BEIT JALA, West Bank — Yasser Jawarish doesn't believe for a minute that Palestinian militiamen will forever hold their fire or that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will forever keep troops from marching into this Palestinian village.
On this point, Israeli citizen Miri Eldad agrees. She lives across a narrow valley in the middle-class neighborhood of Gilo. She figures it is only a matter of time before Palestinians again strafe her community with bullets--like the one that pierced her refrigerator Tuesday--and Israel responds.
Gilo and this traditionally Christian Palestinian village remained quiet but tense Wednesday, a day after behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure averted an Israeli incursion and another escalation in the 10-month-old uprising. Yet because the communities are so close, and tensions so high between Jews and Palestinians, there was little faith that the quiet will hold for long.
"I think the Israelis will invade, and I think we will defend our homes as best we can--we can give it a try at least. We know that we will lose, but we have to try," said Jawarish, 48, a Beit Jala resident.
"We just can't go on like this," Eldad said as she lifted a refrigerator magnet to show the bullet hole in her freezer door. "Ten months is just too long for this to go on."
On Tuesday, a bullet sailed through her open patio door, pierced her refrigerator and stuck in a frozen chicken.
"We really need to retaliate, not just shoot back," she said.
After suicide bombings followed by an Israeli military strike deep into Palestinian territory in the last week, Wednesday proved relatively calm.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli forces assassinated a leader of Tanzim, a militia linked to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Emad abu Sneineh, 25, was gunned down as he stepped from a car.
But it was the ability to restore quiet, if not exactly peace, between Beit Jala and Gilo that set the tone for the day. Although Sharon promised to move soldiers into Beit Jala in force if militants opened fire on Gilo again, and troops remained massed around the village, the decision not to invade marked one of the few times in recent memory that diplomacy succeeded in stopping the violence.
"I think that the moment the Palestinians decided to stop the fire there was no need" for an incursion, said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. "And I am happy the fire was stopped and the invasion became unnecessary."
Gilo and Beit Jala come together at a picturesque overlook on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel captured the Gilo area and annexed it to the city. The town's stone apartment buildings sit on a high cliff offering a panoramic view of the Palestinian communities below. The Jewish community is so well established that some residents said they had not originally known that they lived on captured land.
"If I knew, I never would have moved here," said Eldad, who came to Gilo three years ago with her four children. She bought her apartment for $160,000--and has seen its value drop by almost half because of the gunfire from Beit Jala. "I am against settlements. When we came here, we thought we were buying a beautiful view."
But the Palestinians across the valley, looking up at Gilo, never forgot the land was annexed.
Palestinian militants have periodically fired on Gilo from the village since the current uprising began. After Israeli troops invaded the Palestinian city of Jenin on Tuesday and demolished a police station, gunmen in Beit Jala opened fire again. Israeli troops prepared to move into the village early Wednesday but called off the action after European diplomats persuaded the Palestinians to hold their fire.
Later Wednesday, shops were shuttered and the streets nearly empty. Few Beit Jala residents believe that militiamen will heed Sharon's warning to stop shooting.
On Tuesday morning, the Jawarish family experienced a sort of personal invasion by the army. Shortly after a heavy exchange of gunfire between militiamen in Beit Jala and troops guarding Gilo, Israeli soldiers arrived and ordered the Jawarishes to evacuate their two-story home, family members said.
The strategic value of the graceful stone structure is clear. Perched at the northeastern edge of Beit Jala, the home offers a sweeping view of the village, the Aida refugee camp in neighboring Bethlehem and the valley. The neighborhood is so close to Gilo that Israel insisted that it should remain under its control even after the army withdrew from the rest of the village following the signing of a 1993 peace accord with the Palestinians.
"They gave us seven minutes," Sara Jawarish said of the order Tuesday. "I took the embroidery I was working on. I took my gold chains. We took nothing else, only the clothes we were wearing."
In all, 13 family members were displaced by the seizure. They are now crammed into a tiny home next door, where one of Jawarish's brothers-in-law, Sufian Jawarish, lives with his wife and six children.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has erected a white tent outside the confiscated home. At night, the family said, the adults sleep in the tent and hand the shared home over to the children, who bed down on blankets on the floor.
The Jawarishes, with thousands of other Palestinians, became refugees in 1948 when Arab states declared war on the new state of Israel. In 1967, thousands more Palestinians fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip when Israel captured those areas.
"The Palestinians are not like we were in 1948, or in 1967," said Sufian Jawarish, 36, an unemployed plumber. "This experience will not be repeated. This time, people will stay."
The shooting from Beit Jala into Gilo should stop, he said, "but we need something in exchange for our people; we need something tangible. We want freedom and security."