Two girls, two sides, one intifada

How the Middle East conflict touches lives of innocents

Bosmat Glam doesn't leave her house much anymore, not since a Palestinian bomber blew himself up a few yards away from her. She struggles to clear her mind of the things she saw that day.

Gazala Jaradat was walking home from her girls' school when an Israeli bullet struck the back of her head. Now she works to regain full control over her body and to be able to concentrate as she once did.

Gazala, a Palestinian whose post-surgery short hair makes her look like a young Liza Minnelli, and Bosmat, an Israeli who keeps her long brown hair tied back, are eighth-graders. They don't know each other. But both are confronting challenges and memories that make most adolescent angst seem trite.

During more than a half-year of Israeli-Palestinian violence, at least 96 Palestinians and four Israelis under the age of 18 have been killed, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem. No firm count of the number of Palestinian minors injured during this period is available, but several thousand is a safe estimate. B'tselem says at least 28 Israeli minors have been injured.

The experiences of Gazala and Bosmat illustrate what happens when political violence is visited upon the innocent. Sometimes heroes are born. Sometimes people just want to bring things back to normal.

Gazala could easily become a poster girl for the Palestinian intifada, or uprising. She has survived a brutal experience and is eager to decry the injustices she perceives around her. Bosmat's reaction is less political. She tries hard to forget.

In those around them, the experiences of Bosmat and Gazala have engendered rage and anxiety. Consider the fathers.

In a Baghdad hospital room where Gazala is recovering, Jawadat Jaradat stands next to his daughter's bed and shakes his head at the attention paid to a Palestinian boy who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers last year as a French television cameraman recorded the scene. "It's not just Mohammed al-Durra," he says, his voice shrill. "Look at my daughter Gazala. She is not the same as she was before."

Bosmat's father, David Glam, sitting in a compact living room decorated with his wife's needlepoint and pictures of venerable rabbis, says he doesn't hate Arabs generally. "But when they act this way and hurt people," he adds, referring to the bombings, "it makes me hate them." If he had an atomic bomb, he continues, to the consternation of Bosmat and other family members crowded in the room, he would use it on the Arabs.

His family evidently believes it is not right to say such things, at least not to reporters. But Mr. Glam, his jaw firm, a black yarmulke set over his neatly combed hair, makes no apologies for how he feels.

Gazala's school, Madrasa Beit Anoun overlooks Route 60, an Israeli highway connecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank with Jerusalem. The highway crosses a smaller road in front of the school. Israeli soldiers sometimes sit in jeeps or an armored personnel carrier at the intersection to keep watch over Route 60 and the settlers traveling on it.

The school is a few miles north of the ancient city of Hebron. The landscape is modern-day Holy Land: tawny hills laced with rows of dusky green olive trees and dotted with featureless, angular stone buildings.

For the boys and young men of the nearby Palestinian villages, Beit Anoun junction is their intifada, their place to hurl rocks and gasoline bombs at Israeli troops.

On Nov. 4, the intifada is 36 days old. The sky is clear, the air chilly enough to warrant a sweater over the green-and-white smock that is Gazala's school uniform.

School ends at midday and the boys take up their positions behind buildings near the intersection. They wait for the girls to get out of harm's way. It is a nice thought.

Gazala and dozens of girls cross the highway, walk between the Israeli jeeps, and hurry past the boys, some of whom are crouching and holding stones.

As the girls leave the intersection, the boys initiate the clash and the Israelis begin to respond. The girls soon hear the hiss of canisters spewing tear gas, the concussive clap of a stun grenade, a few gunshots. They run a few yards to get around a corner and away from the line of fire.

Their dash puts them on a side road that leads toward Gazala's village. She is with two eighth-grade classmates, Wafah Mathour and Jasmin Jaradat, and Ghadeer Mathour, who is in tenth grade.

The four girls lead some younger schoolmates along a narrow road that runs between vineyards and olive groves. After 10 minutes or so, they crest a hillside that overlooks buildings near the junction.

Wafah stops to look back because of some commotion in a vineyard below, which is mostly denuded with winter's approach.

She sees some boys running through the vineyard, and three Israeli soldiers in pursuit. Now all the girls are turning back to look. "OK," Ghadeer says, suddenly alarmed, "let's move." The distance between the girls and the soldiers is about 500 yards.

Then two things happen nearly at once. The soldiers fire a few shots and Gazala stumbles and falls onto the dusty shoulder of the road. Ghadeer, who is next to Gazala, doesn't immediately connect the two events.

Standing at the spot nearly five months after the fact, she recalls seeing her friend's blood. "That's when I knew she was shot and I started screaming."

The day after the shooting, the Israeli military commander in Hebron, Col. Noam Tibon, began telling reporters that Gazala was injured by a passing automobile, not by one of the soldiers under his command.

