By Pablo Duer and Joan Mas Autonell
Jerusalem/Gaza, Nov 6 (efe-epa).- Now aged between 15 and 20 years old, they grew up separated by a wall that was built just as they were born. On one side, they lead the protests; on the other, they confront them. They are the children of the Second Intifada. They can barely remember the uprising but, two decades later, it still defines their daily lives.
Just over 17 years ago, Natal Habil’s mother was pregnant. She worked a job selling medical equipment and, although she lived in East Jerusalem, she spent a lot of time in the West Bank.
To get there, she would have to cross Israeli military border posts, the scenes of many of the bloodiest clashes during that turbulent period. She knew that, at any moment, she could be struck by a bullet or a stone, but she had no alternative than to cross the border on foot.
A witness to the violence from inside her mother’s womb. That is how this young Palestinian woman sees herself, although her knowledge of that time is from stories she has been told.
“Fear.” That is the word that comes to mind for Israeli Shimon Stahl when he thinks about the Intifada. Fear of walking down the street, or of playing outside. Fear of strangers, and above all, fear of Palestinians. He cannot remember the more than 100 suicide attacks, the buses in flames or the people who lost their limbs, but he carries with him the fear of the reality into which he was born.
As Natal and Shimon were learning to take their first steps, the violence continued to escalate. By the time they were two years old, in October 2005, more than 4,000 people had died. By 2007, nearly 6,000, according to the UN.
Today, aged 17, they are part of a generation of young people that is very different from the one that fought the Intifada, but its effects are second nature to them, and still follow them to this day.
TRACES OF CONFLICT
Twenty years after the beginning of the uprising, Natal, who is about to finish high school and has nothing to do with politics, crosses the checkpoints alone, now embedded in the huge separation wall built by Israel to stop the attacks.
She remembers not being able to visit her grandparents in Gaza — which has been blockaded by Israel since 2007 — and the countless times that, from the back seat of the family car, she watched her father be searched and interrogated by Israeli soldiers.
Two decades on, reminders of the fear described by Shimon, who is about to begin his mandatory military service, are everywhere: in the X-ray scanners at bus stations, in the armed escorts of the school excursions, or in the random searches of young Palestinians, security measures that are part of the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians.
Like Natal and Shimon, there are hundreds of thousands of young people who do not remember the smell of blood in the streets, the dust from the rubble of destroyed homes or the failed peace process, but they know all too well what it means to grow up amidst the psychological wounds of that conflict.
One of those young people is 19-year-old Israeli Inbar Vardi, who is used to having to open her handbag during weapons checks at the entrance to her local shopping centre.
If it wasn’t for the Intifada, her life might well have been very different and she would have little awareness of politics, says the young woman who studied at one of the few schools with both Arabs and Jews and who avoided conscription after declaring herself a pacifist.
She thinks the conflict will not be resolved until the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories ends. Sooner or later, she believes, the Palestinians will lead a new violent uprising to bring an end to “the oppression of their people.”
Evyatar Aharonot, 17, is eager to be recruited and serve in a combat unit to “fight for Israel.” He also doesn’t bat an eye when he is forced into a sudden detour on his walk home because the street has to be closed for the police to safely dispose of a suspicious package that could be an IED.
While the wall Israel built succeeded in hindering the constant attacks, it has also kept the two neighboring populations apart, stopping them from getting to know one another. That distance is reflected in the simmering, bitter hatred the children of the Intifada feel for each other, hatred that is fuelled by the memories of the violence as well as misinformation and prejudice.
The only Israelis that 19-year-old Cristina Shomali knows carry large weapons, travel in armored cars and wear military uniforms: they are the soldiers and border police that she has confronted at protests and checkpoints.
“They can have their own state, but not with us and not on this land.” For her, there is only one solution: “One state, the state of Palestine.”