As the madness in Israel escalates, angry demos by Arabs in front of the Israeli consulate on Bloor last week and the defacing of an Arab community centre in Mississauga have plunged relations between local Arabs and Jews to an all-time low.
At no time since the Gulf War has the discourse between the Jewish and Arab leadership in Toronto been so testy.
Last week Jewish community leaders bravely but not very deftly stepped out to meet and dialogue with 200-plus protestors, led by the U of T Arab students federation and Palestine House, outside the Israeli consulate.
What the Jewish spokespeople hoped to achieve by showing up at an emotionally charged demonstration mourning the death of almost 100 Palestinians in Israel's occupied territories is not clear.
Taken aback They were met by waving placards and anti-Israeli slogans comparing Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to Hitler. There were shouts, too, of "Death to Israel." Materials depicting swastikas and a photo of Rami Al-Durra, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy tragically caught in the crossfire by Israeli soldiers, were also circulated.
Ruth Klein, national director of B'nai Brith Canada's Institute for International Affairs, says she was taken aback by what she calls the crowd's "display of naked hatred."
Klein was there with a delegation of Jewish leaders. Among them were B'nai Brith's Lawrence Hart, Rochelle Wilner and Jesse Guberman, as well as Simon Rosenblum and Moshe Ronen of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).
At one point, she says, the group was backed into the doors of the Israeli consulate before police intervened to usher them to one side.
"The whole thing was a horrifying experience," says Klein, who says she was there to observe and dialogue if the opportunity presented itself. "There were no voices of moderation, no one calling for peace, no one calling for dialogue."
But apparently not all in the Jewish delegation were there to engage in dialogue.
The CJC's Rosenblum tells me later that he was there to "show solidarity with Israel."
Rashad Saleh, president of Palestine House, one of the organizers of the protest, doesn't deny that some of the demonstrators were angry and that emotions reached the boiling point on a number of occasions.
But he denies claims by Klein that protestors cursed and spat and chanted, "Death to the Jews."
He says the presence of Jewish community leaders acted, if anything, as a provocation.
Community outraged Saleh says he's never seen the Palestinian and Arab community as outraged as they are over current events in Israel.
"There's no way I can describe it," he says. "That's why we wanted to demonstrate. To express our outrage."
Saleh freely admits that he was one of those comparing Likud party head Ariel Sharon, whose visit to the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem sparked the current fighting, to Hitler.
The CJC's Rosenblum was offering some tough talk of his own when reached by NOW on Friday, hours before Jews were to begin celebrating the holiest sabbath before Yom Kippur.
"There's no evidence," Rosenblum says, "to prove (that the shooting of Al-Durra) was purposeful." He says Arabs have sent their children out before to be martyred for the Palestinian cause, a consequence, he says, of generations of war.
He points out that Barak's government has offered more in peace talks, including the Arab part of East Jerusalem and the presence of an international monitor in the old city proper, than did the previous government of Yitzak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Their proposal was to make a village outside of Arab East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital.
In this light, Rosenblum says, the rock-throwing can only be viewed as an effort by the Palestinians to increase their leverage in peace talks.
Of the violence on the part of Israeli soldiers that Amnesty International has called "indiscriminate," he says, "In the fog of war, all kinds of tragic things happen."
But Rosenblum and others are clearly appalled at the trashing of Palestine House in Mississauga last week by vandals. The words "Jewish people live" and "Death to Arafat" were scrawled on the community centre's windows and doors.
Taken aback "When they have demonstrations and the central message is Barak is Hitler, it doesn't foster a lot of dialogue," says Rosenblum. "But we don't condone the vandalism. We highly disapprove. We want everything to be conducted in a non-violent way."
Plans are afoot to arrange talks between Arab and Jewish leaders. B'nai Brith jumped in with its own condemnation of the attack on Palestine House, calling the action "deplorable and counterproductive." B'nai Brith later announced plans for cross-country solidarity rallies with Israel.
Saleh worries that "other bigots" outside the Jewish and Arab communities may try to inflame the tensions with more acts of vandalism.
In Montreal, Canadian Arab Federation president John Asfour urged stronger condemnation of the violence by Jewish leaders, who to this point have characterized it as "unfortunate."
"There are limits to when and how you can defend the state of Israel," says Asfour, adding, "Jews will have to live with Arabs. The sooner there's a peace deal, the better."
email@example.comRAMALLAH, West Bank -Since violence broke out in the West Bank and Gaza following Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque on September 2, locals keep saying to me, "Welcome to Palestine, Glenn."
