In a remote village of Deir Ammer on the tops of the desert hills near Ramalla in the West Bank, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency used to offer a summer camp for refugee children.

But not now.Because of increased tension and violence, the Israeli Defense Force says UNRWA can't sponsor the camp.

Maher Nasser, a Palestinian refugee with an engineering degree from Bir Zeit University, and who works as a public information officer for UNRWA, attended the summer camp as a youth in 1975.

He took me to that village in early December.

The location is really very scenic, with hardy pine trees scattered across the otherwise barren hill. A gentle breeze cooled an unseasonably warm day.

"I have very clear memories of this camp," Maher told me. "It was the first time I got to practice my English on foreigners."Foreigners often volunteered to staff the 21-day camp that included all the things one would typically include in a summer camp, as well as some special projects, for the 200-300 youths.

"We'd organize into families," Maher said, "and choose activities - like producing a solar-heating system or designing a way to produce wind-generated electricity or learning to make yogurt and cheese from milk."

The camp is only one of the casualities in the increasingly violent dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. And amid all the turmoil, children, inevitably, suffer most.

"I'm concerned about the children," said Mary Khass, a 63-year-old Palestinian who has spent most of her life in Gaza working with charitable groups such as Quaker Relief and Save The Children Federation.

"They are becoming traumatized, hyperactive, aggressive and undisciplined. We're seeing a generation of street children," she said.

She claims that children are harrassed, intimidated - and even tortured - by Israeli soldiers.

"They pull their hair and make them watch as they beat their parents or older brothers. It's no wonder that a 5-year-old came to me the older day and said `I have killed a Jew,' and he was proud of it," she said. The child, of course, hadn't killed anyone.

In a way, my visits to schools in the West Bank and Gaza strips were an escape from the ever-present strife of the area - but only if I didn't think about what the children faced outside of school.

In each school, I was greeted by the smiling, innocent faces of children who were anxious to learn.

During a visit to a kindergarten in Gaza village, I played kick ball with some 4-year-olds in a small, graveled area. When the deafening noise from Israeli jetfighters overhead filled the air, the children quickly covered their ears - but continued to play.

Inside I saw a drawing of children throwing rocks at soldiers. An interpreter asked the child why he drew it and was told "because they shoot us."

My interpreter assured me that the ideas originated with the children. Israelis, no doubt, are equally certain that unscrupulous adults are planting the ideas in the children's heads.

Either way, it's the children who suffer.

"My 3-year-old niece can tell the difference in the sounds of various Israeli weapons - whether it is live ammunition, rubber bullets or tear gas," an UNRWA official told me.

Dr. Eyad el Sarraj, who just might be the only Palestinian psychologist in the Gaza Strip (with a population of about 700,000), said that Palestinian children are preoccupied with the violence - "guns and battles, Jews and Arabs, Saddam and Bush.

"Active children, on the whole, are very well adjusted, because they express themselves and project their aggression outside (to the Israelis). Although they might suffer being arrested or shot.

"The inactive children, however, feel guilt because they are not participating - and that makes them suffer even more. They witness beatings, but can't do anything about it. So it is worsening the problem.

"My 3-year-old nephew, as soon as he comes home from the nursery, he has a toy gun and a pack. He keeps checking people for their ID cards (like the Israeli soldiers do with Palestinians). When he's angry with his parents, they become the Palestinians and he becomes an Israeli soldier." The child, the doctor explained, likes the idea of having the same power as the Israeli soldiers.

But, he said, "acting out the scene is helpful. Children need to have the feeling that they have some sort of control - otherwise (the anger and frustration) would destroy them."