They Have Not Always Been Like That

The end of this week will mark a year since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada. This is the appropriate time to make interim summations and to raise a number of questions that have not been asked sufficiently.

The end of this week will mark a year since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada. This is the appropriate time to make interim summations and to raise a number of questions that have not been asked sufficiently. A special report that will be released tomorrow by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, headed by Executive Director Bassem Eid, presents data that must be the basis of any political discussion. Their essence: the extent of the price the Palestinians in the occupied territories have paid during the past year for the struggle they decided to conduct against Israel.

It may be presumed that most Israelis are not aware of the extent and significance of this price. The Israelis, sadly, are all too familiar with bereavement, but they have no conception of what life is under closure, what it means to give birth at a roadblock, what a demolished home is with everything in it that had been accumulated over the years and what a curfew is that lasts for months because of a handful of Jewish settlers beyond the 1967 borders.

According to the report, 557 Palestinians were killed during the past year - exactly twice the number of those killed during the first year of the previous intifada, which at the time was considered cruel and terrible. Eighty-seven of those killed were members of the Palestinian security forces and the rest were civilians. Another 62 Palestinians were killed or died in circumstances that are not entirely clear. According to Red Crescent figures, during this conflict about 15,000 have been injured.

Some 141 Palestinian children and adolescents under the age of 18 were killed in the intifada, of them 60 children who had not yet reached the age of 15, including two infants and three toddlers. Twenty-nine Palestinians were executed by Israel; 16 were killed by Jewish settlers.

An additional figure, which is particularly disturbing, is the number of Palestinians who died as a result of being detained at roadblocks: According to the report, 26 died because soldiers manning the roadblocks did not let them through. Among them was the newborn child of Amana Safdi, 19, who was delayed at the Hawara roadblock for five hours, three small children and seven elderly people, including 97-year-old Abed Al Rahman Abu Juma.

On the other side, according to B'Tselem figures, during the past year, 155 Israeli Jews died in the territories and within Israel, 28 of them children and adolescents under the age of 18. Forty-three were members of the security forces.

Counting the dead is a difficult thing to do, and the price in blood that the Israelis have paid is unbearable, but nonetheless the numbers cannot be ignored, and the number of Palestinians who have been killed is three and a half times the number of the Israelis who have been killed.

Moreover, the number of dead is but one aspect of the suffering as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Since March of this year, 15,000 Palestinian families - nearly 100,000 people - have needed food aid from the International Red Cross organization. They joined the hundreds of thousands of people who are receiving aid from UNWRA in the Palestinian refugee camps. The Red Cross recently defined 73 Palestinian villages as being in a "critical" economic situation, because of the siege that has been imposed on them.

In the Gaza Strip 650 families, about 6,000 souls, have been left without a roof over their heads after their houses were demolished by shells or Israel Defense Forces bulldozers. Most of these people, they or their fathers, have already been made hopeless refugees once before. As in every disaster-stricken area of the world, the Red Cross provided them with food and basic utensils. Another 500 people in the southern Hebron hills have received similar aid. This year, Physicians for Human Rights provided urgent medical care to about 3,500 inhabitants of the West Bank who had no other access to medical treatment. When to this are added the unemployment figures (more than half the Palestinian work force) and the economic, social and psychological suffering caused by the closure - a picture emerges that must cause heartache to anyone, no matter what his or her political outlook might be.

And there is another important figure: This year, 26 Palestinians carried out horrible suicide attacks. Nearly 70 percent of the Palestinians supported these deeds, according the latest Palestinian survey (which, incidentally, is exactly the same percentage of Israelis who support assassinations). Two years earlier, only 26 percent of the Palestinians supported suicide attacks. Five years ago - 70 percent of the Palestinians were opposed to terror attacks of any sort, not necessarily mass suicide attacks, against any Israeli target whatsoever.

A straight line runs through all these figures. Contrary to what parts of the Israeli public believe, the Palestinians were not born cruel and bloodthirsty, and the violence they have shown during the past year did not come from nowhere. No matter how badly mistaken their leaders were at Camp David and Taba and missed perhaps a golden opportunity, it is difficult to argue that the current intifada is not supported by a determined majority that is prepared to pay almost any price.

A fair observer must therefore ask himself at the end of this awful year what has caused them to hate so much and act with such great violence and cruelty. Look at the data - the Palestinians have not always been like that. They have not always had to endure such great distress and suffering.