In West Bank anger against Israel grows
Battir, Israeli-occupied West Bank — This quiet West Bank Palestinian village (pop. 2,999), whose stone houses cling to a terraced hillside near Jerusalem, seems an unlikely focus for an outburst of Palestinian patriotism.
But, in one sense, Battir is a microcosm of Palestinian concern about life under the Israelis.
The recent death of Tagrid al-Butmeh has shaken the village and its people. Tagrid was a university student from Battir who was fatally wounded by stray bullets from an Israeli soldier's gun as she walked to class in Bethlehem.
The incident has underlined a phenomenon that becomes clearer as West Bank-Israeli relations worsen: Even Palestinians who avoid politics and mind their own business cannot avoid the harsh pressures of occupation.
"She was never involved in politics," recalled Tagrid's father, a schoolteacher. A well-informed Israeli military government source says there is no evidence to support unconfirmed claims by a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) group in Beirut, Lebanon, that Tagrid was a member.
Mr. Butmeh, siting on the verandah of his modest beige stone bungalow, spoke quetly: "We were living here in peace in this village till Israeli occupation created our problems."
While Mr. Butmeh's plaint ignores the wider political framework of the Israeli-Palestinian tangle, it expresses the feelings of most ordinary residents of Battir. The towns is no stranger to occupation. During the 1948 war, it was briefly taken by the Egyptians, whose rough treatment the villagers recall with resentment.
The 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice left the village exactly on the border under Jordanian rule, but with its farmland and elementary school in no man's land under Israeli control.
"Because we had to cross daily," recalls Abu Walid, a neighbor paying a condolence call, "we were often accused by the Jordanians of spying for the Israelis."
But, Battirians say, the Jordanian regime usually ignored them if they refrained from politics, while the Israeli occupation increasingly harrasses them on a daily basis. They say the situation has worsened since the Israelis began its "hard-hand" crack down on West Bank resistance two months ago.
The villagers who have gathered to console the Butmehs talk constantly of their fears for their children. "If hotheads throw stones, then the Israelis punish their children and families, or other innocent young people who happen to be near them," explains one portly busdriver.
Abu Walid, a wiry man with a broad smile under a bristly mustache, will not leave the West Bank to search for work in the Arab world because of his fears for his daughters. English-speaking, an advocate of Jewish and Palestinian states side by side, he has many Jewish friends from his work in Jerusalem.
Two years ago after a student demonstration, all seniors at Bethlehem Girls' High School were called to military government headquarters for questioning, including his daughter, who had stayed home that day.
"For three days the girls were questioned, made to stand on one foot for hours," he recalls. "My daughter was ill and fainted." Each day, the girls' fathers were required to report to the military governor, losing a day's work.
Last year, another daughter was called in for questioning. Abu Walid insists she was picked at random when soldiers entered the high school to chase demonstrators. Twenty girls were forbidden to attend school for one month, he says, and the day before final exams their fathers were required to sign a pledge to pay $200 should their daughters get in trouble again.
"I wouldn't mind signing," says Abu Walid, "if I could trust them. But in a few months they will arrest my daughter again for nothing, and I will have to pay."
The occupation, says Abu Walid, adds a fear of the unknown to daily life. Israeli military checkpoints on main roads often lead to long delays in reaching work or home. The soldier' behavior is unpredictable, sometimes correct and polite, sometimes surly to the point of striking unresisting Arab travelers, something witnessed by Western journalists who travel frequently on the West Bank.
"My son was traveling by Arab bus to work for a Jewish company in Jerusalem," explained Abu Walid. "The soldiers held up the whole bus for three hours. When he asked why, a soldier told him to keep quiet or he'd break his head. My son lost a whole day's pay."
It is this feeling of Israeli arbitrariness that keeps Battirians on edge. If a bomb goes off near Battir, all male villagers may be rounded up and made to sit outside all night, which villagers say has happened at least half a dozen times in 13 years of occupation.
Government employees fear pressures to collaborate. A relative of Abu Walid who teaches in a government school recalls, "They call you to the military government and ask who your friends are and where you spend your time. Then they ask, 'do you need anything?' That is the feeler for finding informers. If you don't go along, maybe you will have trouble, maybe not."
Since the Israeli imposition of the "hard-hand" policy, villagers fear stepped-up patrols of the tough Israeli border police, one of whom was responsible for Tagrid Butmeh's death.
A few days before she was injured, a group of about 35 teen-aged villagers, returning by foot over the hills from day labor in Jewish Jerusalem, were stopped by a border police patrol in jeeps. Villagers claim they loosed police dogs on the workers without any provocation. They say one youth was bitten and two beaten by the police.
The economic benefits of the Israeli presence -- notably the full employment due to Arab day labor in Israel -- now are looked on as a mixed blessing. Abu Walid totes up the balance sheet.
"The Jordanians gave us no services, but then they charged us no taxes," says Abu Walid. "Our laborers did well under Israel but now Israeli inflation [over 100 percent annually] eats their wages, and they must go to the Arab world to earn good money. But they are afraid to leave their families under occupation, and most cannot afford to take them along. And all the time we fear they will take our land for settlements."
So it is not surprising that the villagers grouped around the Butmeh veranda cheer fervently at the nationalistic Palestinian slogans chanted by visiting mourners.
"The whole West Bank feels together with the Butmehs," says Abu Walid. "IT wasn't the same three or four years ago. It has changed because the Israelis started pushing us -- but they are pushing us together."