It is Palestinians' sarcastic way of letting me know that I haven't truly experienced the culture here until I've lived through the barrage of street funerals, firebombs, general strikes and road closures we've seen over the past week.
On the first day of the violence, I travel from my work in East Jerusalem to my home in Ramallah, West Bank, and become a little apprehensive as I begin to hear gunshots ahead and see groups of Palestinian youths throwing rocks and Israeli army jeeps approaching.
Over soon The woman next to me tries to reassure me. "We have lived through this so many times," she says. "It will be over soon, when the Palestinians retreat once again."
She's right about not worrying about the gunshots. The minibus merely turns off the main road and struggles through the narrow streets of the nearby refugee camp, bypassing the violence.
She's mistaken, however, about these events being minor. After 11 days of clashes, the atmosphere here in Ramallah has changed dramatically.
The city, usually a lively place full of western-style cafes, bars and restaurants, its streets packed late into the evening, now shuts down completely every day at 1 in the afternoon.
I no longer feel completely safe in Ramallah's streets, and have been mistaken for a Jew several times. I get suspicious glares from groups of youths, and the few times I've ventured out at night, cars slow down beside me to see who I am.
At one point, a young man injured earlier in the day in the clashes looks me in the eye and declares, "I'm gonna kill all Jews."
Needless to say, I take a taxi home that night.
People here alternate between moods of anger and hopelessness.
"People will die, and then (the protestors) will retreat the next day. And then we'll go back to the bargaining table to accomplish nothing," says the woman in the minibus.
At work, the atmosphere is tense. Three of my co-workers have relatives who have been killed. In meetings held to discuss the situation, there is a lot of yelling and crying.
Current violence The woman who cleans the office and who normally brings so much love and spirit to the centre can hardly contain herself. She walks with her head down, and her eyes are red from crying.
The anger doesn't arise from only the current violence. Certainly, Palestinians are incensed that Israel is using more violent tactics than it did even during the Intifada. It's the first time, of course, that Israel has fired rockets at such civilian targets as a Gazan apartment building.
And they're enraged when they hear stories like that of Ali, whom my co-workers and I visited in the hospital last week. A young boy, he was shot in the eye - blinded - while trying to escape the violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He had gone there to play, since it's the only place in Jerusalem's Old City with enough space for children to run about.
"The Israelis are supposed to be our peace partners," says the director of the organization I work for. "How could they shoot such an innocent victim?"
However, Palestinians are also angry at the peace process itself. Most feel the Oslo Accords have failed to bring either freedom or prosperity. To see how Oslo does more for Israelis than for Palestinians, one need only look at the map.
Under the accords, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was given either full or partial authority over nearly all towns and cities. However, Israel maintains full control over rural areas, which make up roughly 60 per cent of West Bank land. As a result, Palestinians are locked in burgeoning towns and cities, since Israel in effect maintains the zoning plans for the West Bank.
Under those plans, rural areas are defined as strictly agricultural, and no home-building can take place there.
Economic suffering Poor Palestinians desperate to build houses on cheaper land just outside the cities can't obtain building permits. And between the signing of Oslo and the end of 1998, 702 Palestinian homes were demolished in rural areas of the West Bank alone.
And this isn't the only way Oslo has disadvantaged Palestinians. Their economy has suffered as well, as Israel has maintained its ability to restrict trade between Palestine and the outside world.
At the same time, the frequent border closures imposed on the West Bank and restrictions on work permits granted to Palestinians to work in Israel have meant large losses to the economy. Palestine's GDP has plunged since Oslo, while the labour force increases by 8 per cent annually due to the high percentage of youth in the population.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Oslo is the greater restriction on movement it has created. There is now a checkpoint on the border between the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which means West Bankers can no longer enter Jerusalem without a permit.
Many West Bankers may wish to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, but it's now difficult or impossible to get there.
Many I talk to have turned against both the peace process and Yasser Arafat, who they say has sold out their interests in order to have a state at any cost.
My neighbour laughs when I use the words "peace process." Even if Israel were to offer an agreement that alleviated many of the problems embedded in the Oslo Accords, these people have lost faith. They want 100 per cent of the lands taken in 1967. Moreover, they want a just peace that will offer them development and prosperity. For them, an agreement that simply reflects the balance of power between Palestine and Israel is not enough.
Current violence The short-term prospects for peace, then, do not look good. People speculate about whether Arafat can control the current violence. According to my neighbour Hassen, he can't.
"The people demonstrating aren't Arafat's people," he says. "Arafat's men are on the sidelines while others take to the streets."
If this is the case, it may be very difficult to save the peace process in the Middle East.