Mideast: everyday life under fire

Suicide bombings and occupying troops make life a struggle for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians alike have been forced to change how they live as their conflict deepens. This burden is acute in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is under siege by Israeli forces, and in Jerusalem, where Jewish residents worry about attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen.

Three vignettes from each side illustrate life for civilians during this strange wartime, where going out to buy milk is not worth the risk and where a thick coat is an object of fear.

Family first, then politics

Since Israeli forces invaded Ramallah on Friday, the top priority in Sam Bahour's life has been the safety of his family. On Saturday morning, his brother-in-law and three cousins were rounded up by Israeli forces who had broadcast demands that all men between the ages of 16 and 60 step out of their homes.

"We are frantically trying to find out, first of all, where they are and if they're OK and why they were taken," says Mr. Bahour, a Palestinian-American shopping-mall developer, who stayed in his home because the Israeli patrols did not come down his street. He has been using the phone and the Internet to try to trace his relatives.

His home is well provisioned, but if the siege lasts much longer, Bahour says he will have to start worrying about providing the essentials for his wife and two children. "Number three," he says, listing his concerns, "is that we are politically worried because we don't feel the Israelis have an endgame in mind."

Guarding the grandchildren

Tikva Yehezkel, a Jerusalem housewife whose home is a busy hub for her six children and and dozen grandchildren, says she refuses to let fear change her way of life. "If I have to go the open-air market or the supermarket, I go," she says. But she is more cautious when it comes to her grandchildren, who are home now because of the Passover school vacation.

"I thought we'd take one of my granddaughters out today," she said yesterday, "but I'm trying to think of a place that isn't crowded. Maybe we'll take her to visit relatives, or to a small shop to buy her something, but we definitely won't go to a mall."

Attacks by Palestinians hiding bombs under their coats have made bus passengers fearful of anyone wearing an unusual jacket. Yehezkel's husband Ya'acov, who wears a heavy blue duffel coat, became the object of suspicion on a bus ride this week. "Without saying a word, the bus driver turned the bus around and headed for the police station," Yehezkel says. "It was only when my husband said in Hebrew, 'Hey, this isn't the usual route,' that the bus driver realized he was a Jew and turned the bus around again."

'One of the lucky ones'

Rima Tarazi, head of a Palestinian women's union, lives alone in a house two blocks away from Yasser Arafat's compound, where Israeli troops burst through the walls on Friday and have since taken control of most of its buildings, confining the Palestinian Authority president and his aides to a few rooms.

Israeli troops entered Ms. Tarazi's house, too, but through a window. She realized later that she had heard them banging on the door, and thought it was the sound of the fighting.

With all of her friends and family hunkered down at home, the soldiers are the only people she's seen in the flesh since Friday. "They were not too offensive in their search, but they looked everywhere."

"I'm one of the lucky ones," she says, "I've had electricity and water all the way through."

The former has made it possible to pass the time flipping from news channel to news channel. But one source of relaxation – her piano – is untouched. "Somehow I don't feel good, knowing people are dying and me playing the piano."

An online lifeline

"A few months ago, we started shopping occasionally by Internet, both for the convenience and the security," says Motti Neiger, who teaches communications at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"But in recent weeks, we've gone to the supermarket even less, because of security considerations." Last Friday, when a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked his neighborhood supermarket, Neiger's mother became frantic with worry until learning that he was safe at home with his wife and child.

Neiger used to make appointments for both professional and social meetings in cafes, but no longer. "If it's a professional matter, we meet at the university, and if it's social, we meet in people's homes," he says.

Now Neiger is worried he will be called up for reserve duty. "I've discussed it at length with my wife," he says. "I'm debating whether to go if I'm called."

Stories by candlelight

"We haven't been outside since Friday. We haven't been able to get food. And today we will run out of milk for the kids," says Mashhour Abudaka, a Ramallah resident who runs an association of Palestinian information-technology companies. "There are tanks all around our area," he explains. "As I'm talking to you, there is a Merkava tank and an armored personnel carrier just outside the window."

On Saturday night, with the electricity cut off, four of the families in his apartment building gathered around candles to tell stories. The older people talked about life during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war; the younger ones remembered the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

From Boston to Jerusalem

For archaeologist Judith Green, who lives in the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Abu Tor in Jerusalem, the biggest change in her lifestyle is mental. "I do the same things, but my mind is looking at things differently," says Ms. Green, who moved to Israel from the Boston area in 1973.

"If you see a young guy or a group of young guys who might be Arabs, you feel suddenly frightened and wonder if you should walk the other way," she says.

"And then I feel very bad about feeling that way. It's not the way I want to feel about my neighbors. It just seems an inevitable outcome of this situation where everything is a surprise. You don't know what's going to happen next and what's going to be a dangerous spot."

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