Independence day

So quiet in Ramallah these days, but from time to time we hear explosions because the army is blowing the doors off of ministries, schools, kindergartens, development agencies and houses. Tonight, it is exceptionally noisy. We started the day while still under a 19-day curfew, hearing sirens coming from nearby settlements to commemorate Israel’s ‘Independence Day,’ it is the same day we call it the Nakba day (Disaster day), the two names denote the same thing: the day of the creation of the state of Israel which led to the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinian from their homes and lands, into a life of bitter exile.

To add insult to injury, for over one hour now we have had to listen to the explosions of fire-works coming from near-by settlements where people are happily celebrating their Independence Day. Following the Palestinian habit of shooting in the air as a sign of defiance or joy, I now hear the same shooting, but with heavy machine guns, to make the celebration taste different to the besieged Palestinians. Very frustrating and humiliating.

Yesterday Monday, April 15, they lifted the curfew for a few hours, this time I forgot about demonstrating and decided to get some food for my family. I missed eating meat so I decided to see if there is a way to get some. Also, my husband is diabetic and he cannot eat white bread but only whole wheat bread, so finding some brown bread for him was my other important task. Getting some meat was not an easy task since all slaughter houses depend on municipalities to get their meat checked and approved. It seems that slaughtering sheep or cows needs time and functioning facilities, which are not available the municipalities of Ramallah and al-Bireh. I saw that only two butcher shops were open, one in al Bireh’s main market and the second in downtown Ramallah. It seems that the butchers have slaughtered the animals in their own houses.

I had to wait for an hour to get some meat. While I was waiting, women were telling their stories, one said, “Thank god my neighborhood is quiet, it is a new upper middle class area and we did not see them often.” An old woman wearing a cross around her neck berates the butcher: she used to be called ‘za’ima’, (boss or leader), and was welcomed with a cup of coffee and a nice reception, but now she’s been standing around waiting for an hour and nobody has even looked at her. She is not answered; the butcher is too busy serving the crowd. Then, she turned to me, “Yes, they came to my house yesterday, I am an old woman with my husband and they want to search my house for who knows what. They want to steal; they were not searching, but I did not keep my tongue in my mouth, I gave them a very cold shower, I told them ‘You steal our belongings to make us beggars, we will never tend our hands to you, not for our rights nor for our living, we will stand up again and take our rights!’ He did not like me talking it seems” she says, ‘Because then he pushed me aside, see my arm with these bruises? But I don’t care. They will not make me feel afraid!”

“What is the time,” she asks, “They said that they lift the curfew from 9a.m.-2p.m. Is it right? Nobody knows, we are so lost between Israeli time and Palestinian time, we have no authority now to tell us what time we have to follow” (she was referring to the uncoordinated change of time between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis advanced one hour to initiate the summer time while the Palestinians did not, it seems that they forgot about it in their siege and we still follow winter time until further notice..). “They shoot to tell us that our time came to an end,” I said. “But they are so bloody,” said the woman, “They know that people get up late now since they don’t go to work or schools, they used to lift the curfew in the afternoon but why this time at 9 and not at 12 as all the times before?” I did not have an answer.

I went to a nearby baker, all his family helping him, the wife and the daughter were preparing the dough, the son served the long line by putting the very hot loaves in bags, and the father was baking. One hour to get 10 loaves of whole wheat bread. I felt so satisfied and happy, I got what I wanted. I went with my daughter Yassmine to buy some fresh vegetables. It was late, almost nothing left, I felt internally happy, all fresh vegetables and fruits are Israeli products, second class products, even some vegetables are decaying.

I kept thinking of our poor peasants in the Jordan Valley and in Jenin and Nablus, what happened to their produce? This is the season to harvest tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants and many other vegetables. All will be rotten now. A woman entered the shop in a hurry, “Do you have any green herbs, parsley, or mint?” asked the woman. “Oh, no forget about it! They come from Nablus or from villages around Ramallah,” said the shopkeeper.

On my way back I met my son Maher with some friends, he looked tense. “Look what I found on the ground, said my son, “Jad’s key with his medal, in the same place where he was shot dead.”

I tried to change the subject, but Maher does not want to forget about Jad, he is haunted by his memory all the time and he has become very depressed. He does not talk, he does not eat well and he scarcely sleeps. I met also Saleh, my husband, he was looking for brown bread too. “I found some,” I said, he looked satisfied. All of us went to look for some yogurt in Azhiman shop. “Forget about it, nothing left,” said the shopkeeper. “You are late, it is almost 11,” he said. “Yes, but we had to get other things, you have to set your priorities,” I said.

We go back home, along the way we notice we are covered by dust—coating our eye lashes, hair, face and hands, you feel that you have come back from a battle field. Suad was waiting for me, she was taking pictures for the newly destroyed walls in our street. Every time the army comes, they destroy a wall to block the street. They have destroyed three walls in our area, all were made of old and beautiful stones.

Back again to our prison. Saleh was yelling, “This girl does not want to do anything!” he was yelling at Sireen, our middle naughty daughter. “But she is not here,” I said. No matter; he just wanted to yell. “Calm down, Saleh, and come smoke a cigarette with me,” says Suad, “Come and tell me what will happen next.” Saleh starts analyzing the situation and forgets about his anger. Tania, my friend’s sister, was telling me the other day, “Thank god my husband is stuck in Amman! Otherwise he would go crazy in this situation and would drive us crazy, too! Men cannot cope easily with this situation, we women proved to be more flexible and patient, we have to manage our families and our lives, otherwise we will be lost.” Suad was worried, she does not want to exceed the time given to us, and she asks me again about the lifting of the curfew—is it from 9-2 Palestinian time or Israeli time? Again, I had no answer.

