The ‘end’ of an occupation

We woke up this morning to see if the Israeli troops withdrew from Ramallah as they claimed yesterday or not. To start with my street, where I live, all that had changed was the fortification of the barrier sealing the beginning of my street and now a new one at the other end.

They said in the news that Israel will leave all Ramallah with the exception of the area of al-Moqata’a, or the Presidential Compound. But, we are not so close to the place – if you go to the end of the street I live, turn right, and go straight ahead you can reach the besieged place. For me the ‘withdrawal’ was a joke, they did not withdraw from my street.

I met my neighbor Monji, he looked so upset. They destroyed stock worth more than half a million NIS (US$100,000)’, he said. Monji runs a small advertisement company with two other partners. ‘The army broke down the door and destroyed or burned what was inside,’ he continues, ‘Everything was on the ground, half burned or destroyed.

Three families will have to live on aid for sometime. I never asked anybody to help, I am a self made man! The idea of going to fill a form and asking for aid is driving me crazy, but I don’t know what to do. Even if I repair the damage and buy new material, who will to use our billboard and advertisement material in this situation?’ asks Monji.

I am back in my house. I feel hesitant to go out. The streets were not that crowded. It seems people don’t want to face the devastation in their offices and buildings. Katia, a Dutch woman came to connect her laptop to my phone line. Her phone line is still damaged since the re-occupation. She showed me a drawing she did and put on her laptop to show when the army ‘visited’ her.

‘They were rather polite to me when they saw that I am a foreigner but rather manipulative. They tried to convince me that I was in danger and that my neighbors are armed and I might be killed in a crossfire,’ said Katia. ‘The officer pointed to one of my neighbors’ house and said, ‘You see this house, there are armed men in there!”

‘No!’ I said, ‘This is the doctor’s house. I know him.’

‘Okay then, this house.’

‘This one too belongs to Hanan, my friend.’

‘He pointed to at least 6 houses, said Katia. ‘Everytime he did, I told him the name of the persons living in the houses. I ended up the silly discussion by telling him: I am afraid of your gun and not of my neighbors.’

Laiali, my hard working niece of 12 years of age, comes round. ‘So, Laiali,’ I ask, ‘are you happy to go back to school?’

‘No, I am not,’ she replies, ‘now they will kill us with so many homework to finish the courses quickly and I hate that!’

As for Dalia (7) she was rather enthusiastic. ‘I miss my friends,’ she tells me.

As for Dina (6 years old) and her brother Ayman (8) they are not enthusiastic at all. ‘They left so many explosives in our school to kill us all and we are afraid to go,’ they said.

‘No, who said that?’ I asked them firmly. ‘Why would they kill children? You are so young,’ I said.

‘Oh, don’t you see how many children they killed in the schools?’ they reply. ‘No, we won’t go. Our school is run by the Palestinian Authority. Dalia’s belongs to St. Joseph’s. They are Americans, you know, they are okay, it is not like us.’ (of course, all the schools private or public are run by the Palestinian Ministry of Education).

As for Wael Ghadeiya (7), whose father was arrested two weeks ago, he refuses to go to school too.

‘Why do I have to go and tire my self?’ he asked to his mother. ‘Why do I then have to finish study, then find work, then marry and make a home, then have the army demolish it all? I would prefer to stay with you.’

Mohamed Ghadeya, Wael’s father is the general director of human development in the ministry of planning and international cooperation. He has cardiac problems and was prevented from bringing his medication when they came to arrest him. Since that date, no one knows anything about him.

I got a phone call from Nadia from Gaza. ‘Women and men come crying for help,’ she reports. ‘They ask for anything, food, money work, many women ask to work as domestic helpers, they have no skills to do anything else. I hate to come to the office and see all these people in need while I am helpless.’

Nadia, is the director of women’s coalition in Gaza, the Women’s Affairs Committee. They exist because the Ministry of Social Affairs has nothing to offer these people. They don’t fit into the kinds of social programmes they run. They help only women in distress such as divorcees, widows and the like, but not unemployed or the poor.

It is almost 2p.m. Mohannad, our friend, comes to pay us a visit. ‘Why did you not get out,’ he asked. ‘We don’t feel like it. Did you know that we had been ‘visited’ yesterday, but they supposed to be leaving,’ I said.

‘No,’ he said. ‘They paid us a visit last night. They asked all the building to evacuate and not allow my son to put his jacket on. It was a freezing cold night and it was raining.’

‘We were around a group of 30 — men women and children. After half an hour, a young boy of 5 years old asked to go back to his house with his mother to use the toilet. They refused and kept calling each other to see if they can allow him to urinate. After more than one hour. They agreed but not in his house, rather to a nearby place a few meters away. The kid was so afraid to leave his mother’s hand but they pushed him away and directed a searchlight on him. The kid was so embarrassed and urinated while crying out of fear.’

‘They made a woman do the same thing, asking her to go to a nearby place too, but this time the officer asked his soldiers at to turn their faces aside. We stayed on the ground for four long hours. It was so humiliating. Then they arrested one of our neighbours and left after shooting at the building like maniacs.’

