Promises from Palestine

Al-Jazeera TV footage showed the bodies of five Palestinian men executed when Israeli soldiers found out where they’d hidden in a building in Ramallah on Sunday. They had feared for their lives and apparently had good reason to do so. Four were shot with a single bullet to the head. One was murdered with sixteen bullets, mostly fired into his face and chest. Their weapons were confiscated. They lay on the floor, mostly face down. Dark streaks of dried blood covered the walls of their room. Clearly they’d been considered innocent until proven guilty by the great democracy of the Middle East. I wish this were the worst of the crimes now on film.

On Monday, an Al-Jazeera cameraman filmed the morgue of a Ramallah hospital so full of the dead that new bodies arriving had to be put in separate rooms where fans running with an electricity generator could keep them from decomposing too quickly. This is just Ramallah. It has been closed off to most of the outside world and its residents huddle inside their houses unable to replenish badly needed supplies. A repeat of the destruction of this once bustling West Bank city is taking place as I write: in Bethlehem, Tulkarem, and Qalqiliya. This is just the beginning.

Gazans are tired and their nerves are on edge. So far we are relatively untouched by Sharon’s new “war” against Palestine and “the enemy of the world”, Yassir Arafat, who continues to sit in a closet-like room without light, water, or communication with the outside. There is probably a secret microphone hidden in his kuffiyah from which he whispers his instructions to potential suicide bombers all over Palestinian to wreak their destruction on the defenseless Israels each time another member of his security forces is murdered for existing.

We watch the news, read the reports coming in, talk over our mobile phones to people cut off from us in Rafah and Khan Yunis, Deir al-Balah, and Bureij. They can’t come to work until the IDF feels like opening the checkpoints near Netzarim and Gush Katif. So offices and businesses in Gaza City are half-staffed or simply closed. At the Ramattan TV station, the producer asks, half embarrassed, if I can lend him $500 to distribute to people there who haven’t been paid in over a month; people who are desperately stocking up on supplies for when they, too, are confined to their homes while indignant and arrogant tanks roll through their streets, crushing everything in their paths into the concrete and the sand.

Yesterday an Israel soldiers shot dead a ten year old boy in Rafah for having the audacity to play too close to the border. The children of Rafah make good target practice for those planning their nighttime raids into the refugee camps there and elsewhere throughout the Strip: Khan Yunis, Bureij, Jabaliya, Shati — places languishing in their own debris. Israeli “patrols” drove through Jabaliya and Beit Hanoun in the north early yesterday morning reminding the inmates just who is in charge here. They like to keep things clear.

Today in Ramallah the office of Preventive Security is under attack. People fear yet another massacre, and with good reason. Will Marwan Barghouti survive? I have my doubts. Reports are that the IDF wishes to arrest him. But the people in Preventive Security refuse to surrender. A good pretext for murder, to be sure.

Sixty people, mostly women and children, have been herded into a single flat of the “La Ilaha Illa Allah” apartment building next to where the gun battle is taking place. They cannot leave; they cannot get food and water; some have fainted from the pressure, and the fear. This is happening as I write. A friend in the States writes to me that he is waiting for “all hell to break loose”. I hate to tell you this, dear friend, but it already has.

Another writes reminding me to tell people that the Israelis are violating international law and the decades‚ long list of violations begins to tally itself up in my head. Then I shake my head clear. You think this point hasn’t been stressed in every article, communiqué, report, TV broadcast, radio talk show emanating from the streets here and in activist circles elsewhere ad absurdum? It isn’t working. It isn’t working. What will it take to wake people up to what is happening here? How do you force the Indifferent to confront the miserable face of Injustice?

At night in Beit Hanoun the fragrance from the orange trees is so strong it seems the air is perfumed. Bright red roses grow along the pathways to people’s homes and the stars don’t have to compete with city lights so they dominate the sky, each one a tear; each one a promise whispered into the night. We will never leave our land.