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Saturday, 14 October, 2000, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Only pain uniting the divided
Palestinian demonstrators take cover from Israeli patrols in Ramallah
The West Bank has turned into a virtual war front
By BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet in Jerusalem.

The two men stood together, Ephraim, the Israeli defence official and Mustapha the Palestinian activist, both in blue suits, and shimmering silk ties.

At high noon, the Jerusalem sun was hot. Mustapha opened his jacket and Ephraim stole a glance at the label and flashed a wry smile. "Oh you bought yours at Macy's in New York."

Then, opening his own jacket, added: "See I can only buy mine in Israel." The two men grinned. They know each other well.

But, for the past two weeks, their two peoples have been at war.

Mustapha, the Palestinian doctor, has been out on the streets with the stone throwers, counting the dead, helping the injured.

Ephraim has been despatching Israeli troops and tanks to the frontline.

They agreed to be interviewed together.

What do you want? We're willing to give you more than any other Israeli government, and you still want more

Ephraim, Israeli defence official

Right now, not many will do that.

And when the microphones were turned off, Ephraim asked Mustapha the question now being hurled at Palestinians, in anger, incomprehension and hurt.

"What do you want? We're willing to give you more than any other Israeli Government, and you still want more."

Mustapha replied: "We want all our land back."

Violent exchange

It is a conflict long marked by recurrent violence and rage, but this time it is different, disturbing and dangerous indeed.

Hamas demonstrators in Gaza city
The violence has shattered the diplomacy

The leaders bitterly speak of betrayal and on the streets nothing is beyond the pale.

Two Israeli soldiers set upon by mobs baying for blood - more than one Palestinian found at first light, bearing the wounds of torture.

A Jewish shrine is ransacked, a mosque targeted in revenge. Homes on both sides and even inside Israel itself are stoned.

Throughout the years of covering suicide bombings, riots, and attacks, I came to accept the awful possibility that things could get unimaginably worse.

There was a succession of suicide bombings. An Israeli prime minister was assassinated.

Now the Palestinians accuse the Israelis of war crimes. The Israelis condemn the Palestinians for barbaric, animal behaviour.

But these have also been the years when, for some, a faceless enemy was transformed.

Friendlier times

It is easy to forget that less than a decade ago, at the first round of peace talks, Israel refused to recognise the Palestinians as a people with a right to sit at the table.

But through long days and nights of talking, peace makers learned to call each other by first names.

We want our land back

Mustapha, Palestinian doctor

I saw them share the best of meals and the worst of jokes, curse and shout, sign interim deals, break them, and sign them again.

The camaraderie in private was always startling. It helped them to weather violence and deadlock.

People like the chief Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat and his twin daughters became friends with children of left wing Israeli negotiators.

They went to peace camps. Their fathers went to peace talks. But this week, Sa'eb Erekat said Israel had buried the process.

After one interview, which was one long rant, I called him back to find out why. Anger boiled over again.

The night before, he had been held for an hour and a half by Israeli troops who refused him permission to travel home. A gun, he said, was put to his driver's head.

"If this is how they treat me," he declared, "imagine how they treat everyone else."

Divided community

But this is not the rage on the streets. This is a place where most Israelis and Palestinians never meet, and most never want to. It is a place where most Palestinians only know the Israeli forces they confront at checkpoints and police stations.

Palestinian father taking cover with baby
Uneasy peace has turned into a dash for cover

It was Bill Clinton who declared two years ago in Gaza that neither side had a monopoly on suffering, but this is still a place where neither side seems able or willing to recognise each other's pain - the Jews falling into a deeply ingrained vulnerability, an existential threat to a people rooted in biblical texts.

The Palestinians draw on a deep well of anger which comes from losing their land and their rights.

Palestinian friends often lamented that even the most well-meaning Israelis could never bring themselves to equate Palestinian suffering with their own.

To do so was to deny their own right to remain on this land. And right-wing Israelis could never erase their long-held belief the Palestinians were out to destroy them.

This week, those beliefs were reinforced when pent-up anger exploded and blew the lid off the peace process.

Some believe this is the final convulsion. The worst before its gets better.

Some believe it can and will only get worse, but both sides have been at this kind of crossroads many times before.

This time they call it an end game, the end of such violence or the end of peace making, for now.

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