I wanted to write this two nights ago but was exhausted from playing umpteen hands of the card game UNO with my six-year-old daughter, Nadine. Why this card frenzy, especially given that I hate playing cards? Well, we were in the center of Ramallah Thursday afternoon, at 3:40 pm when the almighty Israeli military decided, again, that it was time to wreak havoc on our city. I should not really complain since what happened in Ramallah yesterday happens across the West Bank and Gaza regularly. Nevertheless, I will make an issue about it and urge every Palestinian, in every city, to make an issue about every Israeli infraction on our lives.
Thursday I was extremely busy all day and had a dinner appointment with a serious venture capitalist in Jerusalem in the evening, so I agreed with my wife and girls that since I would not be home all day and night, that I’d pick them up at 3:30 sharp and we would go for a late lunch. We haven’t been out much given all of the infighting lately so my girls were thrilled. I rushed home at 3:30 to pick them up and found my daughters dressed to kill. To them, this was a serious outing after a long holiday break which was spent mostly at home. The restaurant they had as first choice was closed due to the holidays, so they reverted to their favorite popular place, Angelo’s Pizzeria, for those that know it.
Angelo’s Pizzeria is on the main street in Ramallah, a few hundred meters from Manara Circle, the smack middle of town where you saw on the the news Israeli bulldozers destroying cars last night. I parked on the Friends Girls School road which is behind the restaurant. As soon as I exited the car I felt something was wrong. As we walked into the restaurant I looked up and could see an Israeli gunship helicopter hoovering overhead firing at some unknown target. We thought it would be safer to enter the restaurant rather than return home.
The restaurant was full with most patrons nervous at the sound of gunfire from overhead. The waiters, who have been through this dozens of times, visited the tables and played and joked with the kids. They knew that things were not right and went out of their way to make life normal, at least while we were their customers. The restaurant manager, a friend, came to our table and asked me for my car keys. He wanted to move my car because word came that the Israeli jeeps and armored vehicles that were operating in town were crushing cars parked on the side of the road. He found my car already in a safe spot and reassured us that this will pass soon. He knows — he has lived this reality every day for 40 years now!
We ordered a pizza and salad and Nadine insisted that Angelo’s Pizzeria has the best hamburgers in town and wanted one as well so she ordered one herself. As we sat, things outside were clearly deteriorating. I got a call on my cellular hone from my dad back in Youngstown, Ohio. He asked where we are because no one answered at home. He briefed me on the live reports he was watching about what was happening outside the restaurant door. After talking with my father, I made frequent visits to the restaurant door to view people rushing away from the city center. While I was standing at the door, a friend of mine had finished eating with his wife and four kids and stood at the door contemplating to leave to cross the street to his car. I kept a lookout and gave him the all clear as he rushed his family across the street to his car and he was off. At this stage, I knew it was not only military activity overhead but something very close by.
The salad showed up in no time and we enjoyed it. Then the famous hamburger followed and then our pizza. All the while my wife was trying to make phone contact with her sister, who we invited to join us but never showed up. She wanted to make sure she was ok given all the shooting and commotion outside. My older daughter, Areen, was a bit nervous, wondering how we were going to get back home. We reassured her that all would be fine. In reality, we had no idea.
Forty minutes later, my wife, Abeer, Areen and I had finished eating and were ready to go. Nadine was happily, and very slowly, enjoying her world-class hamburger and fries while every so often reassuring us. “They come, shoot, arrest, and leave … so what’s the problem? When they leave, we will go home, right Dad?”
“So what’s the problem?”! The problem is how can a six-year-old calmly sit through a mini-war happening outside the restaurant while enthusiastically devouring a hamburger without the slightest hint of being disturbed?
Nadine finally finished and we headed home. Luckily, we were parked in the opposite direction of the shooting, so we drove the wrong way down a one way street and headed home. On the way, taxis were rushing about, driving worse than usual, shuttling people away from the center of Ramallah. When we got near our home we had to cross the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. Looking left about 200 meters away my girls yelled out that the IDF was blocking the street. I glanced and it was a mess. Jeeps all over, rocks filled the street, behind the jeeps I could see the open market was full of soldiers.
We finally got home. Turned on CNN — nothing! Switched to al-Jazeera and they had live pictures of what was happening and the extent of it — another Israeli invasion into Ramallah. An undercover Israeli hit team tried to arrest someone and were exposed and came under Palestinian fire. They called in reenforcements and all the lone rangers came running (and shooting and plowing).
I was contemplating with my wife if I should risk heading to Jerusalem later in the evening. We agreed to wait and see how it develops given the news reports started to say the IDF was completing their operations and leaving the city center (only to move back to their permanent position of surrounding our city).
I went to check my email and cancel a radio interview appointment with CBC that I missed because of this mess. This is when Nadine came and asked if I could accompany her to the bathroom. She never asks to be accompanied. The bathroom in our small flat is literally one meter from my computer and three meters from the living room where Abeer was watching the news and Areen was letting Grandma Sarah in Youngstown know we were all home and ok.
I immediately understood and gladly accompanied Nadine and even made it a fun trip. Then I cancelled all my appointments that evening and spent the rest of the night doing exactly what Nadine asked for — to play UNO. We played alone, with Areen, as a family, and then alone again, multiple times. When bedtime came she kissed me good night and headed to her room along with her sister as usual — no escort. I felt that UNO therapy had worked. I may even claim for a new deck of UNO on my health insurance policy.
My friends, I write this not to bore you with one family’s experience during two hours of occupation, but rather to scream to the world that we need your help!
Four Palestinian civilians were killed last night in this attack, 20 were injured, five of them seriously. I have no statistics on the number of children, like Nadine, whose skin becomes thicker during this latest Israeli adventure.
Israel has lost her way and the US is Palestinian-blind. Israel is creating yet another generation of Palestinians that are more numb to their military occupation than any other. Likewise, it is creating a generation of Israeli occupiers that see my city as the wild, wild west. It is stripping children, Palestinian and Israeli, of their childhoods. It must stop and NOW. We need your active support:
The writer is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian city of El-Bireh in the West Bank. He co-edited with Staughton and Alice Lynd HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.