal is done - but reconciliation between peoples is harder still
In most countries pinning the blame on an ethnic groups would be considered ugly, crass racism, but not here. It's normal.

Sometimes the idea of one day reaching a final peace deal here to resolve the conflict here once and for all seems possible - sometimes society seems ready for change, but often it does not.

You see the racism everywhere, everyday - even when you go to Jerusalem's main shopping mall. Instead of checking your car boot for explosives, the security guard at the gates of the mall asks you for your first name. If it's Mohammed, or Abdul, you can forget it.

They say this country does not have apartheid, but that's a lie. It's far worse because it goes deeper.

So deep that even their wildest dreams the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs - whose lives will be inextricably tied for centuries to come - do not imagine that the two sides could ever live in one state.

Almost everyday the Middle East peace process is on the news - day in, day out for years, details of peace negotiations, breakthroughs, talks collapsing - but none of this portrays what it's really like here.

The politicians talk of peace, but for the Israelis and Palestinians, fear of each other remains the reality.

Hatred runs deep

[ image: Sheikh Yassin - frail, but powerful]
Sheikh Yassin - frail, but powerful
In Gaza this week I met one man who has done a lot to stir up this fear and hatred - the leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

He was crippled because of an accident in his youth, and later lost his hearing while being tortured in an Israeli prison. His voice is quiet and high-pitched and his sitting room where I met him smells of the stale air of a sick room.

This man controls an organisation that bombs Israeli buses.

Outside his house scrappily-dressed children played on the dusty streeets - one of them with a large plastic pistol. Graffiti vows allegiance to Hamas - to ending the peace process with violence - to fighting for Palestinian rights by killing Jews.

Many here in Gaza where support for Hamas is growing believe that the peace process is a waste of time.

Those agreements which are reached have paid few dividends for the ordinary people.

Hatred for the Israelis runs deep.

Whilst filming some children nearby, the friendly Jewish sound recordist I was working with gently shooed some children who were crowding round the camera.

"Yehud, Yehud" meaning "Jew, Jew" they shouted in an instant, recognising his identity - and one fired a small rock at him with his home-made catapult.

It was such a familiar moment that the humiliation it intended to evoke was lost on all of us.

Reconciliation so far away

It's this hatred which makes the Israelis fear the Palestinians. And it's this fear which explains why the peace talks this week have proved so difficult.

[ image: Prisoners issue held up the deal]
Prisoners issue held up the deal
They were stalled on the issue of political prisoners. The Palestinians wanted 400 prisoners, some of whom have been involved in political killings to be released as part of the Wye accord - but the Israelis would only offer 350.

How could such a small matter of 50 prisoners threaten the whole peace process the world asked, bemused at the intransigence.

A middle-aged Israel woman called Yehudit Dasberg provides one answer.

I met her in her house surrounded by shopping bags on Thursday night - getting ready for the Sabath.

Two children, too young to be hers, ran around calling her mummy. The children's parents - her daughter - had been killed in a random extremist attack three years ago.

We began talking about Ehud Barak's plans to release some political prisoners. "They can't release murderers," she simply said.

I argued with her - unless there's reconciliation this country will never emerge from its past - there will be more killings and then more again.

But she insisted: "These people are criminals, they are killers." They're political killers, though, I pointed out.

"What's the difference," she said, putting away a photograph of her smiling daughter before she was killed.

As I drove back to Jerusalem that night, thinking of what she'd said, a massive full moon rose abover the Judean desert. The road took me through the West Bank, through Palestinian towns that weren't on the maps, past the signs to Jewish towns.

A day or two later Hamas claimed responsibility for the killing of the two lovers who had gone for a walk in the woods. More fuel for the fear that drives these two peoples apart.

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