Diaries of Hope and Hate: Five Days in the Middle East

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The reports — gathered by TIME's Jerusalem bureau chief Matt Rees and Jerusalem reporters Jamil Hamad and Aharon Klein — tell the tale of people struggling to adjust in the face of a collapsing world. Some greet the new chaos with resignation, others with a fervent, steely passion to win what they feel their people deserve. All the entries are tinged with sadness. The week began with a hurried summit in Egypt, at which President Clinton squeezed an oral cease-fire plan from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. On Friday, wild fighting in many of the disputed areas left nine Palestinians dead and at least 80 wounded on both sides. The sadness, it seems, may be with us a while longer.


Atara Triestman, 35, is a dance therapist who lives in Jerusalem with husband Yoni, son Amior, 3, and daughter Shefa, 18 months.

In some ways it seems that life continues as usual, and I'm trying to feel strength from the routine, but the truth is, life hasn't been normal at all. When the rioting started, I thought I'd better stock up on food and formula in case we need to go down to the bomb shelters. I went to buy diapers today, and they were almost completely sold out — I guess everyone thought the same thing. I bought diapers that were two sizes too big. Better to have them around, just in case.

Last night we visited friends in Elazar (a moderate settlement near Jerusalem in the West Bank). I asked my husband to call first and make sure the roads were open and it was safe to drive there. The friend in Elazar said it was, but this morning we heard on the news that a woman driving that road got stoned and was in the hospital. It's not clear if she will live. This morning, I wanted to visit friends in (another settlement called) Efrat, but I was too scared to go. The roads aren't safe anymore. Especially the tunnel road that you take to Efrat. There are two tunnels. If the Palestinians cut you off between the tunnels, it's like a siege. There's nowhere to go. Bethlehem is right nearby, and you could get lynched.

In the evening

I went to the bat mitzvah of the daughter of my childhood friend. My friend said she considered canceling the bat mitzvah because of all the rioting but decided that she would be giving them — the Arabs — a victory. I sat at a table with two friends. The first lives in Givon, past Ramot on the edge of Jerusalem, right near Ramallah. She said that after the lynching, she took her three children and moved in with her mother. She took everything that was valuable to her — photographs and jewelry — because she was afraid the house might get ransacked. It struck me that where she lives is not a stereotypical religious settlement. Givon is basically secular and affluent.

I'm not a person who panics easily. Many of the people I know are totally panicked, but I try to remain calm. Maybe it's denial.

Still, I've started to think what I would take with me if I needed to evacuate the house. My friend just called from her office in Jerusalem and can't get home to Efrat because the roads are closed. She might have to sleep over here with us. That means there was probably stoning on that road.

Danny Yatom, 55, is Prime Minister Ehud Barak's chief of staff. He traveled with Barak to the summit.

We were at the office in Jerusalem Sunday night and stayed there until 2 a.m. We had to make a lot of preparations for the summit. There were discussions led by the prime minister, and I had to lead discussions to prepare the discussions at the prime-ministerial level. I got home in Tel Aviv at 3 a.m., and I had to wake up at 5:15 a.m. At 6:30 we were at the airport. Even onboard the airplane the schedule of the summit was not yet fixed. I had talked all night long with the Americans from the White House and with [U.S. ambassador to Israel] Martin Indyk. We had to arrange everything on the move. After the frustrations we had in [a meeting with Arafat and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in] Paris, there was no sense of anxiety. I felt as if we were heading toward something very, very important, but my expectations were very low.

We used the one-hour flight to Egypt to make the last preparations. We landed, and immediately we were taken to the conference center, and the prime inister met the president of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak). It was very clear that Mubarak wanted very much to succeed at the summit. "We can't afford a failure," he said. "It would have a very negative effect."

The second meeting was with King Abdullah (of Jordan). Prime Minister Barak and King Abdullah have very good chemistry. They speak one to the other in a very frank way, and they trust each other very much. You can tell it by looking at them. There was an understanding that together with Jordan, we'd get a positive result. Between the meetings, I used the opportunity to meet my good friend Omar Suleiman, who is head of Egypt's security services, and Samih Batikhi, who heads Jordan's security services. They are very, very effective. Everybody gets acquainted to good things very quickly, so I don't think of the fact that once they were my enemies.

