A Night in Ramallah

Qalandia checkpoint (Photo: Sonja Karkar)

When I began reading the account below of the shooting in Ramallah, I remembered that it was only nine weeks ago that I was walking the streets of Ramallah and I was eating ice-cream at the famour Rucarb ice-cream shop and I was being driven around al-Minara. It all came flooding back to me - those fifteen minutes in the early hours of the morning as my driver, Abu ‘Issa was taking me back to Jerusalem and we were caught in the cross-fire between Palestinian police in riot gear and armed youths. I’ll never forget the painfully hesitant drive up and down narrow streets as shadowy figures ran in and out of shop recesses with guns cocked while others smashed windows, tore down streets lights and overturned garbage containers. Abu ‘Issa didn’t say a word, but I could see this normally easy-going man rigid in his seat, grimly gripping the steering wheel while every route he took was blocked. It was like being in a movie, somehow surreal, not really happening to me. How we got to Qalandia checkpoint I’ll never know, but even then that was eerie as the bright lights lit up the watch towers and cyclone fencing and cement road blocks, while armed Israeli solders looked suspiciously at us and scanned our ID and passport. Could we go, or would they make us wait? Someone was making a phone call, but it wasn’t about us. We were waved on and Abu ‘Issa sped along the highway determined to make Jerusalem without any further delay.

I went back to Ramallah the next morning to see my friends, Mary and Bassam. Abu ‘Issa was more relaxed in the cheery light of day and he explained as he drove along about how the occupation was creating lawlessness because there is no money and no future for young people. He didn’t need to explain to me because anybody could see that this bizarre game of patrolling soldiers and checkpoints and Israeli-only roads and kilometres of concrete wall between where we wanted to go and couldn’t, offered no joy to any human being. And that is not all. There is the waiting and waiting, interminable waiting at checkpoints or flying checkpoints set up at a whim just to make life difficult. There are ways around them, but these roads are filled with potholes sending out billows of dust in the summer heat and bogging every car down in the slush of winter. And when you have negotiated your way through these rough roads, there is still no guarantee that there won’t be a checkpoint set up somewhere ahead anyhow.

Mary and Bassam had no idea that I had been in the thick of the action when they told me the news of what had happened the night before. They were used to Israeli soldiers coming in with their tanks, but even they were shocked by this turn of events. Palestinians fighting Palestinians was a new phenomenon. What can anybody expect if freedom and dignity are taken away? Now it seems that conditions have deteriorated further - lawlessness taken to a new level where the Israeli law enforcers take the law into their own hands and become lawless themselves.

Sonja Karkar is an activist with Women for Palestine of Melbourne, Australia.

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