‘This was their goodbye before ‘liberating’ us,’ said Mohannad.

We have been ‘visited’ too, not my house but my street, yesterday they arrested our neighbor Mohammad. They came in two armored carriers, pointed their guns at his house, and went in a huge number to our deceased neighbor Abu Ahamad.
He is the father of Ahmad Sa’adat, the general secretary of the Popular Front who is in the prison in the President Compound. No one was in the house because after Abu Ahmed’s death, the family had moved to another neighborhood. The soldiers smashed everything. They destroyed all the doors, windows, leaving nothing intact. I do not understand why.
Then they went upstairs to Mohamed. They took his computer, tried to steal his car’s radio but did not manage, smashed up the car with iron bars, then left.

Another phone call, from my beloved friend and neighbor, Vera Tamari.

‘Do you know, Tania was almost killed today?’ she said. ‘Tania arranged with an ambulance to go to Amman to do some check up. She arrived at Kalandia checkpoint, sitting in the ambulance. As the driver was getting his papers ready for the soldier, Tanya decided to lie down on the stretcher. A few minutes later the soldiers shot at them, at the place where she was sitting, she would had been killed if she did not lay on the stretcher,’ said Vera in panic. As for the ambulance driver, he got some shattered glass in his eye and needed to go to the hospital to have them removed.

‘Khorobatom (‘that God ruin them’)’, said Vera. ‘Tania came back so exhausted and crying. She is sleeping now. She wants to forget what just happened to her.’

Yesterday, Tania and Vera were ‘visited’ too. We were watching them from our window.

‘I am coming,’ called Tania to the soldiers, with her operatic voice (she is also an opera singer). ‘When she got down to open the door for them just in time before they destroyed it, they were rather polite,’ said Vera. ‘They asked me, ‘How come you speak that good English?”

‘From my school in Jaffa,’ she replied. ‘We used to have good schools before you took it all. I have a souvenir, one lost his pant’s bottom, he could not get into the door with his heavy load, he tore up his pants it seems.’

‘Did they steal anything?’ I asked.

‘No. I hid all my jewelry and money. I left nothing for them to take,’ said Vera.

The house was full of people, who had come to congratulate us on our ‘safety’. My husband’s aunt, her husband and her daughter, many talks went on, many stories, many political talk:

‘…but the bottom line they have to learn from what they did in Jenin, that we are not leaving this country, they have to demolish all our homes over our heads before dreaming to make us leave our houses,’ said Laila, Saleh’s aunt.

‘They are heartless. Eight people died in Nablus from one family,’ said Abu Khaled, Saleh’s uncle. ‘The Jordanian government sent two planes full of medicines to the Palestinians but they were expired. Don’t they see that we have enough misery? The Nativity Church is still besieged, closed to prayer for three weeks now.’

‘Do we have to move it to Afghanistan and put it in the place of the Buddhist statues so that may be the world will pay more attention to this very holy place. People don’t know if they are supposed to deal as if they are not here or they are still there, if we are occupied or not. Nobody seems to know.’

The talk went on and on.

More pictures of Jenin on the T.V. More visitors to the devastated camp, equipment to remove the rubble still denied, as is humanitarian aid. Three people were saved alive after many days under the rubble, dug out with people’s bare hands. A woman shouts at the visitors, ‘Are we a zoo now? Why do you come to visit us now? Why did you not prevent what are you seeing now from happening? We don’t want your food or your aid! We want our sons and children! We want you to dig out those still dying from under their demolished houses!’ said the woman.

‘The Israelis are opposed to Terry Larson and Mary Robinson and many other UN human rights advocates. How come they denounce what they did to Jenin camp with strong words, expressing strong stands? How come they say that ‘no reason whatsoever can justify what happened’?’

‘They are more used to the shaky language, saying nothing, at the end,’ answers my husband’s cousin.

A loudspeaker announces, ‘The general commander orders you not to get out of your homes between 6p.m and 6a.m. Any ‘law breaker’ will be punished severely.’

‘What is this?’ I asked.

‘They said that they withdrew from Ramallah. Yet our area, the road to our university Bir Zeit and all the northern part of the city, and Kalandia, are all still occupied,’ replied my husband.

I got out to see who is announcing this ‘beautiful’ order, but to my surprise I saw a higher barricade sealing our street with dirt and destroyed cars. ‘We have to remove all this,’ I said.

‘Better be wise, don’t you know that when the people in Radio Street (300m from my house) tried to remove it with a bulldozer, two tanks came quickly, hit the bulldozer, and arrested one person just passing by. Don’t forget that they are still on the top of the Ministry of Culture building and all of the area around the Presidential compound,’ said Saleh.

‘Oh, wow!’ ‘What a withdrawal, we are really liberated now! Perhaps we should join Bush and Powell in praising Sharon as the man of peace and prosperity for these ‘horrible’ Palestinians.