To Be Continued

Children On The Frontlines In The Middle East

When 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durah was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as he lay cradled in his father's arms, the entire world was appalled.

Posters of the newest Palestinian martyr went up in every Arab nation. On the bottom of the poster were three little words: "to be continued."

Fighting in this part of the world has continued now for half a century, and as 60 Minutes II Correspondent Bob Simon found out, there are no signs that it's about to stop.
This wasn't supposed to happen again. The peace process was going to solve the problem. But Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip were saying something else - that their lives were still miserable and nothing had changed. So they took to the streets to get their message across. This was the slingshot heard round the world.

Yassar Arafat is a well-known name around the world, but the name of Marwan Barghuti garners a lot of attention on the battlefields of this conflict. When he speaks, the children of Palestine listen and then rocks come raining down, sometimes on the heads of Israeli soldiers.

Barghuti is the field commander of this uprising, in charge of the armed Palestinian militias. He - not Arafat - runs the streets. "We don't like to see every day that 10 Palestinians killed. We hope that the Israelis allow the people to express their opinion peacefully without any intervening," says Barghuti.

He points to the Israeli occupation that in terms of the peace process should have ended by now. But Barghuti has never negotiated with the Israelis and has never been invited to the White House. He's a local politician, eager to embrace mothers who have lost sons in the fight against Israel. He is convinced he's going to win.

Barghuti was asked if he believed Israel will eventually give Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Why (do) we sacrifice this number of people?" he replies. "They will not give (it to) us; It's our right."

And the fighting keeps getting worse with bigger battles, more funerals, and more flags being turned into shrouds. The only peace is the peace of death. All you have to do is stand at a roadblock long enough and it will happen before your eyes: A kid throwing stones one minute is a corpse the next.

There have been nearly 40 Palestinian children killed and hundreds more injured in the past few weeks. One 16-year-old boy who wouldn't give his name said he learned his English in New Jersey. He has been on the frontline for weeks. "I'm just trying to tell the Jews that we'll never give up our ground," he says.

It has all happened before. In 1987, Palestinian kids took to the streets in revolt against the Israeli occupation. Then, as now, it was teenagers against soldiers, stones and slingshots against tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Then, as now, towns became battlefields.

Brig. Gen. Benny Gantz was the commander who led the Israeli army out of ebanon this year without a single casualty. His reward was an even tougher assignment. He was put in charge of the division whose mission is to keep the peace on the West Bank.

The general was asked by Simon to compare the fighting now to the 1987 revolt: "Well, this is much more violent and the most extreme I have ever seen."

The general, has a reputation of being a first-rate Israeli officer and there is talk that someday he may be the chief of staff. How, then, does this decorated officer deal with the number of children being killed by Israeli soldiers? "If the Palestinian people want to be safe regarding their kids then they make sure their kids stay in place where kids should be," says Gantz. "And when they are sending their kids forward and they are firing at us and then the kids are in the killing zone so unfortunately sometimes, really unfortunately, those things happen."

"I'm sure that they are trying to get the world to see that Israel is a terrible, cruel people and cruel army, and this is what they want to do."

The Israeli military claims that Arafat and the Palestinian authority push those children to the front so that they can become casualties because it would be good for the image.

Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator. She's been in the forefront of the peace movement for years. She considers the Israeli claims the epitome of racism. "They're telling us we have no feelings for our children. We're not human beings, we're not parents, we're not mothers and fathers," says Ashrawi. "Sometimes I don't want to sink to the level of responding, of proving I'm human. I mean, even animals have feelings for their children."

Speaking of children, it's not only Palestinian kids who are in the midst of the conflict. Two hundred thousand Israelis raise their children in isolated settlements scattered all over the West Bank, guarded by Gantz's troops. The peace process was designed to close down some of the settlements but that hasn't happened. In fact, the number of settlers keeps growing and the Israelis keep building roads to guarantee them safe passage.

"There's no place to walk to. My parents, my mother survived Bergen-Belsen," says Gantz, referring to the Nazi concentration camp. "My father survived the Second World War. This is the only place we will be in."

It seems a daunting task: convincing Israel to give up East Jerusalem and the settlements on the West Bank. "If this doesn't happen, I'll tell you what will happen. We will have a series of conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis," says Ashrawi. "We are not sheep. We will not sit back and die quietly and nicely to appease the Israelis. We will resist."

And resistance creates victims who become martyrs hardening the hearts of both peoples, making compromise even more difficult to imagine. How long will this last? Says Gantz, "I'm not too optimistic. I thik it's gonna last a long time."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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