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For 10 years, Shamas has headed the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. Two years ago, the powerful sheik of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque condemned her in his Friday sermon for demanding that Palestinian courts stand up against tribal traditions that favor husbands and trample women's rights. Since the latest conflict with Israel began in the fall of 2000, the Women's Center has registered an increase in reports of family violence. With Palestinian men facing new financial pressures from the loss of jobs in Israel and suffering constant humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers, Shamas explains, "they take it out on the people closest to them."
Shamas fights the impulse to hate Israelis, but she has cut back on her contacts with Israeli human-rights activists, because, she says, they won't recognize the decades of Palestinian suffering. "They want to keep their national legends, but they want us to give ours up," she says. Her fear is that her children's generation will harbor an unrestrainable hatred for Israelis. "There's more anger in them," she says.
The daily degradation that feeds that anger can be witnessed right outside Shamas' window. Across a patch of dirt stands the A-Ram checkpoint, a set of concrete roadblocks and a guardhouse manned by twitchy Israeli soldiers. It's a place of humiliation and occasional brutality as Palestinians line up their cars to enter East Jerusalem.
Last month Shamas' husband, a Brooklyn native of Lebanese descent, failed to pick up on a soldier's signals as he crossed the checkpoint and suddenly found the red laser dot of the Israeli's rifle sight dancing on his face. He was saved by his American-accented English and the U.S. passport he slowly pulled out of his pocket. "My God, it hit me," Shamas says. "Nobody is safe. Think of the ease with which that soldier could have decided to kill." Every day her daughter Diala, 17, crosses the checkpoint to go to school. "Not every day do I have the inner strength," says Shamas, "to think about that."
JERUSALEM The Disappointed Peacenik DORIT SEIDEMAN, 40/three children
Dorit Seideman's daughter Yael, 7, had been learning about the biblical Pharaoh before the Passover holiday earlier this month. Yael's schoolteacher assigned her to write a letter to Pharaoh. "Dear Pharaoh, please come over for coffee," she wrote. "I'd like to ask you to bomb the Palestinians." Seideman was appalled. "Do you really want to kill them all?" she asked. "No," said Yael, "only the bad ones." Right now Israel's official policy is in line with Yael's letter, and that's disturbing to Seideman, who campaigned for the Peace Now movement until the birth of her three daughters left her with no time for activism.
These days Seideman's concerns are focused on her own family. Her daughters go to more slumber parties, since the fear of suicide bombers discourages their band from loitering as they once did in crowded malls. After a bombing, Seideman knows she has less than 10 minutes to make sure all her loved ones are safe, before the cell-phone network crashes under the weight of panicked calls. She is worried that her daughters will leave Israel when they're old enough, fleeing the violence. A suicide bomb exploded outside her daughters' youth club last month.