When Orly Simon and her husband Yoav look out from Gilo, their neighborhood on the southern edge of Jerusalem, across a valley they can just make out where Jacqueline Zeidan and her husband Fayez used to live in Beit Jala. The families have much in common. Each has young daughters, two for the Simons, three for the Zeidans, all very cute. Both wives are pregnant. But more than a valley separates them. The Simons are Israelis; the Zeidans are Palestinians. Throughout the intifadeh, Palestinian gunmen from Beit Jala have periodically shot at and shelled Gilo. Israeli forces have retaliated by shelling and destroying houses in Beit Jala. One of those destroyed belonged to the Zeidans.
Can Israelis and Palestinians ever learn to live together? Just as the two parties edged toward a cease-fire last week, three Palestinian suicide bombings in three days put that tentative progress in peril. While the bodies pile up and the diplomats scramble to find a breakthrough, it is people like the Simons and the Zeidans who have to make the most difficult choices. If the initiative is to be taken away from zealots on both sides, politicians will need a shove from those with the greatest stake in achieving a placid life. The Simons and the Zeidans ache for normality. They are exhausted by war, depressed, often bitter. They do not yet see a way to bridge the gulf between them.
Every day Fayez Zeidan, 36, wanders around Bethlehem looking for work. He seldom finds it. Before the intifadeh, which began in September 2000, he was a construction worker in Israel and labored side by side with Israelis. "In those days the mutual confidence was so great," he says. "We used to go to Israeli restaurants and cities and take weekend picnics without being questioned." No longer. Once the intifadeh put a stop to easy transit from the West Bank into Israel, Fayez lost his job. "To be honest with you, we live on charity," he says. His small two-bedroom apartment, with used furniture and mattresses on the floor, costs $300 a month, paid by the local municipality.
Fayez's greatest pride was a comfortable three-story villa sporting a big veranda overlooking Gilo, located in Beit Jala near the Greek Orthodox church his family attends. He built the house, mostly with his own hands, during the four years that he and Jacqueline lived with his parents. Israeli forces shelled it last May. They claimed snipers had been using the roof. The Zeidans' 9-year-old daughter Mariana remembers the day: "We ran away from the house, and we saw it burning behind us when we reached safety." Nothing remained of their possessions. "All my hard work and earnings in two minutes were gone," says Fayez. He had no insurance, and Israel did not compensate him. "I'm not against struggling and building the Palestinian state," he says. "But I have my doubts about the benefits of shooting at Israeli targets when we are not in a position to defend ourselves."