Gazala denies this assertion, as do her schoolmates and family. But the neurosurgeon who cared for her in Hebron says there is no way to say for sure that she was struck by an Israeli bullet, since the object that hit her did not remain lodged in her head.

Even so, there were no other signs on her body of having been hit by a car. What is the likelihood that the car-accident explanation is accurate? "Ten percent, less than that," says the doctor, who asked that his name not be used in order to avoid troubles with Israeli authorities at border crossings.

And the likelihood that Gazala was hit by an Israeli rubber-coated steel bullet, which the military says were used at the clash? "Ninety percent."

One night in January, Bosmat Glam and some of her friends spend the early evening window shopping along Herzl Street, the central avenue of Netanya, a small city north of Tel Aviv on Israel's Mediterranean coast.

As she gets into a taxi, she hears a bomb explode several blocks away. She goes straight home to let her parents know she is OK.

After this experience, David Glam buys Bosmat a cellular phone. He thinks it would be a good idea for his daughter to have one, in case of emergency.

This was Bosmat's first bomb. The second one is worse.

Bosmat is in the final year of middle school, and she has the blase air of those who are about to graduate. So the morning of March 4, she is an hour late for school, but it isn't the end of the world. Except that it almost is.

Having missed the bus, she takes a shared taxi from her home to the center of town and gets off a few blocks from her school. She walks along Herzl Street amid the bustle of morning rush hour. She has on the dark gray skirt of her school uniform, but wears her own top and a sweater.

As she approaches the intersection of Herzl and Shoham streets, an Arab man with a moustache and a bag walks up to a group of people standing at a cross walk, more or less kitty-corner from Bosmat.

There is a flash of orange and a very big noise. The shock wave shoves Bosmat against the security gate of a music store.

She turns to see what has happened, but can't make sense of the destruction before her. She sees terrible things: "limbs on the ground, fingers." She sees a man dying.

She smells the smoke of the blast. People are screaming. Some begin to wail "Elohim," a Hebrew word for God. She hears sirens.

She can't seem to walk at normal speed. Her legs are fine, but they don't give her any traction. The five-minute walk to school takes a quarter hour. There she uses the cell phone to call home.

Four people die in the blast, three Israelis and the bomber.

What is it to be Gazala or Bosmat? What is it to have one's young life intruded upon by the very worst aspects of this intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, between Arab and Jew?

Bosmat, surrounded by family in her Netanya living room, explains that her understanding of Israel's history has never given her a good feeling about Arabs. "They want this country for themselves, and they want to hurt me. I feel that even more now."

Dressed in the demure long skirt and long sleeves that female Orthodox Jews prefer, wearing studious but fashionable glasses, she says she is afraid to go out of her family's apartment. Herzl Street shopping is a thing of the past.

Slowly she is working through her fears. In mid-March she returned to school after a two-week absence. She makes it to synagogue and visits a friend in their neighborhood, a 15-minute drive from downtown Netanya.

She also agrees to bring visitors to Herzl Street to show them where she was when the second bomb exploded. Then she changes her mind, then changes it again, then decides to bring a friend, to whom Bosmat clings for much of the time on Herzl Street. Sudden noises startle her.

Her anxiety manifests itself mainly in giggling and a perpetual desire to leave. There is nothing funny about the danger. At the end of March, in a Netanya market, there is another bomb. This time police neutralize the charge before it explodes.

In Baghdad in late January, after undergoing three brain operations in Hebron and therapeutic treatments in Jordan and Iraq, Gazala struggles to find the words to tell a visitor, in her own, soft-spoken English, "I love Palestine and I hate Israel."

She has since returned to her family's single-story home, which sits atop a hill alongside other Jaradat houses. There are cool breezes and impressive views of the Palestinian countryside.

The Hebron neurosurgeon says Gazala is recovering beyond all expectations. She has graduated from a wheelchair to a slow walk and teachers are arranging to tutor her.

Her father is less despairing now. Sitting next to her during an interview at their home, his pride is unmistakable as Gazala speaks about her first sighting of an Israeli soldier upon her return from Iraq.

The moment takes place in the Israeli immigration terminal at the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River. Although the river separates Jordan from the West Bank at this spot, the Israelis control the border, an arrangement that dates from their occupation of Palestinian territories during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Gazala takes a seat in the terminal while her father handles the formalities. She watches as Israeli officials, including some soldiers, deal with a group of Palestinian women waiting to enter the West Bank.

The security inspection is copious. The women wait and wait. Gazala picks out a soldier and begins to stare at him. She thinks of what he symbolizes to her - the Israeli occupation, the treatment of the women in the terminal, her own shooting.

(Sitting in a plastic chair on her terrace, she re-enacts the look, a combination of eye-rolling scorn and bile-in-the-throat disgust. Twice, she emits great sighs of derision. Perhaps it is a way to purge the bad feelings.)

The soldier notices her and looks away. Gazala stares. After several minutes he goes someplace else. "I felt I won," she says. "I made the soldier leave."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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