Palestinian despair deepens ahead of elections

Ayub Srour wants Likud leader and long-time hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu to win. “At least he’s honest. He says he’ll expel us, and he will expel us. He says he’s slaughter us, and he will slaughter us.”

My eyes stung, I was coughing, my nose was running. Along with cameraman David Hawley and freelance producer Kareem Khadder, I had just been tear-gassed — not for the first time last Friday — during a day-long clash between Palestinian kids and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Na’alin, on the West Bank.

An Israeli soldier confronts Palestinian protesters during a demonstration Friday in the West Bank village of Jayyus.

An Israeli soldier confronts Palestinian protesters during a demonstration Friday in the West Bank village of Jayyus.

We had gone there to gauge the Palestinian view of Tuesday’s Israeli elections. Na’alin, and many other towns and villages like it in the West Bank, are in the forefront of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Here, it all comes down to the most basic element in the century-old conflict: control of the land.

Na’alin is an old town, with factories and workshops, surrounded by olive groves. But in recent years neighboring Israeli settlements, built since the June 1967 war, have increasingly encroached on Na’alin’s farmland, and Israel, on grounds of security, has built its security barrier around the town.

As a result, Na’alin residents say they have lost access to much of their land, their water sources, in short their livelihood. Beginning two years ago, every Friday they hold protests against Israel’s settlement expansion and barrier building.

Most Na’alin residents are not ideological hotheads; before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in September 2000, many worked in Israel. Most are still fluent in Hebrew and do business with Israelis looking for a good deal on car repairs and other services.

For that reason I thought Na’alin would be a good place to see what Palestinians were thinking. What I heard was universal pessimism.

No one I spoke with expressed the slightest hope that any of the leading candidates –Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, Israel Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Labour’s Ehud Barak — would do anything to remove the settlements that are slowly closing in on Na’alin.

As we sheltered from the tear gas behind a house, Na’alin resident Hani Khawaja told me, “I don’t expect anything to come out of the elections that will please the Palestinians. Just killings, expulsions and land confiscations.”

Another man, Ayub Srour, had a slightly different approach. He prefers Israeli leaders to be honest about their intentions, and not raise hopes only to dash them later. He wants Likud leader and long-time hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu to win. “At least he’s honest. He says he’ll expel us, and he will expel us. He says he’s slaughter us, and he will slaughter us.”

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