Let's play a word-association game.
I say "Palestinian" and you say . . ."Terrorist," right? Most Americans would probably make that connection. And that's really too bad. It's a stereotype and, like most stereotypes, it's just not accurate - especially if you ask a Palestinian.
For Palestinians, it's the Israelis who are terrorists - and their terrorism is government supported and sanctioned.
The Israelis, of course, will tell you that they're protecting themselves from terrorist stones, knives and bombs.
The truth is that neither are terrorists.
The PLO, trying to publicize its plight, initially engaged in terrorism but soon realized how stupid that was. The Israelis, though probably rightfully accused of using the hammer-to-kill-a-fly approach to conflict, simply believe they're protecting themselves.
Palestinians are doctors, auto mechanics, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers and engineers - just like you and me - who are tired of living under military rule as second-class citizens.
Israelis are doctors, auto mechanics, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers and engineers - just like you and me - who want to feel safe in a Jewish state surrounded by Arabs, their age-old enemies.
But, for now at least, the two wants are mutually exclusive - and the Palestinians, like all underdogs, are suffering the most. Consider these accounts:- A man in a refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank told me his son was playing cards one night. Israeli soldiers broke in the house, beat his son severely and arrested him. As we spoke, the son was still in detention, but Israeli authorities would not specify the charge. The father believes that the Israel Defense Forces will keep his son in detention until the evidence of the beating has healed.
- The Palestinian official in charge of that refugee camp said soldiers came to his door about 11 one night and demanded that he take them to the homes of other Palestinians whom the Israelis wanted to arrest.
The services officer refused, at least partly because helping Israeli authorities, even if he had wanted to, would have then put the man in serious danger with militant Palestinians who would have viewed him as an informer.
The man claims the soldiers grabbed him by the hair, threw him to the ground and beat him. Because he was a U.N. employee, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency legal officers tried to help in the resulting legal proceedings, but he was not allowed any representation.
- During a visit to another West Bank camp, our United Nations car was surrounded by children and an upset mother as soon as we entered the camp.
The mother, assuming we were someone else, told us that soldiers had just arrested her teenage son and she didn't know where he was. Of course, there was nothing we could do.
A few minutes later, while we were visiting camp officials, the mother returned, less upset, but still confused. She just didn't know what to do.
"How often does something like this happen," I asked the camp official.
"Maybe every four or five days," he said.
- The camp's medical officer told me that he used to treat a lot of people who had been overcome with tear gas, but they don't even come now. "It is so frequent, that they already know what I'll tell them to do."
- The same doctor, through an interpreter, also described a "strong boy" in camp who was hit by a rubber bullet.
"The rubber bullet penetrated his chest, hit his heart - and he died," the doctor said.
- In Tulkarm Camp in the northern part of the West Bank, the doctor told me about a boy who was shot in the leg but then died. When the family buried him, they found bruises on his head and believe he was beaten to death.
The accusations about cruelty from the IDF are "ridiculous when you consider the challenges the IDF faces," said an IDF spokesman, explaining that soldiers have "very explicit orders" about what they can and can't do.
"When soldiers overreact, they are tried and sentenced," he said.
But an American observer adds, "The Israeli security forces are predisposed to respond with force. But you've got to remember that most Jewish men have fought in at least one war against the Arabs, like in Lebanon where Arab children would charge at them with live grenades."
Home demolition is another form of punishment for those the IDF believes are particularly troublesome.
In the Gaza Strip's Bureij Refugee Camp, we visited the home - or shelter - of a woman whose house had recently been demolished by Israeli soldiers.
Fifteen people lived in the house, which was destroyed just a month earlier, the woman told me through an interpreter. The woman has two sons in detention, and no one in the home is currently employed.
The family now lives in a tent, provided by the Red Cross, and under blankets draped from a wall that still stands behind the spot where the house was.
Nearby, several families are living in what used to be a modest one-story hospital because their homes, too, have been destroyed. But that won't last long - the IDF will soon use the space for a school. During our visits, the residents had no idea where they would go.
Through the interpreter, I asked another woman whose home had been destroyed if they had had a chance to remove any personal belongings.
"They were told at 7:30 a.m. that their house was to be destroyed," the interpreter said after asking the woman. "At 8 a.m., they arrived to begin the demolition."