Diary of the Invasion of Ramallah

As most of you know, I moved to Ramallah about 2 weeks ago. I’ve been under curfew for the last week and have kept notes of what we’ve been going through. I hope this helps you understand what President Bush means when he says ‘Israel is defending itself’. Some of you have asked if you can forward the stuff I send. You can, just please delete my last name and try not to mention which grant I have, since the sponsors have denied me my right to free speech.

Night 1: Thursday, March 28, 2002

There was an announcement on Al-Jazeera (news station based in Qatar) that foreign governments were evacuating their essential personnel in Ramallah. The Israeli government warned them that they were planning another incursion into the West Bank towns, beginning with Ramallah. Several friends asked me if I wanted to leave, but I decided against it. I just moved here and I’m tired of going back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Also my father and his family had to leave their home in Palestine in 1948; I don’t want to be a refugee as they had to be. Third, I’m no better than anyone here, simply because of my American citizenship. I saw people lining up at supermarkets preparing for the invasion, so I went shopping, as well. Samira* (my Palestinian roommate) and I washed clothes and took showers—trying to use water now before they cut the lines.

[* name changed to protect identity]

Day 1: Friday, March 29

It’s begun. The Israeli army (there is no Palestinian army to speak of) came into Ramallah from the Irsaal and Al-Tireh entrances early this morning. Arafat’s compound is on Irsaal Street (northern part of the city). We live in the Im Al-Sharayet neighborhood, in the southern part of the city, so we didn’t hear them enter. We’re sleeping at our neighbor’s flat because it’s she has satellite t.v. so we can watch the news. Her international employer evacuated her and her children to Jerusalem. The army invaded Arafat’s compound, and he’s under house arrest. Nothing happened on our side of town, so I painted my room. An army jeep came driving by at dusk announcing a curfew, so we couldn’t leave the house. Parents and brother called; I hope they’re not freaking out too much.

Day 2: Saturday, March 30

Palestinian Land Day. Protests in other Arab countries and here begin. At least someone cares what’s happening here. Arafat is living without food, water, and electricity, as are other residents in the center and other outlets of Ramallah. We’re watching Al-Jazeera and CNN and waiting. We learned and then saw with our own eyes that the Israeli soldiers had taken over one of Ramallah’s t.v. stations and aired pornographic films from it. Reports of soldiers shooting Palestinian police forces in Arafat’s compound. I know one of these police officers. He’s not a terrorist or a militant, as the army has labeled them. In fact, he and his family are extremely poor and he works as a police officer for the Palestinian Authority simply to feed the family, whom he hasn’t seen in two years. (if he’s caught by the army, they’ll arrest him-simply because he is in the police force; he’s got nothing to do with suicide bombings.

Samira’s* boyfriend has tanks parked in front of his home in the center of Ramallah. Shops are already being destroyed. Waiting for our turn. Female suicide bomber detonates herself in supermarket. Go figure-we’re living in a pressure cooker. One has to ask what it takes, what level of hopelessness one has to come to in order to blow oneself up, though I don’t agree with this tactic. Israel’s killing innocent civilians, and I don’t think it’s okay for Palestinians to do the same, though I refuse to call them (the bombers) terrorists. Obviously I feel awful about the victims of the bombings, but I include the bombers themselves victims, as well. Everyone’s a victim of this occupation.

Day 3: Sunday, March 31

Went shopping for food today. Still no military activity in our area, so got food for families in the building. Samira*, other neighbors, and I sit around watching various news stations for hours on end. The worst station to watch is CNN. Their reporter in Ramallah does an excellent job, but then we watch programs interviewing analysts and U.S. and Israeli officials and I want to crawl into a hole. It’s embarrassing trying to explain the delusional policy of our government with regard to this subject. I know that average Americans would never stand for what’s really happening here. Bush said Israel has a right to defend itself in this war on terror; so who defends the Palestinians? I’m not living among the members of the Taliban. These people aren’t terrorists; they’re regular families who have been deprived of their land and rights by Israel’s occupation for the last 35 years. If anything, they’re being terrorized by this army. I know I’m terrified. We’re seeing pictures of the five Palestinian old men who were executed (shot in the head) in the compound. The Israeli soldiers are going house to house day and night, looting, pillaging, stealing, and harassing.

