The streets of Ramallah are completely still, the bright sun reflecting off the pavement and the stone of the buildings forcing the viewer to squint and ultimately turn away. The brilliance of the color of the flowers in my garden - purple, yellow and pink - creates a kind of noise rising up until I turn my gaze away. I can hear the birds chirping their songs, the call undisturbed but for the occasional sound of armored personnel carriers (APCs) moving about or the crack of machine gun fire and the echo of the bullets whizzing through the air. Out the left window of my kitchen the minaret of the local mosque stands tall, but the sound of the call to prayer is no more. And, of course, this enforced, imposed serenity in this previously bustling city, is periodically punctuated by a roar from above, for the planes heading on to Tel Aviv still fly overhead.
Naturally, one looks to the sky at these times, expectantly looking for the jet, the contrast of the sound to the powerful silence imposing itself on one’s mind and spirit. But the stranger contrast, the one that stings and forces your head to dip down and your shoulders to slump is that of the difference in movement. For Ramallah, like almost all Palestinian cities, has become a virtual prison of homes.
Ramallah has always been a city of movement, even before it was properly a city. Decades ago, Ramallah was a kind of weekend getaway and summer spot for Palestinian Arabs seeking to escape the bustle of Jerusalem and other cities. More recently, Ramallah has emerged as the main center of congregation of Palestinian-Americans returning home to build their nation and have their children grow up in their ancestral land. And Ramallah is where most international organizations and companies have set up offices in Palestine, thus generating a feeling of constant movement as new faces replace older ones in the sizable expatriate community.
But now, this has all ceased, with the imposed curfew by Israeli forces. Now they are the only ones to move, for anyone caught breaking curfew “will be punished” as the loudspeaker on the military jeep announced today.
As I walk through the streets of the city (I along with other internationals here consistently break curfew, refusing to acknowledge the authority of the Israeli occupation forces) I am constantly reminded of being a visitor in a zoo. Not that the Palestinians are animals, but this is precisely how the Israelis are treating the Palestinian population - locking up over 700,000 people in their homes throughout the West Bank.
As I come upon a house or apartment building, kids rush to the windows to peer out, often behind child-proofing or design-inspired bars barring the windows. Sometimes people will venture to go outside into their gardens or front yards, and dare to come as far as the outer walls to their property. Always, they will shake hands or speak with you. And in true spirit of Palestinian hospitality, each person is greeted with a “t’fadalou” (basically, “you are welcome inside”).
And in the outlying areas of the cities, away from the concentration of the soldiers, some will come outside into the street, but always held back by an invisible leash, and all ears open and listening for the sound of the jeep or an APC or a tank. When these arrive on the scene, everyone rushes back inside, for all know of what happened in Jenin (where a number Palestinians in the market were shot and killed) and that was when curfew was lifted!
And what are we to do, those of us who watch on the evening news or read in the newspaper about the events in this region?
Is the promulgation of a jail sentence on an entire people acceptable simply because it has happened? People who have yearned for freedom for over 50 years are now locked away, patrolled by their jailers - the same jailers who refuse to remove their
occupation and oppression and grant freedom to the men, women and children of Palestine. And while these people are locked up, the planes continue to fly overhead.
We cannot accept that an entire people should be jailed. The lack of outcry against this situation in which Palestinians find themselves belies the fact that treatment of the Palestinian people as animals or criminals is acceptable. And the planes keep flying overhead.