The 20 young men watching the opening speeches of the Madrid peace conference on a TV set in the YMCA in Beit Sahur were the foot soldiers of the intifadeh, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1987. They were the stone-throwers, the tire-burners, the slogan-painters. Some had served time in Israeli military prisons; all had been wounded by the occupying army. The.YMCA, on the site of the field where shepherds watched their flocks on the night of Jesus’ birth up the hill in Bethlehem, is a West Bank rehabilitation centre for intifadeh casualties. It is a place for them to learn a trade and receive psychological counselling. After watching the televised speeches, almost all of them expressed skepticism about the peace process, but some said that it was
worth a try. “I support any way to liberate Palestine,” said Salah el-Wadi, a 20-year-old from Gaza who sat in a wheelchair—he had been shot in the spine and was paralysed from the waist down. Personal sacrifices like his own, he added, are “the first step to liberate our lands. It’s good for us together to go to this conference to fight for our rights.”
Nasser Sharabati, a 30-year-old psychiatric counsellor at the centre, said that he agreed. “We can have more influence inside the process than outside,” he said. But other Palestinians expressed contrary views. A 21-year-old carpenter who insisted on anonymity contended that the Palestinian delegation should have gone to Madrid only under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). “They have betrayed the Palestinian cause,” charged the carpenter, who had teen shot in the abdomen. He added: “The Palestinian people are not just the West Bank and Gaza. They are also the refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They are our people in Jerusalem, our people living in the territories Israel occupied in the
1948 war. The PLO must be there to represent all of them.” What, he was asked, could he offer in place of the peace conference? “We have to use the gun against the Israelis,” he replied.
George Ghanem, a 22-year-old university student who spent two years in Israeli prisons, was more diplomatic but equally adamant that the Palestinians should have boycotted the talks. “It’s all a matter of power,” he maintained. “The strong will get a good result; the weak will get a bad result. The Palestinians are weak; the Israelis are strong. Our only strength is the intifadeh.” But, he was asked, what about the warning from U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that the peace bus might not pass their way again? Said Ghanem: “I say to Baker, ‘We do not want to enter the bus now. We will enter it when we are strong.”' He added: "I believe the bus will come again. I am prepared to wait.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.