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Mike Williams Voices From the Middle East
By Michael Williams
Our foreign affairs reporter, Michael Williams has been reporting from Israel during the recent upsurge in violence. During his time there, he has interviewed a number of people on both sides of the Palestinian conflict. The entrenched attitudes expressed during many of these exchanges contrast with the thoughts of two young people - one Palestinian, the other Israeli - whom he first got to know 18 months ago, on a previous assignment to the country. Here is Michael's full report on his meeting with them.

Lama Mashni is 18 years old, a young Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem. Nadav Greenberg is Jewish. He is 17 years old, from the west of the city, and he has just received his call up for military service.

"I feel it's one of my duties as a citizen of the state of Israel," he says, "and I'll serve my country proudly. But, while I feel the need for security and I feel that something must be done, I am very angry at my government and my army for doing things which only make my security worse and not better."

"I'm worried about being in a situation where I'm forced to follow orders that I would be morally opposed to. Also, there's a great fear for my life. There are many casualties and that's scary."

The volume of gunfire across Israel and the hate-filled chants and warlike soundbites have all but drowned out quiet voices of tolerance like those of Nadav and Lama, but, if you listen carefully, they can be heard.

I asked Lama about the time, coming soon, when Nadav will have to put on the uniform of the Israeli Army and carry a rifle on his back. For Lama, Israeli's in uniform are the enemy of her people: "I think that all the Israeli soldiers are putting aside their humanity. They are being so cruel and killing people when it's not necessary. They are just being insane these days."

I first interviewed Nadav and Lama for the Today programme 18 months ago, in the early days of the second Palestinian intifada. Both of them have grown up in the last year and a half - physically and emotionally. Lama now has confidence in her opinions

"Israel is the enemy of Palestine," she says, "and I just hope that Nadav won't do what the other soldiers are doing."

Nadav is a tall, thin young man and he still has the looks of a rangy teenager. But you can see the growing strength in him as he enters manhood. Still he maintains the optimism of a teenager; a belief that he is different:

"I hope that I can remain human as a soldier and that being a soldier doesn't conflict with wanting peace. If met her and her friends at a checkpoint, maybe I would be able to stop the car and take a look inside and I'd smile and wave them through and say "They can be trusted"."

Despite their friendship, Nadav the Soldier would still search the car of Lama the Palestinian. Orders are orders, after all. And Lama too would have to put on a public face very different to the one she wears in private:

"I don't imagine myself talking to him in his uniform in front of other Palestinians because they will think I'm a traitor. I would definitely be fearful of being seen speaking to him because he is a soldier. So I hope that if that happens one day and I don't talk to him, I just hope he knows I have nothing against him personally."

Towards the end of our conversation, they seemed to forget about me and my microphone and they began speaking directly to each other. They have few opportunities to do that, few excuses to give kind words to the enemy:

"I worry about you, Lama," he said, "I want you to be safe at all times. Eventually people here will realise that peace is inevitable but it's a question of how many people die before that".

Lama says, "I just want you to know, Nadav, that when you hear someone say 'the Palestinians did this or that' I want you to know that we are good people. Don't think of us as terrorists. When you are in the army I just hope you will remember me."

Links
Today poll of Israeli opinion on military action
BBC News Online - in depth coverage of the conflict
BBC News Online - profile of Israel and Palestinian autonomous areas


Lama and Nadav.
Listen - full interview with Nadav and Lama (06/04/2002)
Listen - Israeli journalist on support for military action and a Jewish settler on the experience of being under siege (08/04/2002)
Listen - young Palestinian bombers who claim not to be terrorists (09/04/2002)
Jerusalem.
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