Birzeit Blues

I’m writing a report right now, and the current chapter focuses on attacks on health, including curfew. A lot of the time, my impatience to write this dammed report makes me so impatient I forget what I’m reading.

I didn’t forget though, last week. I went to visit a girlfriend who studies at Birzeit University. I reached there by taking a shared cab sneaking on settler roads, which put the fear of God into me. Ramallah was closed, so I couldn’t take the usual route to Birzeit. I took the “by-pass” route from Calandia, the new central bus station for the central West Bank.

Everybody else was used to it, the woman beside me knew the driver on a first name basis. Two young men in kufiyyehs sat behind me, and I really had to laugh at how bad this looked.

They were probably engineering students, carrying something very long, probably rolled up cardboard and sketches. For an Israeli soldier peering suspiciously from the door, it would look like a rocket launcher or an over-the-shoulder weapon hurler. Who knows? I smothered the laughter though. You won’t be laughing when you’re dead, I’ll tell myself.

We made it to Birzeit, my girlfriend making me maqloubeh and oh God, kidney. She meant it to show me how much she valued my company, I thought I’d been transported to a British schoolboy lunch. We ate, and then her flat mates and we began to dress for a night “on the town” in Birzeit — ha, ha, ha, all two roads of it.

My friend joked that Israeli soldiers now routinely entered the village and arrested young men they wanted. She told me of a time that she was at the Internet cafe, when the soldiers walked in, came up to a young man, “Are you X?” looked at his ID and took him away.

“Nobody even moved. I was just happy they didn’t close the cafe.”

Her flat mate from Jerusalem laughs, quoting a popular poem used at protests here, “If the people one day desired life, then fate shall obey. Forget life! We want internet access!”

They can’t stop laughing, more aware than anybody of the surreal situation they live. My girlfriend is wearing a kufiyyeh and telling me that ensuring her Internet access was more important than seeing her fellow student getting arrested. “Everything is becoming normal, that’s the problem.”

We are laughing and her phone begins to ring. It,s another friend of ours, a lovely guy from Tulkarem or somewhere in the north, telling us, “Be careful! The army might come back tonight!”

“Yiiii!” My friend responds, “are you afraid of the army?”

“Are you crazy?” He screams into the phone, “Of course I am!”

“Well be a man and meet us at the Mona Lisa [a cafe in Birzeit]. For God’s Sake!” She adds, exasperated.

We meet at the cafe, my girlfriend, her flat mates and two young men, the regular student group who have been hanging out together for the past four years. At 10pm, we are out of there — I have never seen girls with such a tight self-imposed curfew before.

Back home, we don’t want to sleep, we just want to find a way to forget the bone-chilling cold. Somebody pulls out a pack of cards, a pack of cigarettes, and we are playing furiously until 2am.

It’s only because we have to wake up at 8am that we are sleeping, and three of us get under the same blanket for warmth. I wake up at 4am, crying. I can’t move, my stomach is cramping furiously, if I try to stand, I can’t sit; if I sit, I can,t stand. I ended up half falling on the bed, on my friend, moaning. I hadn’t felt that kind of pain before.

“What’s wrong?”



“Urgh.” Helpless crying.

I want to tell her, Look, I’m in terrific pain and I can’t talk, move, anything. If I were anywhere else in the world, somebody would call a cab, an ambulance, a doctor. I want to go to hospital, I’m afraid what ever it is will get worse.

I have a moment of panic: Is Ramallah still closed? Can I go to hospital? When does a curfew/closure begin or end? Is 4am the next day, and therefore no closure, or is it still from yesterday’s closure? If I go to the checkpoint, can I plead my case? Will the soldier have mercy on me and let me though? Why would he? You idiot, I whisper maliciously to myself, you just finished the section of the report on women having babies on checkpoints, are you any better?

These are all thoughts in my head of course, the logical conclusion of which makes me close my eyes, drool a little and cry a bit helplessly. For God’s sake, I tell myself, don’t be a wanker.

I shut up and let my friend calm down my nerves, make me herbal tea, help me sit up, stand up, lie down. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me and that’s what scares me the most.

I sip at the herbal tea, feeling now really awful, because I’ve woken up the girls and they have exams. The next day I go home through Ramallah — closure has been lifted.

Diaa Hadid is public advocacy officer at LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment.