For most Palestinians, revolt is worth the price. The Palestinian uprising, or intifadah, is six months old today. Despite a large loss of life and worsening conditions in the occupied territories, Arabs say their cause has been strengthened.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip seem tired, but determined to carry on their anti-Israel protests indefinitely - in their words, ``until the end of the occupation.'' The half year of grinding confrontation with Israeli troops has left Palestinians believing that, with their losses (202 Arabs and two Israelis have died in unrest-related violence), have also come gains.
Palestinians have won international sympathy; they have raised the moral and material cost of the occupation for Israel; they are again at the top of Arab and United States agendas in the Middle East. In Algiers, a summit of Arab leaders has convened on the intifadah (uprising).
Despite the Palestinians' added pride and attention, a certain ambivalence remains. Conversations with Palestinians reveal a mixture of bravado and frustration at their inability to bring about tangible changes in their conditions, which in some ways have been worsened by the uprising.
Khaled, who operates a metalworking shop in the West Bank town of Ramallah, is a case in point. The uprising caught him during a business boom, and has set back his work schedule by months. Recurrent commercial strikes have forced him to close his shop for days, and his workers have stayed home. Khaled confesses that he often had to sneak out of his town in the early morning to meet business commitments, despite pressure to strike by nationalist activists.
But Khaled has also done his bit for the intifadah. When Israeli troops pried open shuttered shop doors with crowbars and smashed open locks during commercial strikes, Khaled and other metalworkers repaired them free of charge.
Recently his store was closed down by authorities for two weeks after a tax collector's car was burned nearby by shopkeepers. Khaled has himself evaded taxes during the uprising, as other Palestinians have, following calls for a tax revolt by the underground leadership.
Though the intifadah has only worsened Khaled's business situation, he expresses support for the uprising as the only alternative to the occupation.
``For years we have borne the burden of military government, which means that we need Israeli permits for everything we do,'' he says. ``For years I've been waiting for a building license, and can't get one. The taxes are so high that it's difficult to make a decent profit.
``People are sick of the situation and will carry on the uprising, even though it has made life harder. They haven't come this far to turn back.
``What I think we need now is, first of all, elections to our municipalities. This could be the first step to electing our own leadership, perhaps even a mini-parliament here, which could also produce representatives for talks with the Israelis.''
A similar sentiment is expressed by Hatem, a Palestinian printing worker who works at an Israeli newspaper. ``The solution as I see it can only come when Israel makes some sort of deal with the Palestinians here. They'll have to.''
Hatem is no fan of the intifadah. The disengagement from Israel called for by the uprising's leadership, including a boycott of jobs in Israel, would spell for him the end of years of rewarding work and friendship with Jewish colleagues.
``I'm frankly unhappy with the situation, and waiting for things to calm down and go back to some semblance of normalcy,'' he says. ``I'm concerned about the atmosphere of anarchy that's been created in my neighborhood. My house was robbed twice in the last few weeks.''
Zuheir Dabi, a journalist in Nablus, agrees that the uprising has led to no tangible political results, but says it has done something more important: It has restored a sense of worth to the Palestinians. ``People now have renewed confidence, they're no longer afraid. And though there has been no political progress, people have, for the first time after 20 years, reason to hope.''
Though there is a lull in the violence, the uprising still exists in the persistent disruptions of daily life by strikes, Army searches, arrests, curfews, and isolated clashes between rioters and troops.
A new routine of abnormality has been created, which Israeli defense officials and Palestinians say could be maintained for months to come. In a leaflet Tuesday, the leadership of the uprising called for a general strike today. And yesterday, the Israeli Army clamped a curfew on the West Bank town of El Bireh as it sought suspects in Tuesday's stabbing of the Arab mayor. Several Arab officials have reportedly received threats recently.
There still seems to be no positive agenda for the uprising. Leading Palestinians from the territories, following cues from the PLO, have refused to meet with US Secretary of State George Shultz during his visits to the area. And no new Palestinian diplomatic formula has emerged, aside from fundamental demands for an end to the occupation and an independent Palestinian state.
[The Associated Press reports that King Hussein of Jordan astonished Arab leaders in Algiers yesterday with an impassioned endorsement of the intifadah, describing it as the Palestinians' ``path to liberation and dignity.'' But he did not refer to the Palestine Liberation Organization, despite a lenghty meeting he had earlier with PLO chief Yasser Arafat.]