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'Aggressive pacifists' put their faith on the firing line

Christian Peacemaker Teams strain to shield Palestinians and cool Israeli tempers

(Page 3 of 3)

But where the 100,000 or so Palestinians in H1 bustle about their business, some 30,000 in H2 spend much of their time in the stillness of Israeli-imposed curfews, enforced regularly since the outbreak of sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence in September 2000. The Palestinians' markets, workshops, and even schools have frequently been closed, their movements impeded by roadblocks and checkpoints.

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Meanwhile the Israelis are free to move among their half-dozen settlements, strolling down the often deserted streets of H2, past ubiquitous Israeli Army outposts.

The restrictions are intended to tamp down violence. Palestinian attacks on settlers are common; in the most notorious case, last March a sniper killed a 10-month-old girl as her father held her in his arms in a Hebron settlement.

But the settlers themselves do little to calm the situation. They repeatedly rampage through the market in H2, which they assert is built on Jewish land, overturning tables and harassing residents. An Israeli Army commander has publicly referred to the settlers as "hooligans."

For many Israelis, the Hebron settlers are a source of shame. In 1994 a resident of Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron, shot to death 29 Palestinians in the mosque over the Tomb. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, spent time in Hebron's settlements.

Does the CPT's presence make any difference? It depends on whom you ask.

"You can't say they have any tangible achievements, but they are doing their best," says Adli Daana, secretary general of the nonprofit International Palestinian Youth League in Hebron. "Just to be able to survive in this situation is a big sacrifice for an American."

"No one can stop the Israelis from doing what they want to do," says Raef al-Aweywi, the paunchy, white-haired proprietor of a kitchen-supply store near the CPT apartments.

He notes that the group has tried to stop demolitions of Palestinian homes and its members have helped merchants close up shop when curfews are imposed. "It touches the heart of the people that they try to help."

"I'm afraid their influence is very bad because they have a totally one-sided attitude and they never judge things as they are," says Noam Arnon, a leader of the settler community in Hebron. "When you come into this city and play with matches you cause damage .... They ignore the right of Jews to exist in this town."

The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the organization.

Comforting the afflicted

It was mid-afternoon last autumn. Kern, the Bible scholar, is rushing toward the sound and smoke of one of the city's daily confrontations.

Wearing her brown hair tied back under the CPT's trademark red cap, she hustles along cobblestones and under whitewashed arches, hurries into a courtyard, up a flight of stairs, and onto a rooftop. The sky is a bright pale blue, the air crisp but not chilly.

Moments earlier a middle-aged, stubble-faced man named Marwan Abu Mayah, taking it easy in a maroon track suit, had been sitting on a plastic chair, ready to enjoy tiny cups of cardamom-scented Arabic coffee with his mother.

From the shuttered, darkened street below two objects came aloft, bottles filled with gasoline, their makeshift wicks aflame. One smashed onto the stairs two yards from Mr. Abu Mayah and his mother. The other crashed and exploded between their chairs, sending up yellow flames.

Mother and son aren't physically hurt. But as her fear subsides, Zouriya Abu Mayah sits down heavily on the cement rooftop, her oval, creased face circled by a headscarf. She weeps and her cheeks tremble. She pours water from a plastic bottle onto her head. The rooftop begins to fill with neighbors and Israeli soldiers and police, none of whom doubt that settlers threw the Molotov cocktails.

Kern squats next to Zouriya, leans close to the shaken old lady, and holds her hand. Fleetingly, like a snowflake falling into a flame, the gesture brings a moment of peace.