Ramallah 4 September 2006
29 August, pre-dawn - It is only now that the gunfire saluting the killed young man has become sporadic and no longer constant, and that the verses of the Koran, chanted in farewell of him, have ceased. But the streets are full; and full too are the hearts of all who had to witness an attack that should only have been imaginable in the darkest back-alleys of some underworld city. By thugs, wielding heavy M-16s.
At 9 pm, undercover Israeli Special Forces walked down the main street of Ramallah. They wore civilian clothes and Palestinian police caps. They carried M-16s as all the police force does. No one looked at them twice. They walked straight past us where we stood, at Al-Manara, discussing work with a third colleague. They walked straight past the Palestinian Police Force as well, which is always stationed there. They continued walking straight down Rukab Street until they were opposite the famous Rukab ice cream shop where families gather every evening in the summertime. And then they opened fire. They opened fire after they failed to catch two ‘wanted’ men who were also in Rukab Street along with half the population of Ramallah. The two men wouldn’t come when called and so the undercover Israeli officers opened fire.
It is not easy to explain the horror of seeing the cold-blooded murder of the young man who had turned to escape after realising his situation. It is not easy to explain the horror of hearing the name of the killed youth, spreading from mouth to mouth until the whole of Ramallah knows that the young man killed was A. from the village of Deir Ghassan. Nor is it easy to explain the horror of rushing with everybody else who knows A. from that village or a nearby one to the hospital. The relief, if the body pulled from the fridge is not your A. The anguish if it is. Grown men falling on the ground to beat at the dirt and cry.
The parents of the killed man stumbled into the hospital at midnight. The father could not even see his son because he was temporarily blinded by shock, and the screams of the mother could be heard from the street. Young men were also in shock, wandering around and wondering why they had not even had a chance to fight back. There was an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. Palestine has been so reduced and so humiliated that it is now a country where the occupying force can walk into a main city at nightfall, can walk down the main street of that city and kill a man, and then walk away again as if that is a damn right of theirs and no one is going to blink an eye. It is not their damn right to come and terrorise the people of a city night after night on some hyped up ‘security’ reason! This is no human being’s right.
I have been accused of not understanding how people are feeling on the other side of the Wall. People have written to me ‘You don’t know what it is like to be driving behind a bus when it explodes’ and I say this is true. But I do know what it is like to see fifteen thugs walk down a main street of a city at nightfall and murder in cold-blood outside a family restaurant and then walk away again. And I call that the worst kind of terror.
The boy they killed was just a village boy. And the children who witnessed this killing were just children. As in all parts of the world — children who had begged their parents for an ice cream before going to bed. And now must live with this violation of their sensitivity forever. And the thugs could just walk away! They did not even need jeeps to perform their action of terror. These men were not desperate. Not one of them would tie an explosive belt around his waist. And what I am most afraid of is that they enjoy what they do. To them and to too many others, the lives of Palestinians are, at most, only countable.
There was a three second coverage of this news item on BBC. ‘Three militants killed in the West Bank. One in Ramallah and two in Nablus; all were from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.’ One second for each man killed. I won’t begin a discussion on why, by naming the Martyrs Brigade, the West is somehow justifying the deaths, because the purpose of this article is only to register horror at the night time terror that came in so particularly a disgusting way to the streets of Ramallah four hours ago. And also to say that now the city is angry.
The young men who have been gathering for hours in groups on street corners are angry. Some have been crying, and all have been voicing their disbelief at how on earth Israel can continue to get away with their inhuman actions; not only nightly midnight raids and arrests but also this gangster plot that has left the main street of their city stained with blood again.
In the past two weeks, Israeli forces have come to Ramallah every single night. There is now a vigil in the dark hours of these nights; from 2 am till 5 am, half the city is awake watching and wondering where Israel’s eyes are turned and what neighborhood they are targeting. In the past week Israel has made daily incursions into Nablus and has destroyed houses and killed 16-year-old boys in broad daylight, and has raided the city every night. For the past month the whole village district of Ramallah and Nablus have been enduring invasions and raids, house searches and arrests.
While Olmert is taking a few blows about his conduct of the war in Lebanon, the Palestinians are having to endure being his ‘dog-under-the-table’. And I voice my protest with the people of the West Bank: How on earth is he getting away with it?
It is not enough that Israel has made the token effort of standing by a ceasefire in Lebanon. The international community cannot be satisfied with this.
Eliza Ernshire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was originally published on August 29 on CounterPunch