The sophistication in the methods used by Israel in its systematic destruction of Palestinian society today struck a raw cord with every Palestinian parent and child.
Only four days has passed since the beginning of the Palestinian school year, where over one million Palestinian students returned to their classrooms after a summer of living under the direct physical, emotional and mental distress of Israeli military rule. For the last four days the world community closely watched to see whether Israel would lift the 24-hour curfew/lockdown that has become routine across the West Bank. Israel did lift the total curfew from 6am-6pm to allow the school season to start and in order to avoid international criticism. But the world’s eye has barely blinked and Israel is already escalating its violent practice of curfew.
Today Palestinian children and parents were exposed to the latest cruelty of the Israel military occupation. For the last four days parents prepared their children for school, my wife Abeer and I included. Our eight-year-old daughter Areen anxiously put on her school uniform and had breakfast. For her, today was an important day because the textbooks that were delayed the first day of school (because of military closures and travel restrictions) were supposed to arrive and be distributed to the students. Areen couldn’t wait for her English reading book. At 7:30am we headed to school. At 7:45am and with a big kiss, I dropped Areen off at the Friends School and headed to an 8:00am business meeting I had outside of my office. As I usually do in business meetings I turned off my mobile phone in order not to be disturbed. I will not turn it off again.
At 9:15am one of the persons in our meeting interrupted to advise us that he received word that Israeli tanks and jeeps had entered the city center and were announcing that the cities of Ramallah and Al-Bireh were under total military curfew. Israeli jeeps roamed the streets announcing that anyone caught in public would be arrested. By the time I turned on my phone to call my wife three other persons in my meeting were already on their mobile phones accessing the situation. Abeer, who was at home with our two-year-old daughter, was frantic. She had been trying to call me after seeing and hearing an Israeli armored personnel carrier on our street announcing the closure. Was Areen in danger? Who should go pick her up from school? How could we go out, given the curfew and military vehicles in the streets? Has the school administration advised the students of the situation? How is Areen, who is very emotionally sensitive, reacting? Is school still in session? These and a hundred other questions rush to the mind in such predicaments.
Abeer turned on Israeli radio and heard the Israeli plan. The radio newscast announced that the Israeli military had put Ramallah under full curfew starting from 9:00am and would only lift the curfew from 1:00pm-3:00pm in order for parents to leave their workplaces and take their children home.
As if the recent months of varying degrees of Israeli military curfews were not enough violence to terrorize the Palestinian society as a whole, the Israeli government created a new and improved curfew – one that would ensure that the violence of occupation would come between every child and parent.
After getting through to the Friends School’s hotline we were assured that the gates of the school had been secured and that the school day was going to continue as scheduled. Although still a little nervous, we trusted the school administration and knew that if they felt the children were in any immediate danger they would advise us. I agreed with Abeer that I would pick up Areen at 2:15pm and the meeting I was in was called back into session, albeit slightly less focused. After the meeting I headed to the office for an hour of work. I had two other engagements planned for today, a training session for the Commercial Arbitration Center being established and a seminar titled, From Re-occupation to Reform. Both were cancelled.
At 1:45pm we closed our office and everyone headed out to pick up their children. I headed home instead to pick up Nadine, Areen’s little sister. When we left the house this morning Nadine asked if I would promise to pick her up to go get Areen from school and both Areen and I agreed with her that I would. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let an illegal foreign military occupation make me break a promise to my daughters. Nadine was waiting for me at the front porch window. She rushed downstairs wearing her new pink tennis shoes, a pick hat and had a pick purse strapped across her chest. She was ready to hit the town.
Nadine and I arrived at Areen’s school a little early and I had the opportunity to chat with some of the other parents that were also waiting. In twenty minutes we all vented our anger and frustration, discussed the political situation, and we even joked that all the Israelis had left to do now was to publish a daily ad in the newspaper with names of specific people that the curfew would be applied to on any specific day.
As the end of day bell rang the students rushed, as always, to the main gate. The older students knew what was going on, the younger ones did not. Areen came out of her building with a smile from ear to ear and her bright pink Jansport backpack on her back. She waved a big bulky book in the air. It was her new English reading book. Nadine gave her sister a big hug and kiss and we were on our way. While walking to the car I asked Areen if she heard what was happening with the curfew. She had not. She told me that they probably did not tell them so they would not be scared. She asked if she could buy an ice cream cone for her and her sister before going home. After quickly stopping for three ice cream cones we headed straight home. We pulled in the driveway at 2:40pm and as we got out of the car an Israeli jeep passed on the main Jerusalem Street next to our home yelling through a loud speaker, “To the people of Ramallah, the curfew is applied. Anyone in the streets will be arrested”.
So as the world causally watches the entire Palestinian people be terrorized by the most sophisticated form of violence possible – Israeli occupation – life goes on. And as the Israeli military generals dream up new ways to batter Palestinians into submission and strip away every sense of public and personal security, I will be reading with my daughter the first three pages her new English reading book wondering about tomorrow’s curfew schedule.
September 3, 2002
Note: This essay is a follow-up to “The Violence of Curfew” which may be found at amin.org.
* Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at email@example.com. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994).