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Teens: war or peace?

In interviews at schools in the West Bank and Israel, 11th-graders talk about their views of the future.

As the war in Gaza was drawing to a close last month, Times editorial writer Marjorie Miller traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories to discuss prospects for peace in the region. Today, in the first of two parts, she reports from the Ramallah Friends School, which educates many children of West Bank Palestinian elites, and Hebrew University Secondary School in Jerusalem, one of Israel's best high schools. Many of the 11th-graders she interviewed were born in 1993, the year the Oslo peace accord was signed. But they came of age during the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising. Their points of reference are suicide bombings, rocket attacks, gunships and tanks, and a concrete and barbed-wire barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians.

What follows are edited excerpts from the interviews.

Ramallah Friends School

Q. Why was there a war in Gaza, and did it change anything?

"I think Israel chose this time to attack Gaza when Gaza is under the control of Hamas so that all the blame would be put on Hamas, not on Israel. Maybe they proved the point that they can go wherever they want."

-- Hend Younis

"No one won. We just showed them we could resist them. We have no weapons, none of those tanks, aircraft; they've got everything. We have a right to resist the occupation. The Jews want to see Fatah and Hamas fight; they want to see us break out into civil war and fight each other."

-- Jalal Jibril

Q. Do you think that negotiations between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel will lead to peace?

"There can never be peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

-- Ahmad Abdullah

"I wasn't born when the peace process was going on. I was born when the war process was going on. When I was 9, they destroyed my house, they arrested my brother in front of my eyes. I was living near the mukatah [the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's compound, in 2002] when the bombing and shooting was going on, which made me change my opinion toward peace. I realized there was no peace. ... We've been trying to make peace since 1990 or even before, and every time we are trying to make peace with Israelis, they find a way to destroy the peace. For example, in 2000 [when Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount], they started the second intifada. Every time there's a meeting between Abbas and [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, the Israeli airplanes are killing, slaughtering people while they are having a meeting. ... Every member of Israeli society becomes a member of the army. They are prepared to kill us, to make Palestinians vanish."

-- Yazan Barahama

"It's going to end up like all the other times that they tried to make peace. ... There's no use trying to negotiate, but there's also no use to stop trying. That's one of our only options."

-- Majd Darwish

"Why do we have to negotiate peace? Peace would be nice, but it's our land. Peace for Israel is just time to get stronger."

-- Manar Bargoothy

Q. Might a two-state solution be possible?

"I think it's possible, but not satisfying. In the first place, it's our land and they took it. The solution is to get it back. Not to get half."

-- Hend Younis

"I'm sure if someone would present us with that option, we would take it. But we tried, and you have the wall."

-- Youad Darwish

"It's the only way to solve this now. There's no other possible way."

-- Iyad Boulos

Q. Do you think President Obama will have a different approach to the Mideast than President Bush did?

"Maybe there will be a slight change. Obama said you must respect Muslim society. No other president said that. His dad was a Muslim. He went to a Muslim school."

-- Saber Farhud

"He said he was pro-Israel."

-- Manar Bargoothy

"Whatever."

-- Youad Darwish

Q. So what happens now?

"I think the perfect plan now is to establish two states, one Palestinian, one Israeli, and with the help of time, the Palestinian state is going to be strong and we'll do to the Israelis the same thing they did to us."

-- Hend Younis

"We just keep fighting. How? By not giving up."

-- Youad Darwish


Hebrew University Secondary School

Q. What are the prospects for peace, and do you believe a two-state solution could work?

"A two-state solution will happen someday because it's the only solution that can happen. That's the only way there will be peace. But I'm not sure it will happen soon. I'm not even sure if it will happen in my lifetime."

-- Tuval Danenberg

"[At a peace camp last summer for Palestinian and Israeli kids,] I saw they really hate us. And in Israel there are a lot of people who hate them, who say, 'Death to the Arabs.' They treated me as though I were a soldier who carried a gun against them. I was very angry with them."

-- Itay Harel

"I think the only time in which peace is possible is in the next four years with Obama as president of the United States. Israeli political views are getting more and more right wing with time, and it will be harder to achieve peace in the future. The best time for it is now."

-- Iddo Gat

Q. What is the biggest obstacle to peace?

"Extremist groups like some parts of Hamas and the settlers in Israel; some very highly religious groups. I think religion might be a big obstacle because the two religions believe that the land is theirs."

-- Mark Vatsel

"As long as there is a religious government like Hamas in Gaza that doesn't believe in Israel, there can't be peace. The Palestinian people who are suffering most from this situation should try to make a new government that is not that religious and extremist."

-- Tuval Danenberg

"On both sides, lots of people have lost faith in peace. Every day we're in intifadas and wars, so we forgot we can make peace. We did make peace with Egypt and Jordan. Until we have someone like Obama, a leader, in Israel and in the Palestinians, there won't be peace."

-- Yael Holzberg

Q. Will Israel have to give up the territory captured in the 1967 war in order to gain peace?

"I don't think it has to be going back to the '67 borders. We got the land because we won it in a war. I don't think the Palestinians now deserve any part of that land, because they want to conquer all of Israel. I don't think the settlements are that bad right now when we know there's not an option for peace. When we know we have a government that wants peace and also they do, then both sides can come to a real negotiation."

-- Tuval Danenberg

"In this situation, people are afraid to take the first step. The first step [by Israelis] could be to take down settlements, and the first step [by Palestinians] could be recognizing the state of Israel. I think it was a positive thing that [Israel] took down settlements [in Gaza]. Not the way they did it because the settlers don't have homes and Hamas is using this ground to shoot us. But I really think that, in a different way, we have to do this someday because peace is the only option."

-- Itay Harel

"You can't actually go all the way back because we have some built-up parts of Jerusalem and other centers. It is not possible to evacuate built-up parts of Jerusalem; there's no use to the Arabs creating more hatred there."

-- Mark Vatsel

Q. Palestinians say it's unfair for the United States and Israel to demand that they hold democratic elections, as they did in 2006, and then to refuse to recognize the Hamas government they elected. Do you agree?

"When Hamas took over [in Gaza], we all saw that there was civil war [between Palestinians] and they actually evicted Fatah from there, so I don't think that what's going on in Gaza is a democratic regime."

-- Mark Vatsel

"Palestinians have a right to choose Hamas, but they should know the consequences. Next time they should look at these consequences and think again. Why chose Hamas? They know they don't want Gaza to be bombed."

-- Iddo Gat

"I was up for the operation [in Gaza], but I think when we bomb them, we can't expect them to see Hamas as the main enemy. They will see us."

-- Itay Harel

Q. Were Israel's recent actions in Gaza justified despite hundreds of civilian casualties?

"I want to stress the cause for the operation because southern communities [in Israel] were bombed [from Gaza] for a very long time. A free state cannot allow that its citizens will be bombarded for a long time. ... The fact that Hamas chose to store weapons and keep military in heavily occupied civilian areas is the main reason many civilians died. Many of the people who died were militants and fighters. I feel sorrow for the innocent people who were killed, but you cannot avoid it if they hide in highly populated areas."

-- Mark Vatsel

"Most of the world thinks we went to war with Gaza. The war was with Hamas; we didn't want to hurt citizens in Gaza."

-- Avner Ben-Abba

"Our problem is that people are expecting change to be like in the movies in Hollywood, like this [snaps fingers]. It never is."

-- Itay Harel

Monday: Excerpts from Marjorie Miller's conversations with prominent Palestinians and Israelis.

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