‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’

Al Ram is a quiet town but in summer the dust noise makes it intolerable. Yes, do not open your mouth and look bewildered, Al Ram is the color of the colorless Palestinian rocks.

REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

There are no flowers, no springs, no green scenery, only dust, nothing but glorious dust and people strolling among the dust particles. I am not trying to be funny, trust me. This is Al Ram and the other Palestinian towns are the same.

The Road to al-Ram

The owner of the local store once said to me: ‘You know, I breathe one pound of dust walking downhill and breathe another two pounds going uphill. I think one day I will have a dust cancer.’

Summer is awful but I live here and I love my home. I love Al Ram though it is encircled with dust, under Israeli occupation, and neglected leaving room for dust to conquer and kill. The other day troops on the roadblock to Al Ram were covered with the dust trying to cross to Al Ram from Ramallah.

Dust lands on their faces and guns. I bet they breathe more dust than my good local storekeeper, who at least enjoys a bit of a sense of humor - unlike the troops, who get so infuriated when some dust land on the finger that shoots Palestinians crossing with the dust.

As days go by, faces become the color of dust. Even when water runs on the body to clean the dust, it seems reluctant to do so. Dust rules here.

I made a big mistake and decided to cross with the dust to Ramallah, as I wanted to breathe the Ramallah dust for a change. I got to the roadblock with some dust and asked permission to cross. The troops looked at me and nearly mistook me for a pile of dust but only realized that I was a human being when my five-month-old baby cried, as she was really sick and tired of waiting in the dust, the sun, and the colorless rocks.

‘You cannot cross,’ said the troops leaning on the cement blocks behind the sand bags. I held the proof of my British citizenship, which I am really proud of, high up in the air hoping it would save the day.

The passport was a little dusty and had an invalid visa. The dust-covered troops were unable to see the visa and decided to let me cross but decided not to allow my wife and my baby to cross. I said I would die if I had to go on without them especially my gorgeous baby. ‘Tough shit,’ he said, ‘these are the orders.’

REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

I asked myself why are they doing this? I wake up when the Ford van hit a canyon in the middle of a dirt road to Jericho. Then I realized that my wife, my baby, and I were taking a 40-mile-long road to get to breathe the glorious dust of Ramallah with our families living in that isolated West Bank town. Then I realized that I got more than I wanted. Having to take this long drive, since my wife and baby were not allowed through, meant that I also got the chance to taste the glorious dust of Jericho, but believe me my little baby hated it and nearly got suffocated.

I thought of the troops on the roadblock again and I wondered: Why? The road to Ramallah takes less than ten minutes and here I am on the mountains of Jericho with a crazy driver who had forgotten to change his dust color shirt.

The dirt road across the naked mountains of Jericho was misleading. We got lost. The driver assured the eight passengers stuffed in his van that he knew the road to Ramallah like the back of his hand. I was not sure about that but there are no choices here in Palestine, there is no life, no fun, only Israeli troops, guns, and dust.

I recalled Saint James’s Park in London and the ducks, and I took a deep breath of fresh air, which turned to be filled with the dust of Jericho sneaking into the old van from all holes big and small.

Oh Lord Almighty, remove the dust from the eyes and faces of the troops and make them see the true nature of suffering. We have done nothing to deserve this.

The driver took a left turn and I saw a little church lurking in the sky. Yes, this is Al Taybeh, the Christian town west of Jericho. Yea they make good beer here but there is no time for fun or beer in this place. I really miss my sisters and my sweet mother in law. Dust spoke and every one of the passengers responded with a powerful sneeze. One guy, who held an American passport in his hand puked on it. He reckoned that his American passport would save him from being forced at gunpoint to strip off, which has become the most beloved Israeli troops’ habit that is to force Palestinians at gunpoint to undress so that they could have a little sexual excitement at the scenes of semi-naked Palestinian men. I was also afraid of having to undress under gunpoint.

I thought of sending this note to George W Bush as the van was hitting more canyons in the Palestinian village of Dir Jareer.

Dear Mr. President,

Your war against Al Qaeda does not need to be a war against the whole world. Your adversaries are a bunch of people who attacked you on September 11. The rest of the world has nothing to do with that. So save your guns and your breath and I am sure that your troops are not enjoying breathing the dust of Afghanistan.

Yours truly,

The crazy van driver took another right turn at Ein Yabroud and fifteen minutes later, we were hitting the old Nablus-Ramallah Road. I must admit that this 15-minute part of the long drive to Ramallah was most enjoyable. The scenery was magnificent; olive trees, bushes, cauliflowers, spring onions, a little football field, and water sprinklers in Dura Al Qare’a.

Jalazone refugee camp was on the right. This used to be my playground. I remembered my true identity. Yes, I am a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Jalazone refugee camp before making it all the way to Ohio and Great Britain and back to Al Ram when I thought that peace had finally prevailed - what a joke.

‘Hello Jalazone my old friend, I hope you are doing fine in this mess and I hope the Divine power of the Lord will protect you from the dusty eyes of the Israeli troops.’

I said this little prayer as we were approaching Bet El. Ironically, Bet El means the House of God, however, I am positive that God has nothing to do with the settlers and soldiers living on this stolen piece of land.

Clouds of dust lurked in the horizon as we got off the van to cross the sand barriers of Bet El. Finally the old van forcefully gave up and declared peace technology’s inability to face Israeli bulldozers’ mindless war techniques. The dust of Bet El was brown and tasted awful.

The long drive ended and Al Bireh and Ramallah were before my eyes. Now I have to worry about the road to Al Ram. One of the passengers, a lady covered in black attire coughed and puked as she stepped out of the van. I bet she did not like the taste of the dusty sand barriers of Bet El.

Time elapsed and we were back breathing the brown Bet El dust on the road back to Al Ram. I realized that a military jeep was chasing us as we drove across Ein Yabroud. Funny, I wanted to tell my wife about my schooldays in Ein Yabroud but I was not in the mood.

REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

Before hitting the bypass road near Ofra, which is another Israeli settlement, built on stolen Palestinian land, the jeep forced us to stop. One of the troops, opened the door and said: ‘hawiya!,’ in other words, ‘show me your ID cards.’ He inspected the ID cards of the exhausted passengers and looked at my British passport and said, ‘what is this,’ I said it was a British passport. He gave it back to me and said, ‘peace be with you.’ That sounded so funny and reminded me of one time when the troops allowed me to cross Al Ram roadblock saying, ‘don’t say Israeli troops are bad!’

The way back to Al Ram took two hours and thirteen minutes with 200 percent extra cost than the original trip would cost had troops let us cross the roadblock to Al Ram.

We made it, thank God. I kissed my wife and hugged my baby tightly and apologized for making her go through all the suffering.

Suddenly I remembered ‘Welcome to Israel’ on the arrival terminal at Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv. Shouldn’t that be changed to ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here?’

The three pictures show Qalandia checkpoint (REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk)