Israeli occupation of West Bank bears bitter fruit

Occasionally, Western correspondents witness an incident that seems to sum up the negative impact on both Arabs and Jews of Israel's two decades of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Tuesday morning, I saw such a scene in Ramallah, a town north of Jerusalem that Israelis consider a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism.

Ramallah's rock-strewn roads were practically deserted when a writer for the British Broadcasting Corporation and I arrived at 9:00 a.m. Earlier, there had been what the Army calls ``disturbances,'' a catch-all term for actions ranging from youths throwing rocks or bottles at troops to burning tires in the streets and blocking roads.

By the time we drove down Ramallah's main commercial street, all was quiet. Iron doors were bolted across the shops, as Palestinians observed a commercial strike called to protest the killing by troops the day before of a Bir Zeit University student involved in a demonstration.

We came across a border-patrol jeep, in which Israeli troops and four frightened-looking Palestinian students - two boys and two girls - were crowded. As we drove behind the jeep, it passed two Palestinian youths walking down the street. The jeep stopped. Two soldiers leaped out and grabbed the youths. In an encounter that lasted a few minutes, they repeatedly slapped the young men in the head and pushed them, then shoved them down the street and clambered back onto the jeep.

We followed one of the youths, who walked quickly away from the receding jeep. ``What did the soldiers want?'' we asked.

``I don't know,'' said the young man, who identified himself as a resident of a refugee camp. ``The soldier asked me where I was coming from, where I was going. I said I was coming from my camp. I was going to visit my friend. Suddenly, he hit me. `Why are you coming here?' he asked me. I told him I was coming to visit my friend. He hit me again, he told me to go to my camp.''

We tried to catch up to the jeep again, and got close enough to glimpse one of the women students, dressed like any fashion-conscious college student in the West, weeping. We then lost the jeep in traffic.

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