Bush sounds like he’s giving Sharon permission to off Arafat. I’m no fan of Arafat and neither are Palestinians I talk to, but his popularity has sky-rocketed in the last few days. He’s under curfew just as we are, and he’s stuck in two rooms while the army destroys the rest of the building, calling for his surrender. As if. The absolute arrogance-astonishing. If anyone, any army, any entity ever invaded the White House or the quarters of any other political leader in the world, they’d be obliterated by NATO or a UN ‘peace-keeping’ force, or the U.S. military. Instead, Israel gets admonishments from various government, mine not included. They can kill Arafat, but Palestinians will still fight for their freedom-whether through bombings, protests, diplomacy, education, or just resisting by going on with life.

I broke down on the phone with parents after watching some program on CNN. The pressure is getting to me. I’m sick of waiting for our turn, tired of not being able to do any work or go anywhere except the grocery store on our street. Another suicide bombing today-expected. The whole fa�ade of routing out terrorists doesn’t seem to be working for the army-it’s obvious the incursions are just another humiliation tactic.

Day 4: Monday, April 1

Guess what? The army has withdrawn to Israel’s 1967 borders. April Fool’s. Still here, and we’re still under curfew. Keeping sanity by playing cards, telling jokes, and of course watching the news. We have plenty of food so we cook 24 hours a day. Feel guilty though, because people in other parts of town aren’t so lucky. Reports are coming out about another 9 men executed. Men over the age of 15 are being taken out of their homes and sent to schoolyards while their i.d.’s are checked. It’s freezing cold and rainy out. Tonight the army has been bombarding the Preventive Security building; there are 400 people inside, including 60 women and children. It’s near our apartment building so we think our turn is next. We can hear the planes and helicopters (courtesy of my U.S. government) flying overhead and there’s tank fire in the distance. We’re expecting more incursions into other West Bank towns soon. The army has already surrounded Bethlehem.

Samira* and I are afraid to go to sleep. She’s terrified they’re going to enter our flat and take her away or make me leave. They’ve already taken some students from Birzeit University to Gaza. As a student, she’s afraid (since some of her family lives in Gaza) that they’ll take her there, too. We sat on the living room floor and listened to our refrigerator hum, waiting for the army to come to our neighborhood. Maybe we sound silly, but if you try to imagine knowing that men with M-16’s are invading neighborhoods all around you and actually entering people’s flats, you can begin to imagine the fear we’re feeling. We’re going to bed now. It’s 3 AM and we don’t think they’re coming tonight.

Day 5: Tuesday, April 2

Wake up to find the army has invaded Bethlehem. Soldiers killed a priest. I have to wonder where the Christians are. Right-wing Christians in the U.S. are more pro-Israel than AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. Never could understand that, especially when the army kills a priest, destroys a statue of the Virgin Mary and kills teenage boys in front of churches.

It’s our turn. Around noon, the tanks started rolling into our neighborhood, like cockroaches. Eight drove around and three parked on our street and let out soldiers. They (most of whom are 18-22 year old boys) began scattering and going into buildings. We watched from our window as they took over two empty buildings on our street and behind our building. Some of the soldiers walked under our building to the parking garage. I couldn’t breathe and I was worried Samira* was going to lose it. We tried to joke about defending ourselves with a wooden cane we found. Later we learned that the soldiers under the building questioned our doorman and asked for his i.d. They didn’t come into the building.

Instead they stationed themselves on every corner in the neighborhood and began shooting-trying to provoke shooting from Palestinians who might have guns in the area. We live near Am’ari refugee camp, so when/if there was any return fire, it probably came from there, where a number of people are armed with guns (though the army pretty much cleared the camp of any weapons or suspected “militants” the last time it invaded Ramallah). We spent the entire day on the floor-afraid of going to the window where we could be targeted or caught in crossfire.

