Some Palestinian ex-prisoners in Gaza say their salaries withheld

Fuad Maraita's alarm goes off at 3.30am. He drinks a cup of strong Arabic coffee and a glass of milk in silence.

He drinks coffee, slings a bag with his lunch over his shoulder, gets on a minibus and starts the grueling journey to his job laying tiles at a construction site near Tel Aviv. Instead of pulling out of the occupied territories and accepting the sovereign Palestinian state the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) thought would be the outcome of Oslo back in the 1990s, Israel continued to build and expand the settlements. Israeli control has held back the Palestinian economy, making decent-paying jobs in the territories scarce. Stripped of choices, Palestinians work in Israel, where their average pay is the minimum wage- still more than double what they would earn at home. Laying tiles in Israel has become a Maraita family tradition, passed down from Maraita's late father to him, his four brothers, and one of his sons.

"The Jewish community overwhelmingly supports a two-state solution", in which Israel would coexist peacefully with a Palestinian state, she said. The second is the fact that past and current opposition parties from the center and left have been unwilling to form a coalition government with a united platform to end the occupation. Because it stuck Israelis in an unwanted role they can not escape. While its strategists want to control the highlands, its nationalists want to build towns, and its religious want to possess Jewish holy sites, Israel's continued ultimate rule over a West Bank population of 1.7 million mostly hostile Arabic-speaking, Muslim Palestinians takes an enormous toll both domestically and internationally. But returning to 1949's "Auschwitz lines" and abandoning 400,000 Israeli residents of the West Bank to the Palestinians' tender mercies is obviously not a solution. There was hope that we had reached a turning point - that after suffering such a decisive defeat, the Arabs would come to their senses, make peace with Israel and perhaps get their territories in return.

The Israelis and the Palestinians came close in the summer of 2000, when Clinton convened the parties for two weeks of talks at Camp David.

Yaakov said during one interview in 1999, "Look, it was so natural ..." Palestinians say Israel must cut the shackles now, rather than linking economic change to an elusive peace deal.

Meanwhile, settlements were established in the West Bank and Gaza by Israelis who regarded them as Jewish land. Palestinians in the "occupied Palestinian territories" were subjected to a brutal Israeli military occupation as well as the activities of armed, right-wing Jewish settlers, for whom Israel's victory was God's handiwork and a licence to colonise the land which they believed was promised to them and them alone.

In the meantime, Palestinians should keep working in Israel, he said.

The West Bank was under Jordanian control before Israel began occupying it during the 1967 war. Hundreds of laborers make their way through a maze of rails, turnstiles and a metal detector.

"Now, they [the Israelis] don't hire Palestinians because of security reasons", he added. They place their bags on an airport-style X-ray conveyor belt and press ID cards on a scanner. This has been Israel's dilemma from the very beginning. He proclaimed as well that the Arab armies were united and poised to attack Israel. Palestinians say the barrier is also a land grab because for long stretches it runs in the West Bank, not on the pre-1967 frontier, slicing off about 10 per cent of the land.

Israel drove Egyptian forces out of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, where Egypt had authority over Gaza's Palestinian population. Some workers with sleepover permits spend the entire work week in Israel to cut down on the lengthy commute.

When Yitzhak Yifat, as a young man 50 years ago, fought through the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, he felt "an overwhelming sense of excitement" when he reached the Western Wall.

After emerging from the crossing, Maraita passes workers kneeling on the ground for Muslim dawn prayers.

After emerging from the crossing, Maraita boards another bus, sitting behind his brother Ahed, 52.

  • Leroy Wright