The nightmare ‘ends’

Well my friends, the nightmare on Ma’arif Street (my street) in Al-Bireh/Ramallah came to an end today at around 6pm. Our unwanted and uninvited IDF ‘guests’ left the house across the street and took with them all the tanks, jeeps and armored personnel carriers. I hope they also took away a valuable lesson, how easy it is to withdraw and yet live and let live!

Yesterday we had a never-ending coming and going of tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC). The sound and diesel smell got on all of our nerves by nightfall. We were just starting to recognize the faces of the soldiers. We started classifying them, he is good, he is mean, he is stupid, he hates us, he looks disgusted, and on. We would have liked to put names to the faces but that’s not possible under occupation. Areen even had a few of the white printed identification numbers on the tanks memorized (Areen stands behind me as I write and wants everyone to know that the least disturbing group of soldiers came in a tank numbered 756689).

One new armored personnel carrier joined the group early yesterday morning and had a group of soldiers that took joy in being part of the occupation. They were loud and one of them that had guard duty came out in the middle of the street in full daylight and urinated in full view of all. I was in another room at the time but my family had to witness this sophisticated form of humiliation. I’m not talking about a solider that just had to do it and hid his act. I’m talking about walking out in middle of street, point to houses and let it all hang out. I guess it was only a Palestinian street and neighborhood! Disgusting, like the orders that sent him here.

Today (and yesterday), the Israeli army lifted the curfew from 9am to 2pm so people could shop and students could try to make up their year-end exams. I can’t even imagine how students are expected to concentrate. My cousin Ammar used the curfew lifting to make it to Bir Zeit University where he will stay for 20 days with the professors, at the request of the University, in order for college to finish the semester. I have no idea where the University will house a few thousand people. Ammar lives less than 10 minutes from the campus but can’t travel every day due to closures and checkpoints.

Today, my father and I used the lifting to head to Tel Aviv to renew our visas to Jordan. I use to go to Tel Aviv, for business or pleasure, at least 3 times a week prior to the Intifada. Today was my third time in almost 2 years. We were lucky that the infamous Kalandia checkpoint was not packed and the delay was minimal, unlike the humiliation, which has reached a climax with every Palestinian. The whole trip took 4.5 hours. It should take less than 2.5. As I said, today was a ‘good’ day at the checkpoint and we have US passports that allowed us to go in the first place. It could easily take 6-8. Non-foreign passport holders are not allowed out of Kalandia, i.e. my wife and girls.

Driving to the Jordanian embassy today I noticed things I never noticed before in Tel Aviv. First, the number of times Areen called my mobile to make sure we were ok. In normal times I spend a lot of time out of the house and she never was so worried. On the way to Tel Aviv we saw tens of bulldozers. Not the dark green, bulletproofed bulldozers destroying building in Palestinian cities, were bright yellowish-orange construction bulldozers building Jewish-only settlements everywhere you turn your head. From Kalandia to the 1967 border (Latrun intersection), mountaintops and valleys alike were being cut up, diced up, dug up, and every other up you can think of. New illegal construction is proceeding as if nothing was wrong. My father went into a minor trance…with every passing settlement he kept rhetorically asking the taxi driver and me if the Israelis thought they would get away with this. I was in my own little trance and just kept shaking my head in puzzlement. The taxi driver, working on earning his tip, popped in a patriotic cassette thinking it would help. It didn’t.

In Tel Aviv I saw people working and going about the business in a natural manner. For the last several months we rush during curfew liftings to by bread, food and medicines, like animals let out of our cages. We forgot what normalcy is. People sat in restaurants and were relaxed. I was someone who would eat out for whatever reason 3-4 times a week. My family and I have not been out to eat at a restaurant for over 5 months. The streets were so organized; light posts all in line, traffic lights all working. Most, if not all, of Ramallah’s traffic lights have been destroyed by tanks running over them. Many of our street light posts lie on the roadside waiting for repair number four. There was no dust and dirt in the streets. Ramallah’s paved streets have become dirt-buggy training courses. The Israeli army bulldozers have dug up the pavement on many major intersections to slow civilian traffic. Also, the several months of tank and APC’s and army bulldozers running wild in our streets have created endless lines of tank track ripples – the kind a normal country will install on the sides of the road to wake up sleepy drivers. Worst of all I saw a population that is operating, albeit with an increased security presence, as nothing is wrong. Mothers shopping, not seemingly worried that their countries boys are humiliating an entire foreign nation. I looked in the eyes of each man in the street wondering how he will act when he pts on the uniform of occupation. Anyway, the trip went ok and we were back at the Kalandia checkpoint at 1PM, with an hour to spare before being confined to our homes once again, for the umpteenth time.

At around 5pm Areen came running into my computer room and elatedly informed me ‘they are leaving!’ Her sister Nadine, hardly able to speak full sentences, repeated the breaking news in the absolutely cutest manner possible. When I asked Areen why she was taking so much interest, she said ‘I know I said I’m not scared of them anymore and that’s true but I’m glad they are leaving.’ I understood all too well. We proceeded to watch as over 20 soldiers slowly exited our neighbors home, each carrying boxes, mattresses, bags and the like. I went back to my computer and was working away when I heard Areen and my wife, Abeer, yell out, ‘They started a fire.’ I jumped to find that about 10-15 Israeli soldiers were standing around the boxes they were bringing down and a small fire was gushing out of the pile. I thought one of the flares they had might have gone off, but later found that it was a box of tear gas canisters. As my wife closed all our windows, I had to smile as these occupation soldiers chocked on their own tear gas. It was all out in a few minutes and no one was hurt, physically at least. My simile soon dropped away when two more soldiers came out of the house with a Palestinian, handcuffed with a plastic strip and blindfolded with a white piece of cloth with blue stripes. We had not seen this person being brought to the house and seeing him emerge made this saga all to real – we were watching an illegal occupation, live in our front yard.

A few minutes later, like the Indy-500, they all started their engines, 8 monster machines in all, and rolled down our street over the already torn up pavement. One APC quietly stayed behind on the side of the street. As I stood at the window, all of my neighbors opened their windows and yelled out, ‘Are they gone?’ I gestured that it was not over yet. People were itching to step outside, even though we are under full curfew. After the last APC finally rolled away like the rest, it wasn’t 2 minutes, the kids were in the street and some adults, me included, converged on Um Khaled’s house. The house had no physical damage other than a broken front door (and a stuffy odor). We will not know if the contents were toyed with until the owner, Um Khaled, returns from her vacation in Egypt. I took Areen’s bicycle chain and lock and we secured the house as we joked with neighbors that this lock was going to do a lot of good in our situation. The reality of our personal and collective insecurity is so sad, it forces us to joke about it or explode.

One of my neighbors whose porch looks down on the West side of the occupied house revealed something that made us all angry. That detained Palestinian that was taken away in the APC was there for 2 days and 2 nights! He was forced to stay outside in the walkway that led to the staircase of the occupied home. I could not see it from my vantage point, but my neighbor spoke to him from the window when soldiers were not around to give him strength. The solders gave him a cardboard box to sleep on and there he was, a prisoner of war in a world that cares less about political prisoners and defines war to fit its personal needs, as if it was buying a personal garment. As I close this saga on our street, I apologize of I overloaded your inbox with details of our situation. But I felt that this was a way to get past the word occupation that many use but few understand. Well, I know that Areen will sleep better tonight without the roar of tanks under her window. We will make it sound better for her than it is, for we know better. The occupation is alive and well and, as we still remain under curfew, the boiling point of a nation is long past…we pray the next boil over will be the last, for all our sakes.