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In West Bank, lamenting Gaza violence

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The Dheishe refugee camp at the edge of Bethlehem at dusk. (Brett Kline)

The Dheishe refugee camp at the edge of Bethlehem at dusk. (Brett Kline)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (JTA) – Sitting in the Dheishe refugee camp at the edge of Bethlehem as night falls over the city, Nour switches on her television to catch the latest news from the Gaza Strip.

Though she and her family usually watch music videos in the evenings, since Israel stepped up its attacks on Gaza’s Hamas rocket crews, they have been glued to the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya news stations.

The scenes of violence in Gaza, she says, have been horrifying and enraging.

“We have always hated the Hamas in my family,” Nour says, “but when we see the dead children in Gaza, we hate the Israeli soldiers even more than we hate the Hamas.”

Pouring a cup of powerful black coffee and lighting a cigarette, she adds, “At the same time, I know that if I lived in Sderot I would be very afraid and would support the soldiers.”

Unlike Western TV stations, the Arab satellite stations Nour and her family have been watching show nothing of the mayhem Hamas’ rockets are causing in the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, where residents are fearful and angry.

And unlike Israeli and Western TV, the Arab stations do not delete the more gruesome pictures of the violence and bloodshed in Gaza.

Some 110 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the last few days, including many civilians who died during Israel’s operation to stem rocket Hamas rocket fire against nearby Israeli communities.

Nour’s mother, Hend, winces and mumbles words of prayer as she watches footage of a woman wailing over her bloody baby son being rushed into a hospital in Gaza.

“Why do the Israelis have to kill the children?” she cries. “Why don’t they just kill Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader? He has done nothing for his people.”

Nour’ husband, Faten, responds.

“It’s not so easy to find the guy and kill him,” he says. “He is busy running around collecting money from the Iranians to arm his policemen to shoot the Fatah guys and to make more Kassams to hit Sderot.”

Faten lights a cigarette and his face turns hard.

“Almost no Israelis have been killed by the rockets, and now so many Palestinians have been killed by the soldiers and helicopters,” he says. “It is not fair. The Palestinians are victims.”

His family members nod. Asked about Hamas’ responsibility for inviting the helicopter raids and Israeli army invasions with the rockets the group fires at Israel, Faten shrugs.

“When you ask why and how, you go around in circles,” he says.

“All I want is to work and feed my family. What a ‘balagan,’ ” Faten adds, using a Hebrew word meaning mess.

The next morning, young Palestinians congregate at Hebron Road, next to the refugee camp, carrying Palestinian flags and the yellow flags of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. They set fire to tires on the road, sending thick black smoke into the sky.

Nour’s cousin Samir works at a restaurant in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv. He speaks good Hebrew and once had a Jewish girlfriend, and he says he gets along well with his Jewish bosses, who are of Moroccan origin. They do not talk politics, he says.

“We saw Mahmoud Abbas on television giving blood for the Gazans,” he says with a laugh. “That is about all he can do for the Palestinians.”

Abbas is little more than a figurehead, he says.

“He has no support on the street in West Bank and certainly none in Gaza,” Samir says. “All he does is talk with Olmert, but he does nothing.”

Israel should talk to Hamas, he says.

“Israel must lift the closure on Gaza and talk to the Hamas,” Samir says, “not because they love them, but because they have the power.”

By request, the names in this story have been changed to protect the subjects’ identities.

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