As we headed toward evening, after dinner, the impression that started to prevail was that it would end negatively. But I must say that I felt intuitively all the time that the summit would end positively. It became clear though that we'd not get something actually signed. We spoke at the end of Monday about a presidential statement. The Americans said it would have the same effect as a signed document, because the sides would have to fulfill their commitments.

Moria Shlomot, 31, is director of Peace Now, the biggest Israeli peace group. She lives in Tel Aviv with her daughter Tamar, two and a half, and her partner, actor Chen Alon.

6:01 a.m. I am alone in the car. I am driving. There is a masked man in front of me, and he shoots in my direction. The windshield shatters. The bullet will soon reach me. How is it that this man did not see the peace stickers on my car? I wake up. I am alive. I am in bed. I don't usually dream such realistic dreams.

8:01. I haven't gone out yet. I haven't tidied the house yet. I haven't chosen what to wear. It looks warm to me.

9:01. At the traffic light, I am honking at the person in front of me, who is honking at the person in front of him. A friend calls from Gaza. For a moment we are pleasant and polite. Then begins the argument. We are friends more than we are enemies. Friendship in siege.

1:01 p.m. I go out to load the truck with signs to be sent to Jerusalem. On the signs it says in Arabic and in Hebrew "Yes to coexistence, no to violence." Because of the hurried printing, the black bleeds onto the red. I still have to bring Tamar's chair to her class. I haven't eaten yet.

2:01. Near the airport the setting changes. Clouds. Lightning. Thunder. I am wearing a short pink tank top. The editor of the local newspaper of Kibbutz Bar Am, where I was born, calls up and asks to interview me about the situation. Oh, boy, the situation. How I like to talk about the situation. There is a terrible hailstorm, and I am screaming on the telephone. I can't hear myself. I can't see anything. About three months ago, when Barak was at Camp David, we thought we were winning. That our struggle for peace was on the verge of success. That there is a chance, a future, that all this would happen during our lifetime.

8:01. I arrived home after Tamar had already gone to bed. There is no peace, and on top of that, I am a lousy mother.


Sheik Jamal Tawil, 40, is the imam of the Grand Mosque in Beituniya, a district of Ramallah in the West Bank.

In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate. I woke up at dawn. I did my ablutions before the prayer. I was about to leave for the mosque to lead the prayer. My wife tried to persuade me not to go. The Moustaribine (Israeli undercover forces disguised as Arabs) had sneaked into our neighborhood. We prayed at home. I switched on the TV. There were clashes near the settlement at Tawil Mountain, called by the occupiers Psagot (a Jewish settlement). The children woke up. I wanted to take them to school. I gave my son Abdullah his pocket money. We left. My other son came to tell me that the city of Ramallah was under closure. Teachers and most students were not able to arrive home. We went back.

At noon I prayed at the mosque. After the prayer a march started and went through the city of Ramallah and al-Bireh. The protesters condemned the Sharm el-Sheikh accord. The protesters arrived at the confrontation line. The occupation soldiers attacked them. We heard youths asking for help. We did not hear the sounds of gunfire. The Israeli soldiers used guns with silencers. We were unable to do the late-afternoon prayer in a mosque, so we prayed in the open. We tried to avoid being shot by snipers at the City Inn Hotel and the building next to it. After sunset, quiet prevailed. We went to the mosque and performed the evening prayer. After that we went to visit the wounded.

The government hospital was crowded with people. The administration of the hospital announced the death of Ismail Shamlakh. He was from the Gaza Strip. He came with his brother to work in the West Bank a few months ago. He was unable to see his pregnant wife, whom he left in Gaza. His son will be born as an orphan. Mourners came to pay their respects to his brother. "You should come to congratulate me," he said. "My brother wanted to be a martyr."

Danny Yatom

During the night I slept 15 minutes on the couch in the prime minister's suite. The prime minister went into the bedroom. I and his personal assistant, Eldad Yaniv, took a couch each. Then we were called again to meet President Clinton at 4 a.m. Tuesday. For the first time, we learned that there was going to be a deal.

We had to go back and forth from the conference center, where the meetings were held, to the hotel. Whenever we came back, always the Egyptian security people checked us in a very, very tight way. What caused me a lot of frustration was the fact that while they were checking us, I saw the Palestinians going back and forth without anyone checking them. I felt very bad about that, because I had a badge as a member of the delegation. It happened that I had to go with my briefcase, a brown leather case. I did not allow them to open it. "This is a briefcase with all the documents belonging to the prime minister of Israel, and I won't let you open it," I told them.

It took me some time to convince them. They had to go and find senior security officers, but finally they let me through. This was 4 a.m. I felt tired. For some hours, I felt very bad and very tired. But I overcame it. The result was that when we flew back in the afternoon, I don't remember even the takeoff. I fell asleep immediately on the plane, and they could barely wake me up when we landed at Ben Gurion [airport, near Tel Aviv]. But it was only one hour.

Then we came to the Ministry of Defense at 5 p.m. The prime minister discussed how to implement the Sharm el-Sheik agreement. I had to stay in the office until 11 p.m. I had to coordinate many things. We've done all this work, but it doesn't depend only on us. If the Palestinians don't implement their commitments the way we are implementing ours, then on Friday night we might find that the words were excellent but the implementation was a failure.

Colonel Noam Tibon, 38, is commander of the Israeli Army's Hebron Brigade, 2,000 soldiers based in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Six a.m. morning envelops Hebron. I hear the muezzin as on every morning with his call to prayer. The latest reports from the summit testify to a night full of crises, lack of confidence, as well as uncertainty, which directly influences what is happening in this city. Hebron is the only city in Judea and Samaria where Jews and Palestinians live together, where a city of contrasts and extremes arises to another day of confrontations. After the morning reports from the summit, I was preoccupied with the question of whether the Palestinians really want peace as well as whether they were capable of exerting control over the streets. I am thinking of Abu Ramzi, the Palestinian Brigade commander here, a proud and straight man. The instructions he received put him into an impossible situation, and he was compelled to allow gunfire by Tanzim activists in the direction of the Israeli Defense Forces position and the Jewish community. During our last meeting, he could not look me in the eyes. It is so hard to build trust between enemies and so easy to break it.

The morning began like every other morning, with a review of the night's events. While we were assessing the situation, my father phoned. My 70-year-old parents, who live on a kibbutz, are very worried and anxious about the situation in Israel. They went through all the wars here, but they don't stop dreaming of peace for my children, their grandchildren.

Dealing with the disturbances requires of our soldiers great professionalism and constant weighing of personal values. On the surface it looks like the confrontation between the soldier with his weaponry and the Palestinian youth who is throwing stones is in favor of the army. The dilemma for the soldier is between the orders he received, whose main principles are restraint and humanity, and the feeling of fear as a result of the thousands of rioters who are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at him. All the while the soldier must keep his cool and see before him his values as a human being and as a soldier. Happily, thanks to the precise preparations and instructions for restraint during the events, not one Palestinian youth who was throwing stones has been killed in the sector.

In the afternoon I convened the company commanders. They are in their mid-20s, idealistic, intelligent, firm in their beliefs and happy to have this opportunity to meet. I have no doubt morale and readiness are high. At the end of the meeting, the commanders hurry back to their sectors since, as darkness descends, the Tanzim begin shooting at cars, army positions and houses.

At 9 p.m. I travel to Kiryat Arba, the largest [Jewish] city in my sector, to speak with new immigrants from Russia. The audience is made up of people who came to our country and found themselves in a reality that is strange to them. To dispel the tension, I open with a discussion about Tolstoy's "War and Peace," which describes the war of the Russian people against the invading Napoleon. Here in our small country we do not have the wide spaces that would allow a retreat from Moscow. The tension is broken, the audience listens to what I say, which is translated into Russian.

At midnight there is a call for all the brigade commanders in the sector. During the conversation the commander tells us details of the cease-fire agreement. In the middle of the conversation, I receive reports of gunfire toward the Jewish community in Hebron. It looks as if, for the moment, the agreement does not apply to Hebron. At 2 a.m. the gunfire ceases. It is time to give final orders and go to bed.


Saeb Erakat is Yasser Arafat's chief negotiator and minister of local government. He lives in Jericho.

