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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 14:54 GMT
Palestinian brothers meet their fate
The BBC's Orla Guerin
By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Jerusalem

A return visit to the home of two young Palestinians five years after a first meeting brings home the harsh reality of the world they live in.

Children play in the al-Shati Refugee camp in Gaza city
Generations of children have grown up in the refugee camps
His name was Ali and he was 16 years old, caught between the games of a child and the sins of a man.

He wore the anonymous uniform of youth - faded jeans, sweatshirt, and anorak.

Ali lived in a Palestinian refugee camp called Dehaisheh, a squalid corner of biblical Bethlehem.

The camp houses generations of displaced Palestinians, people who fled their homes or were driven out when Israel was created in 1948.

Ali spent his nights at a modest local gym, lifting weights, like his older brother Mahmud used to do.

Mahmud wanted to win the title Champion of Palestine, but was dead at 25.

I met Ali and his other brother Omar five years ago, in the early days of the Palestinian intifada.

I had just arrived in the Middle East, and I wanted to see the future, to talk to the young generation.

They led me through the camp, along rough winding roads to a large and imposing building three storeys high.

This was their house. And it was home to the family from Israel's worst nightmare.


The father Youssef was a burly man with a hazy past.

He would not say how he lost his leg, or why Mahmud was shot dead by Israeli troops.

He remembers Mahmud as a young man who came home crying because the Israelis were killing Palestinian children.

Israel remembers Mahmud as a man who was shot dead planting a bomb.

What I want to do most is kill Jews. It's in my blood

Over tea served with mint leaves, I asked Ali what kind of future he wanted for himself. His reply made me shudder.

"From a long time back my feelings towards Jews are feelings of hatred," he said.

"What I want to do most is kill Jews. It's in my blood. Ever since I was a child I have dreamed of this."

His words stayed with me through the years, imprinted on my memory like a stain.

Before leaving the Middle East, I went to find Ali, to see if he was dead or alive, and if he had got his wish.

New scar

Bethlehem has changed since my first visit.

A digger destroys two Palestinian homes in the neighbourhood of Anata northeast Jerusalem
Homes are often destroyed if it is believed they house militants
Just after the Israeli checkpoint, there is a new scar on the landscape, a towering wall snaking along the edge of town.

This is Israel's West Bank barrier, supposed to block suicide bombers, but making a virtual prisoner of the entire town.

At Ali's house, or what is left of it, I meet his father.

"The Israelis came and tore down the house," Youssef says, gesturing at the ruins.

"They gave us 10 minutes to take what we could. They said it was because of my son."

We sit on green and gold chairs near an animal shed, in which the family now sleep.

As Youssef's grandchildren play around his feet, I learn what has become of Ali.

Behind bars

The fresh-faced teenager that I met is now a man, behind bars in an Israeli jail. Youssef says he was charged with sending out a suicide bomber who killed two Israelis and injured 37.

He was sentenced to 235 years. Youssef does not claim that Ali is innocent.

Ali has been joined in jail by his brother Omar, now 21.

Five years ago he was the quiet one, a polite boy who told me he wanted to join the Palestinian police.

It was their duty, this is our land, not Israeli land
Ali's father
Instead, Palestinian sources say he too grew up to be a militant.

Their father shows no sign of regret about what his sons have done.

"It was their duty," he says. "This is our land, not Israeli land."

He cannot send letters or make visits. He knows he may never see Ali again.

"My faith is so big," he says, "that if I do not see him in this life, I will see him in the next."

Uncertain future

As we speak his grandson Mahmud climbs onto the chair, and hugs him from behind. He's a smiling brown-eyed four-year-old, with chubby bare feet, named after the uncle who died fighting the Israelis.

"I hope he will copy him," his grandfather says.

But even this most hard-line of men says the conflict will end if Palestinians get back their occupied land and are able to establish their state.

This fight is not about religion, or ideology, or race
His formula for peace is this: East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and full control of Gaza.

But is that credible?

In the Middle East there are many truths and many lies, and many versions of history.

But five years here have taught me one thing.

This fight is not about religion, or ideology, or race. In the wise words of Amos Oz - one of Israel's greatest living writers - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "a dispute over real estate."

And if I return in 15 years time - and there is still no viable Palestinian state on this land - I will know where to go looking for young Mahmud, the barefoot boy I saw at his grandfather's house.

I will search first in jail, and then in the graveyard.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 1 December, 2005, at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


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