We finally had a house visit of our cities uninvited guests. Sixteen fully armed Israeli soliders entered our home as part of the house to house searches that they have been carrying out for 4 days now in Ramallah, while we sit under 24-hr curfew.
Our home compromises of 3 flats. My in-laws live on the ground level, we live on the 1st floor and my parents on the 2nd. My wife, Abeer, and oldest daughter, Areen, spent all day baking to fill the time while under house arrest (in international law they call that “collective punishment”). It was 7:30pm when Areen wrapped a tray of the sweet “Haresah” that had just come out of the oven and was excited to send it to her grandmother in the flat below. When we are under curfew, like now, we use a basket and rope from our front porch to send things below since we are not allowed out of the house. When the basket swings into the door my in-laws know that they should open to see what we have lowered. This time Areen was alone on the porch and started lowering the basket when she saw a soldier’s helmet at her grandmother’s doorstep after the basket was half way down. She hurried and pulled the basket up and in and left the window wide open. She came running saying the soldiers are in our house. She was scared, more than she has been since we became under curfew. I had just got off the phone with Corky, a New York Daily News reporter, and was at my computer.
I went to the front window to see a lot of soldier’s kneeling in front of the stone fence in front of our house. My dad happen to be with us at the time. As we sat to see what was going to happen our doorbell rang. When my wife answered via the intercom it was her mom saying that the soldiers are here and we should open the door. When we did no soldiers entered, only Fadwa, Abeer’s mom. I met her in the stairway and she advised that they want one of us only to come downstairs. I proceeded to go see what was up. When I reached the doorsteps of my in-laws I looked in to see their porch packed tight with fully armed soldiers kneeling in a full alert position.
One soldier was kneeling at the doorway and trained his rifle on me as I approached. I greeted them and asked what is needed. He asked me if I spoke Hebrew and I told him English or Arabic. He proceeded in perfect English and asked who was upstairs. I answered that my family and father were there. He demanded that everyone come outside in front of the house. I asked if the children should come too because the weather was a little cool. He snapped back and said “everyone”. I yelled upstairs and asked my family to come down and bring their ID papers with them. As I waited the soldier asked my mother-in-law where was Marwan Barghouti, as if she should know. I told him that although my mother-in-law has the same last name they are not related. I told him each are from a different village. He said, sarcastically, “no this is Ramallah”. I answered back and advised him that he was in Al-Bireh not Ramallah and that my in-laws are from Dir Ghasannah and Marwan was from a village called Kober. He seemed to be confused so I just answered his original question and told him Marwan was in “your jail”. He smirked and seemed to accept the answer, which is true.
My wife was now approaching with my daughters and father. Areen, my oldest daughter was shivering with fear. I held her and bought her in front of the soldiers who were absolutely crammed in the doorstep and porch all in the kneeling position, weapons pointed. I told her, “see they are just like us, they don’t scare us.” My father tried to comfort her too and told her the same. My father was itching to engage the soliders but we convinced him to pass this time so no one ended up sleeping in prison. Areen relaxed a bit, but did not say a word as the soldier in the doorstep demanded that my wife open the car garage. I told him the key was upstairs and she would need to get the key. He approved and as we sat waiting for Abeer I told the soldiers, ” we have a long way to go yet.” No one answered but 2 or 3 of the soldiers, young boys, shook their heads in agreement. We sat their looking at them, each looked as if they were fearing for there lives. They were in a foreign land in a stranger’s house and had a whole Palestinian (that is terrorist) family in front of them. They just stared at us as we hugged our children trying to relax the shock and shed the fear.
As Abeer came with the key to the garage two soldiers asked her to open the garage (in international law they call that being “a human shield”). As she opened our empty garage, the soldiers, full of fear, entered step by step guns ready to fire. I could not tell if they were disappointed that they fund only dust or if it was a relief to them.
As the the two soldiers returned to the house, as we sat outside in the cool breeze, one soldier extended his hand with all of our ID’s. My mother-in-law spoke to them in Arabic, she said, “maybe one day you will come back in time of peace and not be so scared”. No one answered.
The lead soldier called for the soldiers to exit the house. On his way past us he quickly said “bye”, as if he knew had did something wrong by violating our life. They left, one by one, in full alert. It turns out they had searched and taken refuge in every home of the house not just the porch. As they exited gunfire could be heard a little way up our street. It was another Israeli unit for sure but they took no chances moving slowly and cautiously back to the street. As the walked past us, one by one, each with a heavy weapon or radio equipment or backpack, my daughter just hugged me tight. As the last soldier left the house my father-in-law emerged and stood at the top of the steps. Frustrated, he bid them farewell and told them in broken English, “Be sure to come back tomorrow.”
After they left we learned that they checked each room and closet of the first floor.
We returned to our home and Areen was much more relaxed. She came to us and said, “you know I used to be scared of them but not anymore.” She went on, “you know, some of them look like nice people. I feel sorry for them with all those jackets and gloves and helmets, they must be so hot, maybe that’s why they did not talk to us.” I assured her that I’m sure they are nice people but Sharon forced them to come. I am struggling to make sure she does not view every Israeli, even those that violate the security of our home, as the enemy.
At last, the fear of those helmeted, armed soldiers running free in our streets has been broken. I was hoping for this day so my daughter will not live in fear of our future neighbors. Nadine my 2 year old daughter can hardly speak but she imitates the whole above episode in the most cutest accent and body language ever.
As we settled down after our daily dose of occupation, we joked that they could have stayed since we had some of the best sweets in Al- Bireh to offer. More seriously, tonight we will give our girls an extra hug and kiss good night, because we know how today could of ended if one of the soldiers in the street saw Areen lower a basket above the head of the soldier entering the house.
God help the next house they went to search.