This morning I was really surprised when my nine-year-old son Mohammed began a determined entry into Palestinian-Israeli politics: he asked me why the father of Mohammed al-Durra, the 12-year-old boy killed in Gaza, could not protect his son from the Israeli bullets. Why did [the Israelis] kill him? These days, everybody asks me questions. My daughter Dalal, 18, asked me about her friend Asil, from [the peace group involving Israeli and Palestinian children] Seeds of Peace, who was also killed by the Israelis. Others ask me when the Israelis will lift the closure and siege. When will the airport be opened? All these questions boil down to one, put to me in words and in body language: Is this the peace you are making for us?

I have my own questions. Why are the Israelis stationed here? Why tanks? Why can't they lift the siege and move their soldiers and tanks from the entrance of Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps? I asked Ambassador Dennis Ross, the U.S. Middle East peace coordinator, all these questions. The more questions I ask, the more I have to answer.

The farmers of Jericho requested a meeting with me. I know the impact of the siege on these farmers: they can't market their vegetables outside Jericho. Most of their crops remained uncultivated. I met with the tourism sector of Jericho, hoteliers and restaurateurs. No one is allowed to enter or leave Jericho. All hotels, restaurants, the cable car that goes up to the Mount of Temptation and the Hisham Palace are closed. This is a total devastation to me. These people voted for me. I am their representative in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Tension is really high. It was 4 a.m. when I arrived back home. My wife Name'ah was waiting and extremely upset at me. She was screaming at me in every direction. I did not respond. I kept looking at her eyes. She was worried and confused. Then Name'ah asked very gently if I was hungry.

We cannot defend ourselves; we don't have an army, navy or an air force. Our agreements with Israel prevent us from that. Why would they do such a thing? Is it not enough to have tanks, soldiers? We already have more than 100 dead Palestinians and about 3,000 wounded. Palestinians are very angry at this development.

I think back to last week. Then, without any prior warning, the youth of Jericho were on their way to torch the city's "Peace unto Israel" synagogue, a modern structure built above a 7th century Byzantine mosaic floor depicting Jewish symbols. The synagogue is exclusively under Palestinian control. I always use it as an example of how Palestinians and Israelis must live together. I rushed to the place. There were hundreds of people in the crowd. The Palestinian security commander of Jericho was standing in the middle with about 50 policemen, trying very hard to push the crowd back. I stood next to him, held my arms outstretched and began shouting at the crowd, "Don't do that, you can't!" They shouted back, "They are killing us! They are destroying us! They don't want peace! We want them out! Go home! They don't want peace!" I tried again. "Please stop! This is madness. Please, we can't do this!" Suddenly, they stopped and began leaving. I was really surprised. The damage to the building was moderate. The mosaic floor was unharmed. I asked to see the mayor of Jericho. "Please," I told him, "I want you to begin repairing the damage immediately. Please, Mr. Mayor, I would appreciate this very much," I said. Less than one hour later, Israeli helicopters began firing missiles into Jericho. The missiles struck a police warehouse where thousands of uniforms are stored.

The missiles' real impact was not on the warehouse. This time, my son Mohammed, terrified, trembling after the blast, asked me, "Is this the peace you're making for us?" He was weeping in my arms. His tears were much more devastating to me than the Israeli missiles. This is the main reason for the peace process, the future generations of Palestinians and Israelis. I don't want Mohammed to go through what I went through in 1967. I want him to have an alternative. My soul is searching for answers. I am so confused. I am so doubtful.


Kiyan Khaled al-Sayfi, 16, is a Palestinian schoolgirl from Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. She studies at a school in the camp run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

The sun rises to begin a new day. Its golden beams mix with the breeze, which makes the tree's branches move. The sound of wind blowing against the tree's leaves is beautiful. I have a feeling of serenity. I woke up at 6 a.m. to welcome a new day, a quiet day, a happy day, unlike the other days. But, in my opinion, it will not be a happy day. We will get the same sad news. I picked up my bag and went to school. I don't have a strong desire to study. I expect to die at any moment by a stray bullet from an Israeli soldier. I looked at my house. I gazed at all the spots I used to sit on or play, as it is my last time to see them. It is a terrible feeling.

