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The gnats fly up in a dense cloud as Jamil Bakr, 35, tends the fine, tan sardine nets on the Princess Siham. He has worked 20 years on the sea that has sustained his family for generations. "I'm like the fish," he says. "I can't leave the sea." But he is a fish with almost no water. Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian boats have made fishing sometimes dangerous and almost always unprofitable. Before the intifadeh, Gaza Strip fishermen brought in $40 million of fish annually; last year the catch was worth $28 million. The figure is likely to fall further this year, as more of the 2,650 fishermen run out of money to operate their boats.
The Israeli navy patrols the coast off Gaza for weapons smugglers. But it also enforces periodic closures of the sea. The Oslo accords allow Gazans to fish up to 20 miles off the coast. But during the intifadeh, the farthest the Israelis have let them go is six miles. So close to shore, Bakr says, there just aren't any fish left. The fishermen try to sneak out to where the fish are more plentiful, but the Israelis are vigilant. Usually they arrest a member of the crew for a few days and release him; sometimes they impound boats.
Under such pressure, the tradition of the fisherman is breaking down. Bakr, who sails with his two brothers, has five children, but he believes he will be the last in his family to take to the sea. In a way, that saddens him, given how deeply the trade runs in his blood. Under current circumstances, though, he would not have it any other way. "We inherited this profession from our forefathers, but I hope my son won't live by it," he says. "As long as there's an Israeli occupation, it'll be hard to live like this."
The Rotten Palace
The Abdel Hadi Palace stinks of urine and damp. A little girl with a dirt-smeared face shuffles barefoot in the muddy courtyard. The women of the Zakari family lean out of their window, an Ottoman arch whose grey stone is pitted by the weather of 250 years. The place was built for one of the richest families in Nablus. Now it serves as rented accommodation for the city's poorest, hidden in the heart of the Casbah. "It's not a palace anymore," says Najah Zakari, the mother of one of six large families that squeeze into quarters once meant for a single household. "Do you think they'd let people like us live in a real palace?" She beckons to the spiral stone staircase, past the reeking squatting-toilet, to her apartment, where she offers mint tea. Her husband, 70, is out, pushing a delivery trolley for $2 a day, too proud to let his unemployed sons do the heavy work for him.
When the Israelis came to the Abdel Hadi Palace in one of their recent forays into the Casbah in search of militants, they took away Zakari's son Khalil, 21. Now standing by the pomegranate tree, Khalil tells how he was detained two days in a camp outside Nablus with most of the other young men of the Casbah, huddling without shelter. He says he was beaten when he refused to recite a crude rhyme that professed love for Israeli troops and cursed the genitalia of Palestinian mothers. He finally recited it to avoid being hit again. Weeks later, he will only write the words of the rhyme in a TIME correspondent's notebook, too ashamed to speak them aloud. He has not told his parents what happened when he was away.
The Israelis knew enough of the boy's culture to understand that language hurts an Arab as surely as a blow. But just as assuredly, it shapes a future hatred. "I used to think of Israelis as human beings that felt as we do," Khalil says. "But now I feel they are inhuman criminals."
Muscle and Belief
Stylishly dressed and cosmopolitan, Salah Abdel Shafi, 39, sits in his brother's elaborate hotel overlooking the Gaza beach. As he describes the new political movement he is starting with other secular Palestinian intellectuals, the economist also acknowledges that he is considering ditching the whole project and resettling in Germany, where he was educated. His ambivalence is understandable, given the magnitude of the task he has set for himself. Abdel Shafi wants to cultivate moderation within a community that is brimming with bile. The aim of his movement is to create a new Palestinian agenda that will not frighten off Israelis from a peace deal. "We've scared the Israelis away with suicide bombs and an insistence on the right of return for refugees," he says. Israelis fear that if Palestinian war refugees who left lands that are now Israel were allowed to resettle there, Jews would become a minority in the country. "We want an independent state," says Abdel Shafi, "but we're not against the existence of Israel."
Abdel Shafi's movement so far has the support of many Palestinian intellectuals. But despite its name Grassroots it does not have backing among the people. These days, that support has shifted to Hamas. The militant group's standing has grown steadily through the intifadeh, so that today, according to polls, a little more than 50% of Palestinians support Hamas above all other political factions, including Arafat's Fatah. Not all Hamas backers perhaps not even most would endorse the group's goals: the violent destruction of the state of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state ruled by Islamic law. But Hamas is the only major Palestinian faction not perceived as corrupt. What's more, it is at least doing something. As the intellectuals debate, Hamas moves with the decisive force of a whirlwind.