A Tale of Two Sisters: Witnessing an Undercover Israeli Operation in Ramallah (2)

Palestinians transport an injured youth to a hospital after he was shot by Israeli special forces during an undercover Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 15 November 2006. Eyewitnesses reported that one Palestinian was arrested and two others were injured. (MaanImages/Fadi Arouri)

Today is November 15th.

Today is our supposed “Independence Day”.

A joke.

Was almost killed today.

This will be brief and inarticulate. I am still in shock.

I do not remember now the exact time…. around 4:25 p.m. Ramallah time. I was so happy and excited. I had finally convinced my art dealer from New York to come see me in Ramallah. I wanted her to see our Palestine, she would understand my work better, etc., etc….

Carolyn arrived last night. We had spent the morning going to cultural centers, namely PACA and Riwaq. Then I took her to ‘Amari refugee camp for the afternoon. All was cool.

My sister, Carolyn, and our friend Mohammed had lunch and then we gave her a tour of the Muqata’a. After, driving down the main street of Ramallah, we stopped, and Mohammed and I hopped out of the car to buy kanafa. Of course Carloyn had to eat our kanafa!!!

We hopped back in the car. It was a beautiful afternoon, the streets were packed full of people, and we were headed to Mohammed’s restaurant to chill out, eat our kanafa, and let Carolyn take in the intensity of all she had seen. Mohammed hopped out of the car to pick up his own car, and we continued down the main street on our way.

We were a block away from Ziryab Coffee Shop when, all of a sudden to our immediate right, a van pulled up and stopped at a 90 degree angle. We couldn’t drive forward because part of the van blocked us in. The doors opened and mustarabeen (Israeli army dressed as Arabs) hopped out with giant machine guns and started shooting. We were trapped.

After this point it is hard to remember what happened. We all ducked down, trapped… To our left another van full of mustarabeen were shooting away. We were surrounded.

A man with his 5-year-old daughter to our right throws his daughter to the ground. Then he grabs her and makes a run for it into a shop.

Damn it. I was calm. There was shooting from M-16’s all around the car.

It was hot. I was hot hot hot. I couldn’t focus on anything else. My scarf was suffocating me. I was burning up with heat. I took off my scarf. I focused on trying to figure out how to take off my coat.

Annemarie’s phone rang - it was Mohammed (he had just gotten out 2 minutes earlier) - “Be careful there are mustarabeen in town!” When I heard my sister’s voice, in the way she responded to him, the reality of what was going on set in.

She was trying to cover her face and head because we were sure we were about to be covered in broken glass. I have never heard my sister’s voice sound like that in my entire life. Panic began to set in. But I was really hot hot. I rolled down the window. Annemarie locked the doors of the car. I rolled the window back up.

All I could think of was my sister’s safety. God forbid anything happen to her. I grabbed her hand. She was in the front I focused on her back (her dear, blessed back) as we huddled as low as we could on the floor of the car.

Shooting shooting shooting. My sister. My sister. That is all I cared about. Oh no! Goddamn it! Carolyn is next to me. I am responsible. I brought her to this place! Shit. I apologized to her over and over. She kept peeking to see what was going on! I begged her to keep her head down.

Our car got hit.

I make a note of it out loud. So does Carolyn.

No word from Annemarie. I call out to her fearing that she is silent because she has been hit.

She hasn’t been. More shooting.

Shooting continued all around us. I kept repeating to everyone: “Keep your heads down… Keep your heads down…”

Panic began to set in. We were completely exposed. I peeked up to see Israelis in uniform, now shooting in our direction.

I started trying to make a plan as to when I would open the car door and make a run for it.

I peeked again, to see some Israelis beating the shit out of a Palestinian man and throwing him into their van.

The mustarabeen next to us got back into their van. As we were in their way they smashed into our car and sped off. Meanwhile in front of us and to the right, the Israelis started to pull back.

Kids started throwing stones. They shot at us again. They started pulling back again.

I started feeling a little safe again. Now we might have a window to get out. The next thing I knew, the kids and shebab were alongside our car (they were heading towards the wounded) when they looked in and saw us in there.

They were horrified. To see that we were in the front row - right in the line of fire this whole time - huddled in the car. A friend of Annemarie’s stopped running with the men, ordered us to reverse backwards, and helped us get out. We parked and jumped out of the car and ran into a space between two buildings for shelter.

I saw a friend of mine. He asked if I was alright. I showed him the bullet hole in our car that made it’s way along the length of the whole car and exited out the back.

He said we were lucky it did not hit the gas tank.

(I had not even thought of that! )

Anyway, in short, the Israelis came in - in the middle of the day - onto the main street of Ramallah - the most crowded street and attacked us on our “Independence Day”.

We are alive and not injured. We are okay.

I do not know if the rental car insurance covers bullets from Israeli M-16’s, or dents from being crashed into by mustarabeen.

And so it goes, so it goes. Another day in Palestine.

This is not a story.

A small nothing in the larger context of what happens on a daily basis here.

I am sure it won’t be on any news.

Another day in Palestine.

Another Independence Day gone by.

But I am with a bottle of arak and good friends now. God damn. Damn. Damn. What could be better after a day like today? Thank the god for arak. Thank god for friends.

Emily Jacir is a Palestinian artist who lives between Ramallah and New York City.

Related Links

  • A Tale of Two Sisters: Witnessing an Undercover Israeli Operation in Ramallah (1), Annemarie Jacir (15 November 2006)