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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

October 2, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 124




Pat Morrison (Un)happy anniversary, intifada

Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

Two weeks after 9/11, I was staying in a hotel in Westchester County, about 30 miles north of Manhattan. I was there on business, and I had a room only because it had been booked weeks in advance. Almost all the guests were there for 9/11-related duties, and they were that far away from Manhattan because there were no available rooms anywhere closer to the city. We were an interesting mix, almost all from out of state: Firefighters, police officers and rescue workers from Montana and Wisconsin and other places thousands of miles west, there to give respite to their New York counterparts or to help in the harrowing work at Ground Zero. Together with an occasional stranded tourist, there were a few dozen communications/IT specialists from across the country who had come to try to rebuild phone and Internet infrastructures for hundreds of institutions and businesses.

As I went about my work that week, a horrible realization grew and gripped me like a vise. Every person I met, talked with, bumped into casually -- every single one -- had either a loved one, family member, friend or acquaintance who had perished in the 9/11 attacks, or knew or worked with someone who had. From waitresses to hotel desk clerks to cabdrivers, every person at some level had been touched by death. It was as if a giant funeral pall had been cast over the entire region, and the weight of sadness was absolutely palpable. There was a collective grief and loss like I had never experienced in my life.

I frequently recall the depression and devastation of that trip to post-9/11 New York whenever I think of the relentless violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where I have also visited and worked as a journalist. Like those New Yorkers, every Palestinian and Israeli has in some way been touched by death.

Last Friday marked the third anniversary of what is commonly called the al-Aqsa intifada or the second intifada (the first was in 1987). The Arabic word intifada is commonly referred to as "uprising," but its literal meaning is "to shake off," as a yoke. The reality of intifada, of course, is colored by the perception of your source: More right-leaning Israelis view it as unprovoked, excessive violence against innocent Israeli citizenry. Palestinians see it as justified action in the face of Israeli aggression, a necessary means to end 50 years of Israeli occupation.

Whatever the underlying politics of either side, the intifada's "birthday" is well-documented: On Sept. 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, then right-wing Likud Party leader, accompanied by an estimated 1,000 Likud members, body guards and Israeli soldiers, visited the Muslim-controlled area that intersects with Judaism's holy site, the Western Wall -- all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Adjacent to the wall and above it, what Jews call the Temple Mount, is Islam's third-holiest site and entrusted to Muslims when the Old City was partitioned after the 1967 war. The home to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, the area is known in Islam as the Haram al-Sharif, "the noble sanctuary."

Until then, there had been a gentlemen's agreement in the partitioned city: Muslims did not go to the Western Wall or its precincts; Jews did not enter the Muslim sanctuary area.

Violence broke out almost immediately after Sharon's visit. Earliest reports from the ground reflected the expected blame game. Both sides claimed the other started it or was behaving the most outrageously. Who was the victim/aggressor? Palestinians dropped large rocks from the plaza down on Jews praying at the wall and lobbed stones at Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli forces used guns, grenades and mace against the largely unarmed Palestinians.

But the world weighed in. The United Nations condemned the appearance by Sharon and his contingent at a Muslim sacred site as a "provocation." The U.N. further condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" that left an initial 80 Palestinians dead.

In the 36 months since, the event some dismissed as a minor scuffle that would be over in weeks has escalated into full-scale internecine war. Israel's targeted killings of Palestinian militants is predictably followed by Palestinian suicide bombings, followed by Israeli gunship attacks and the bulldozing of homes. Violence, retaliation, worse violence, more reprisals have become tired and routine occurrences even as the death toll continues to climb almost daily.

Since Sept. 28, 2000, more than 3,000 Palestinians and Israelis have died - as have international journalists, aid workers and others caught in the crossfire. Giant areas of the West Bank and Gaza are in ruins. The Israeli economy is in shambles. The constant violence has shredded any hopes for a lasting peace accord in the fractured region.

Today, open on my desk for all to view is a full-color magazine. It's a calendar of sorts, and the day it was published, March 27, 2003, it was immediately obsolete. Remember These Children records the names, ages and dates of death of the 508 children -- 415 Palestinians and 93 Israelis -- including newborns and even unborn, who died in the violence between Sept. 29, 2000, through Feb. 28, 2003. Their photos are there, too -- young, eager faces smiling at the reader like pictures in a family album or school yearbook. Side by side in death, hundreds of Palestinian children and Jewish children. Two peoples' hopes snuffed out.

Since March, there are even more names and numbers. It's time for both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, to stop and reflect on the devastating toll the violence is taking. Hundreds of their children and citizens are no more.

Would that the same were true of the intifada.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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