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THE MIDDLE EAST // Through Teens' Eyes

Shira Hon, 14, and Yoni Adiri, 15, live in a Tel Aviv suburb.

But reminders of the political clashes in their homeland never seem to go away completely. And they wonder whether Palestinians and Israelis can really have peace, despite their treaty 2{ years ago.

Violent reminders have touched their lives.

Yoni was at a popular mall when an Arab suicide bomber blew himself up, killing more than a dozen people.

Shira's next-door neighbor and former preschool teacher is the mother of Yigal Amir, the man who killed Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

"I think I cried the most (when Rabin died) because it was so near me," says Shira, an eighth-grader. "I cried for Geula because I know she's not a bad person. She was the best teacher."

Yoni, a ninth-grader, still remembers hearing the terrifying boom and feeling the ground shaking when the bomb went off March 4 at the Dizengoff Center in downtown Tel Aviv.

"It was like an earthquake," he says. "Everyone had been smiling and laughing. And suddenly they were shouting and running. When I looked behind me, there was this big, black cloud."

Such attacks force Israeli teens to think about politics and the peace process, he says. But the teens also have another reason: Everyone goes into the army at the age of 18 _ boys go for three years, girls for two.

"The kids who go to the army really feel like the country is theirs, that the future will be ours and we're going to have to take care of it," Shira says.

Yet despite the conflict, Shira and Yoni don't want outsiders to believe Israelis live in the "shadow of war."

"Everywhere you go, you have to open your eyes. If you see someone suspicious, you have to say something or go away from the place," Yoni says. "But don't get the clue that we're afraid and don't go out. We have a normal life. We have fun. It happens, and life goes on."

In fact, both believe Israeli streets are safer than American streets. Teens can go out alone at any time of night and often go to clubs or discos until 5 or 6 in the morning on weekends. They don't worry about gangs or crime, they say.

"I've been to New York a lot," Shira says. "You don't see kids go out alone. Here, kids go alone, even kids who are 10 years old. It's not like New York, where you're scared because somebody will shoot you."

And in some ways, their lives are much like those of American teens. Israeli teenagers join scouting clubs, go to the beach, play sports and enjoy American shows like Seinfeld, Married With Children and Beverly Hills, 90210.

While they worry about Arab intentions in the peace process, they also have hope. Already the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan have peace accords with Israel. The teens hope Israel's neighbors to the north, Syria and Lebanon, eventually will agree, also.

"I think there will be a time when kids are not worried and they don't have to serve in the army," Yoni says.

Shira says Israel's conflicts can be overwhelming for kids. She thinks about her former teacher, Geula. Shira got confused by television coverage showing the family as right-wing and blaming the parents for encouraging Yigal's militant actions.

"When I was younger, I used to visit her house a lot," she says. "But now I don't go at all. I don't feel right. Geula, as a person, as I know her, she's fine. But I just can't get it. Maybe it's too much for my age."

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