Ramallah: Everyone has a story

I am back in Ramallah -after spending over three weeks in Jerusalem, imposing myself on different friends there. My three week spell as a refugee waiting to go home was more than enough -I am not sure how Palestinians (in Lebanon, for instance) have done it for over fifty years. When I arrived at my home, I was not even able to reach the gate when my neighbour came out to greet me. She was very excited and speaking very quickly -what I could make out was something about 40 soldiers, her house, 24 hours, gunfire, and her cat.

The scene of devastation inside her house was horrific. Tiles torn up from her floor. Couches ruined. Plants turned over everywhere. Remains of a mini-bonfire in the middle of her room. Tables and chairs splintered. Broken sandbags scattered, leaking.

On Friday afternoon the Israeli Army knocked on her door, told her to exit the house, and sent her into her neighbour’s apartment downstairs. She was there for 24 hours while the soldiers used her house as barracks, as they pillaged the grocery store next door, and trashed her house, broker her windows, and shot at her cat. Those of you who know Somaya know that this would have been the most terrifying part for her. The cat got away. They also stole 500 USD from her.

This story is a common one. Later that afternoon I went to visit my friend Mitri, to see how his family was doing, and to check on my friend Lori’s house, an American anthropologist conducting research here. Mitri is her landlord. They seemed okay -the family was recuperating. The soldiers came into the house twice, searched the children’s beds while they were sleeping in them. Mitri went to get bread day five of the 24-hour curfew, as the family had none left. The Israelis gave people three hours to leave their home to replenish on supplies. Three hours wasn’t enough however, as the line-up at the bakery was massive. Five minutes after the curfew was supposed to be finished, Mitri finally had his bread and sped back to his house � only to find twelve soldiers on his street, guns drawn on him, shouting in Hebrew. He replied in English to two soldiers standing in his yard that he needed to get to his house, that they were standing on his lawn, that he had just gone to get bread. They told him that if he didn’t leave in 10 seconds, they would shoot. So he put the car in reverse, and drove a block over to his cousin’s house. He called his wife to explain that the kids would have to wait for the bread.

He spent the following three days there, until the next curfew lift.

Lori was not so lucky. They broke into her house, trashed the furniture, sprinkled her documentation throughout the house, pictures absolutely everywhere, along with tampons. The nineteen-year old Israeli soldiers seemed to be particularly intrigued by her tampons.

They stole her tapes � who knows how many hours of recorded documentation for her thesis. They took the hard drive from her computer.

That’s when Richard called. The Israelis went into his place to. It wasn’t too bad � it was a total mess, but they only took his CD player. This phone call from Richard was considerably better than when he called us the day before:

‘Pete, I need a favour. I’m in Um il-Fahem (Palestinian village inside Israel, near the green line, an hour from Jenin). I’m with Sofie. We were planning on driving back to Jerusalem tonight, but when we got here, we found the car blown up.’

Sofie and Richard had spent the last five days in Jenin, listening to people’s testimonies, taking affidavits, videotaping interviews, and helping the UN sneak humanitarian supplies into the Jenin camp after they were denied access by the Israeli army.

Driving back down to Jerusalem, they shared some stories with us of what they had witnessed. Needless to say, the car being blown up by the Israeli police was not the worst thing that happened to them. What most probably was the worst was witnessing two kids get blown up by an unexploded tank shell in Jenin camp that day. Sofie and Richard were the first to respond. (Both kids are in hospital now � neither is expected to make it).

I’m taking a day off today. My roses are in full bloom, though I missed the peak of it. I was able to salvage a few nice ones for Somaya. The bright side of this is that she has had more people visiting her than ever � she said that she has a steady stream of people in her house to show their support, and help her clean up and reorganise her life.

Which reminds me � thanks to all of you who have showed me support over the last few weeks � I am sorry I have not returned any emails or phone calls � I will start soon, now that things are a little less crazy, now that I am back in my home.