At around 4 PM, the tanks began firing at unknown targets. Listening to tank-fire from nearby is like listening to thunder while sitting on a thundercloud. I went to the window when I thought they’d finished and I noticed the tank below me on our street was aiming at some target across the street from our building. It fired; we screamed and hit the floor. Talked to our neighbor later. All of the neighbors have children under the age of 5 who are terrified. Can’t imagine how our neighbors above explained to their 2 year old son Laith why he has to sleep on the floor. That night we heard shooting in the distance. We hid all of our valuables and slept on a mattress in the living room, fully dressed in case the soldiers came in the middle of the night.

Day 6: Wednesday, April 3

All quiet at home. Tanks rolling around, but not much else. Action seems to be in Bethlehem. Now I’m worried about my friend’s brother, the one in the Pal. police. He, others like him, and some 200 civilians have sought sanctuary in the Nativity Church. (In order to enter the church, they had to disarm themselves). Also worried about my friend’s mother and sister who have just moved back to Bethlehem from the U.S.

We found out for sure that Ramallah’s main water pipeline has been destroyed. We’re going on water from the storage tank on our roof. Haven’t washed hair in 6 days for fear of running out of water, and we’re using disposable dishes so we don’t have to wash anything. Considering I was a microbiology major in college and that my research is about water and disease, I had a complete breakdown about the water today. We can’t even flush the toilet regularly, and we’ve only had this going on for 2 days. Others in Ramallah haven’t had water since Saturday. We’re also running low on gas for cooking. The whole building shares the gas tank-that’s six families. All the food we bought is going to waste, because we can’t cook it. The electricity goes out every so often. I sincerely hope it doesn’t go out for a long period—then the food will all spoil. Politicians talk in terms of land and borders and militants. The real occupation, the real humiliation, the real roots of the problems come from things like no water, no constant supply of electricity, wasting food in some parts while people starve elsewhere.

Soldiers searched the home of Samira’s* boyfriend and his family tonight. They made the men go outside while the frisked them and took their i.d.’s, looked in closets, cupboards, and even had the nerve to ask for some of their wine.

Last night we watched doctors and nurses from Ramallah Hospital bury 29 people in one mass grave. There was no room for the corpses at the hospital and the electricity had been cut. The soldiers wouldn’t let the hospital staff take the dead bodies out until yesterday. One mass grave. Reminds me of pictures of Bosnia. We also watched a story about a man in Bethlehem whose mother and brother were shot and killed in front of him and his two children. The army wouldn’t let him take the corpses out for 2 days. He had to keep his kids in the bathroom so they didn’t have to watch their uncle and grandmother decompose. All these events are more ingredients added into the pressure cooker.

Day 7: Thursday, April 4

The tanks and shooting came back today. We’re getting used to crawling in rooms with windows. More incursions into West Bank towns-tanks have entered Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, and Hebron. All that is left for them to invade is Jericho and Gaza, and the army and Israeli government will have effectively brought us back 20 years to the period before the first Intifada.

Getting more and more phone calls from friends everywhere and my parents call every day. Encouraging to know people are watching. We’ve been watching demonstrations from China to Argentina. Wonder why my government doesn’t see what the rest of the world does.

We broke down and showered with cold water today. I’d rather be dehydrated and semi-clean than dehydrated and completely uncomfortable. We were allowed to leave the house for 2 hours to buy food in the neighborhood this morning. We’re running out of money and others in Ramallah have none at all. It’s the first of the month, but no one has access to their banks-which have also been invaded.

It’s been a week since I’ve gone into the city of Ramallah, a week since I’ve done any research, a week since I’ve seen most of my friends, a week since I took a hot shower, a week since I slept through the night. Bush announced that Powell’s coming in five days and that Israel should discontinue its activities in the West Bank. That means they have 5 days to do so. Wonder how long it takes for food to completely rot? Wonder how many breakdowns I’m going to have between now and the end of this?

[The writer has requested anonymity]