A schoolmate called me. We discussed our cause on our way to school. Everything was the same at the school: the same teachers, the same students, the textbooks, the chalkboards. We started our day by reciting poems for Palestine. The bell rang for the first class, a science lesson. The teacher entered. She began talking. I was not listening. I thought about our martyrs and wounded. I thought of the 13-year-old child who fell a martyr. How sad is his mother? I am proud of him. He was from my region. He was killed on his way back home. What is the use of what he had learned? He was killed. Did he know that he should not prepare his homework because a bullet would kill him? It is an evil bullet fired by a wicked soldier. I gazed at our teacher. I am one of her best students. But now I do not care about the lesson. Study is no longer important in our life.

After we finished our study, we went to visit the family of a martyr, to provide support. As we marched we chanted, "Rest, martyr, in your grave; we will continue the struggle. We sacrifice our soul and blood for the martyr and for Palestine." That martyr was shot by a high-velocity bullet. It penetrated his chest. Another bullet penetrated his arm. He was 18. His mother was sitting on the ground. She was crying. Her wrinkled face was furious. I kissed her face and hands.

Atara Triestman

I try not to imagine the worst, although sometimes it seems I am surrounded by people who can't help being afraid. My husband Yoni is afraid. He sees Arab politicians and Muslim clergy inciting Muslims everywhere against Jews, saying that Jews deserve violence and accepting that killing Jews is a heroic mission. Today he says he sees the jihad spreading and that he cannot look into the eyes of an Arab without wondering if he could act like the mob in Ramallah that lynched the soldiers.


Qais Adwan is the chairman of the Student Union at An-Najah University in Nablus. He is a member of Hamas, a militant Islamic Palestinian organization.

Before sunrise, the youths in the dormitory have readied themselves for the dawn prayer. Some go back to bed, others begin to study until 7 a.m. I went to the campus to do the usual things that I do every day. I am mandated by God to help the students. But on this typical day, I am thinking of a day two weeks ago, still. It was a special day in my life, a unique one. I was under a special premonition of fear and portent. We had decided to organize a march to protest the entrance of the criminal [Ariel] Sharon to al-Aqsa Mosque. After dawn, I started reading the Koran. The sun's rays were weaving a special dress of martyrdom. The sun's told us, "You have a date with martyrdom." The Muslim believes in fate. God decides death and life. I read the verses that deal with martyrdom. My heart was brimful with a special feeling. It is very great to fall a martyr. The martyr has a high ranking in heaven.

There was a situation of tension at the campus. The student council declared a day of mourning. Representatives of all student blocs were called for a meeting to discuss the events and decide what to do. We decided to perform the martyrs' prayers. We contacted Sheik Bitawi (a Hamas leader in Nablus) and asked him to lead the prayer. Large numbers of students gathered in the courtyard. We started shouting, "God is most great!" I asked the students to wash their faces and hands before prayers. After the prayer, the students shouted again, "God is most great!" I looked at the faces of the youths, thinking that a serious incident would occur. It would be a different kind of march. After I finished my speech, thousands of students left the campus. It was the biggest march I have ever seen at An-Najah University. We walked for five or six kilometers, with strong determination. We swore to sacrifice our life and blood for al-Aqsa. Hundreds of the marchers rushed to the front line to clash with the soldiers. I could not forget these moments. The shooting from the Israeli soldiers was intense. It was like a battlefield. Our faith is our weapon against the soldiers, the occupiers. Two youths standing next to me were wounded. The number of casualties was large beyond expectation.

I received a call from Rafidiyah Hospital, and I was told that my roommate, Zakariya Kilani, 21, was among the martyrs. He was with me for two years. He was my brother and my friend. He was my body. I could not believe that Zakariya died. I lost my dearest friend. This is the decree of God. He told me at the mosque that he wanted to die as a martyr. I was unable to attend his funeral in Siris because of the military roadblocks. Many casualties arrived at the hospital. Five were martyrs. Youths shouted, "God is most great!" anytime they saw a martyr. The youths have become more determined to fight for al-Aqsa and Jerusalem. Heaven has opened its gates for martyrs. Honestly, though, I was shocked when Zakariya fell a martyr.