A Tale of Two Sisters: Witnessing an Undercover Israeli Operation in Ramallah (1)

This afternoon i thought we were going to die

Four hours ago my sister Emily, her curator Carolyn and I were shot at by the Israeli army. My nerves are still shaky. We’ve been drinking ever since. My legs are weak. I feel I can’t stand on them.

Today in downtown Ramallah at around 4:15pm, we were driving down Main Street. We were buying kanafa to eat after spending the day at ‘Amari refugee camp.

A taxi driver cut me off. I rolled down the window and cursed at him. We pulled over and Emily and Mohammed jumped out to buy kanafa. Then we continued, dropping off Mohammed at his car, which he had left in the center of town. We agreed to meet at Mohammed’s place down the street.

I was alone in the front seat. Emily and Carolyn were in the back. Suddenly, there was a van directly in front of our car. He veered a bit towards our car. I slowed down, wondering how I was going to pass him. And then he emerged from his window… pointing an M-16 across the street and spraying bullets.

The three of us hit the floor of the car. All around us… shooting, shooting, shooting. So close. So close.

And then on the other side of the street, another van - looking exactly like the first….men with guns spraying bullets everywhere.

Next to us, a man with his 5-year old daughter… Like us, stuck between all the shooting. He opened his door and tossed his daughter to the ground with him.

I lifted my head… the man shooting was around 6 feet from me. Shooting away. Israeli secret service… dressed up like an Arab. They do this all the time… so they come into town and no one notices. Then I saw tens of Israeli soldiers crawling the streets all around us. Did they come out of the vans? They were in full uniform, unlike the two van ‘drivers’ who had dressed as plain clothes Arab men. Mustarabeen…Israeli agents who dress like Arabs.

Shooting, shooting. I covered my head. All I could think about was Emily in the backseat and Carolyn. Emily… my precious sister… my beautiful sister… Kamran in Scotland… the man who escaped with his daughter. I braced myself as the shooting continued. Told myself calmly that if the windows of the car were hit. Which they surely were about to be. That it was nothing. To remember that all that meant was the window was broken and not necessarily that one of us had been hit.

Mohammed called…I picked up the phone…my voice broke. Crumbled. I hadn’t realized my fear until that moment. Why couldn’t I speak? Why? I didn’t recognize my own voice. I knew I sounded hysterical. I didn’t want to sound like that.

Took another peak. Army everywhere. The men shooting shooting shooting shooting….god, that sound.

Emily. Emily in the back. We made eye contact. What could we do? We were stuck in the middle of a shoot out…right in the middle of it…with nowhere to go.

We couldn’t even get out of the car and make a run for it. We’d have been shot down.

I wondered if they’d kill us. I wondered if someone on the street might duck into our car for cover. But the streets were empty.

We stayed on the floor of the car for 20 minutes like that. I thought, really truly felt, I was going to die this way. And I didn’t want to die like that. Totally helpless. Trapped in a car.

The more the shooting went on, the more I felt my nerves turn to jelly. And then…

Bam! Our car was hit. I heard glass break. I covered my head. My head was covered anyway, I think, for fear of the car windows being hit.

We were okay. Emily was okay. Carolyn was safe.

More time passed. How stupid to have my hands on my head. what would that do? Where is Emily? I think i will die today. I am going to die today.

I peeked out. I saw the Israelis grab a man off the street and shove him into the other van.

Then the undercover Israeli closest to us, in the van, decided to leave. Operation over. He pulled towards us. The criminal. I stared at his face, my head on the passenger seat… He didn’t have enough room to get by us, so he smashed into our car and scraped his way by. The whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. He didn’t even notice us I think. Three women so close to him, stuck to the floor of the car…

We are all ok. Nothing happened. There’s a bullet in the car. It hit the back of the car. It didn’t hit the gas tank. It didn’t hit the gas tank. We are okay. But three young men tonight are not. And many, many more are not. This is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary.

A man disappeared this afternoon. Two men were killed. It won’t even make the news.

Annemarie Jacir is a Palestinian film-maker living in Ramallah.

Related Links

  • A Tale of Two Sisters: Witnessing an Undercover Israeli Operation in Ramallah (2), Emily Jacir (15 November 2006)