‘How to find a way of talking to Israelis after all that has happened?’

Friday morning, I go out to sniff the air in the garden. Suddenly a group of Israeli soldiers appear and ask whether I am from the University. “No, I am from Holland,” I say illogically, thinking that the word “Holland” helps to keep them out of the house, our main worry.

Fortunately I have only to show my passport and they continue their walk. It is strange, how a Spring morning’s silence can feel so threatening.

Today, the fourth day of the occupation, the municipality announces that the soldiers will allow the people a few hours each afternoon to leave our cages. But when two o’clock, the big moment, arrives, we hear shooting.

Later on there is a rumor that three persons some 100 meters further down the university road were slightly injured by shots when they left the house. Maybe the Israelis wanted, in announcing the measure, to impose their own time (there is an hour difference between Israel and the West Bank).

After an hour Jeanet and I leave home, but upon reaching the gate we observe a soldiers’ patrol passing. The commander tells us to wait for another five minutes. Afterwards, a boy shouts that it is safe on the road.

When we finally leave, Jara starts crying and wants us to come back. I tell her that we will be back soon and that there is no need to worry. Jeanet and I walk up the university street, and see a concentration of tanks and armoured vehicles on the university hill. Soldiers wave us to go either left or right, not straight.

I shout whether we can make a turn to reach Bethlehem downtown through Bab al-Zqaaq where the Jerusalem-Hebron road meets the road to Beit Jala. Yes, that is possible, the soldiers sign.

There is a cat which slowly crosses the street in front of a tank. We follow the street to the right towards Bab al-Zqaaq, walking fast. The street asphalt is damaged by the many heavy tanks and vehicles passing by.

Will the roads ever be repaired? Sand comes up through the holes in the broken asphalt, and clouds trail the cars that now hesitatingly appear on the streets. Ana bachaaf (I am afraid) whispers somebody.

A group of foreign visitors pass by, carrying their luggage. Several groups of foreigners are still in the area, especially in the camps, to share the suffering of the people and perhaps to form a human shield in case of attack. We reach Cinema, opposite the taxi station.

More people show up; they look bewildered as if they open their eyes after a prolonged stay in a dark room. Journalists try to interview passers by who speak the right language. I see Fuad, the director of the institute, who explains to an interviewer how every house in the central Madbasseh street received bullets or worse.

We quickly go into a pharmacy, our main destination, with a long list of medicaments Mary and her mother need. With several people waiting, the pharmacist’s wife runs through the shop to bring the articles.

It reminds me of the service at a Dutch fried potato stand during high season. Nobody knows how much time is left for shopping, and the shopkeepers want to be sure that they can help everybody. There is also a long queue in front of the supermarket.

There’s no bread, Jeanets asks across the queue whether there is flour. Yes, there is. While waiting, I talk with a lecturer at Bethlehem University who tells that the military commander who initially approached the Brothers’ administration was courteous but that he was replaced the other day by somebody who barely spoke English and behaved far less politely.

When Jeanet is finished, we leave and get a lift from two acqaintances from Beit Jala. One after another car stops to offer walkers a drive. Human solidarity is a natural habit among ordinary people here.

Arriving home, Mary asks me to bring a digital camera from a friend who lives close by our place but who temporarily left for Jerusalem. We want to take photos of our newborn baby boy, Tamer, and send them to family abroad as well as in Bethlehem itself. Jara now insists on joining us.

Mary explains that after Jara saw Jeanet and me leaving, she got courageous and now wants to go out, too. I hesitate, but Mary gives the green light.

Watching the tanks at the university, Jara tightens her fist while holding my hand but continues walking. She receives some sweets from somebody who spots us entering our friend’s house.

After returning home, I find out that we don’t have a computer disk for the camera. It is half an hour before we will be locked up again and I quickly walk down the university road to go to our own house opposite Azza camp.

Suddenly there is shooting, and I see the kids from the camp running homeward. They probably challenged a tank or a patrol. The days before the invasion I saw them playing shaheed; they chanted slogans and carried a kind of coffin over their heads in which a martyr was supposedly buried. I hesitate whether to continue.

The inhabitants of the house nearby wave to come inside. Some of them discuss that I’d better take a walk through the gardens, and climb over a wall. After silence returns, I take the main road again and reach my house. The telephone is ringing.

Mary is on the line. She thought for a moment that I was shot, and asks me to take another route back. I water the plants outside. The neighbours sit quietly in the garden, enjoying the splendid weather. They ask whether it is wise for us to stay outside our house since when soldiers want to enter and nobody opens, they blow up the door. I return home, where Mary tells me that she took a glass of arak {alcohol with anis] immediately after she had talked with me, to calm down. She was really afraid., the shooting sounded so close and there were no other people on the street except me.

Next day, Saturday, we hear from friends in Beit Jala that local soldier patrols announced the curfew during the evening, mocking the population: “Dear people of Beit Jala, you are good people, have sweet dreams.”

During the day I play a little with Jara in the garden but feel restless. I don’t want her to sense this. Jara is in fact in a rebellious mood and says that she wants to put some grass on the street so that the tanks will slip.

She plays the princess who sleeps and waits for a kiss from the prince to open up her eyes; however, when I kiss her, she says that she had already died. Jeanet and I take the laundry inside, but when heavy shooting suddenly breaks out somewhere not far away, Jara, Jeanet and I quickly run inside the house. Now Jara knows it is not a game.

The days that we could tell her during shootings and bombardments that St George cleaves the skies on his thunderous horse are over. The last news, Mary tells, is that scores of people are killed in Jenin. The Church of Nativity is still beleaguered. I feel a desperate question coming up: How to find a way of talking with the Israelis after all what has happened?