“Your phone is always busy!” my friends say. Zahira said, “Finally I got you, your phone is always busy!” Then she starts her long narrative: “Yes, I went to Jenin and whatever I tell you is not at all like seeing it for yourself! The Israelis allowed in a group of humanitarian organizations with UNRWA (UN agency for the relief of Palestinian refugees), and the Red Cross. The camp was in ruins, they did not let us approach it. We went to visit a group of people, they put them in Jenin’s charitable society after forcing them to evacuate their homes. A very big crowd, all on top of each other, as if you were to put 20 people in one square meter! Unbelievable!

“We took along with us some oil, sugar, and spaghetti, but some women there were mocking us, saying with bitterness, ‘How we can use them? Where? We took nothing from our houses, we don’t want food, we want you to bring our children, just give us water to drink!’ They wanted to talk, to tell their stories,” said Zahira. A woman in her forties, the wife of the Imam of Jenin’s mosque (Sheikh Mohamed al Sa’adi) told me that they announced with loud speakers that all men from the age 15, should come out. “My husband thought that being an Imam, they will spare him some humiliation, and he cannot leave his old paralyzed mother, she cannot walk, she has to be carried and none of us can carry her. He decided to stay with us. Then they called for women to come out, we left together. He was carrying his mother, and our two daughters and I followed him. They stopped him and told him, ‘Why did you come out when we called upon women and not men? Are you a man or a woman, let us check and be sure that you are a man!’ They asked him to take off all his clothes including his underwear, and to turn around, then forced him to carry his mother and walk naked in front of me and his two daughters till we reached this place.”

I met a very bright girl. Her name is Maysoon al Jad’a,” said Zahira, “She is a science student in her third year in al Najah university in Nablus and lives in Harat al Hawashin (the area most affected by the Israeli shelling in the Jenin camp), she told me that the next door neighbors, a family of 5 persons, were listening to the radio in order to know what is going on and if the international pressure will stop their massacre. Suddenly we heard a shrill whistle of a spiraling fast-moving missile. We thought that it is going to hit us, we all squeezed to the wall, getting so close to each other and started to recite the Quran as if we are going to die. Then it hit—not us, but our neighbors, the five of them all died. We kept knocking on their wall hoping to get an answer but nothing came back, only deadly silent, then the soldiers entered their house and put the radio on—some Hebrew music. We all cried when we heard the music.”

“Did you film any of what happened to you inside the camp?”, asks Zahira. “Yes, I had a friend who was trained to film and she had a video camera, but it seems that as soon as they saw her, she was hit first by a bullet in her eye, then a shell took away her arm and her leg and I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she is still alive or dead.”

While Zahira was talking to Maysoon, another woman called her, “I saw you bringing some food stuff with you, what we need is not your food now,” said the woman. “What do you need then?” asked Zahira. She looked so upset, the air was suffocating, and the place was so crowded, she raised the tail of her dress discreetly and told her, “Look, I have my period since three days now and I cannot change my sanitary towels, there is no privacy here, I have no sanitary towels, no electricity, no water and we are under curfew, since three days we cannot leave this place, even animals when they have their menstruation, they go to the nature to clean themselves up, but we cannot,” said the woman.

Dr. Salwa called me twice this morning. She was so upset and sad, a dear friend of hers in Nablus lost his newborn baby. Dr. Ali al Sha’ar used to work in neonatology at al-Makkased hospital in Jerusalem, but now works for Save the Children organization in Nablus. His wife, Tehaani, 32, is diabetic and she had six miscarriages. They live in an area still under curfew in Nablus.

Tehaani was 32 weeks pregnant and she was praying all the time to give birth and that when they lift the curfew she hoped to be in the hospital. But her luck was bad. She went into labor prematurely and Dr. Sha’ar was with Salwa over the phone to help him in getting an ambulance to take his wife to the hospital. Salwa sent him an ambulance twice but it was not allowed to reach his house. Then she put him in contact with Dr. Khamash, a neonatologist in al Makkased, to be with him in this difficult moment. Dr. Sha’ar helped his wife to deliver, the baby was born alive at 7 p.m., but was in need for an incubator, impossible to find, but he was so happy to have a baby after all their long wait, so the couple gave the baby the name of Ossaid. But, at midnight, the baby had apnea, and could not breathe. Dr. Sha’ar tried mouth to mouth resuscitation, but at no avail. The baby died in silence but the father was in a rage. “Sharon killed my son! I saved many lives yet I could not save the life of my own baby!” said Dr. Sha’ar.

I hear the news, “We are the most moral army in the world; to keep our morals intact we risked the lives of our soldiers” says Major Efrat Segev, Public Relations Branch Officer in the Israeli ‘Defense Forces’. “We allowed ambulances to enter Jenin camp, but the Palestinians refused to let them go in; they prefer to pile up the bodies of their dead to use them for their propaganda. We risked the lives of our soldiers because we did not want to harm civilians, we could use F-16s to finish the job in one hour, but we did not.”

As Amira Hass wrote in her article in Ha’aretz (an Israeli newspaper) this week, “If the F-16 bombs cannot differentiate between armed men and civilians, that is why they claim they did not use it. So how then, can apache missiles, tank shells and ground missiles differentiate?”

I was saying to myself, “So why then did they use the F-16 to bombard Nablus?” A Norwegian friend told me, “Maybe because they want to ‘finish’ their biblical archeological search underneath the old city of Nablus, that is why they have to destroy it first.” I feel every day that I am killed twice, one by the atrocities taking place on the ground, and the second by the distortion of these realities. How can they go that far in their lies? How long can they fool the world this way?