Under Siege

I muster enough courage and decide to defy the curfew by walking ten meters to my neighbor’s home. He invited me over for dinner. Chicken and potatoes. It’s been a while since I’ve tasted chicken. The bombing of Betounia, the town across the hill, started punctually as we were about to eat.

My neighbor’s three-year-old girl started to hit her little Barney plate with her little Barney fork. “Soldiers, soldiers” the little girl says. “No sweetie, no soldiers” the father decides to manipulate the truth just to get her to eat. His daughter immediately seizes the moment and says “no soldiers, then we can go bye bye.” Like an accomplished attorney, she rests her case.

The father is trapped. The mother tries to help by further manipulating the truth. “We’ll go bye bye after we eat.” The little girl does not believe the promise. She spills the cola in protest. I can’t blame her, really, she hasn’t been bye bye for three weeks now. Actually, I should spill my cola in solidarity.

After the meal, with hot tea, the shelling intensifies. We can see the tanks and armored personnel carriers approaching our street. They take position behind the house. The noise is deafening. For two hours the bombing does not stop. For two hours the little girl does not stop crying. For two hours the mother does not stop praying to god for help.

My neighbor and I are confused. Do we turn off the lights, close the windows and slide the drapes shut? Or do we leave everything as is, so as not to make the soldiers suspicious? Tough choice. We opt for the former alternative. We must turn off the lights. In the dark, the fire from the shells is clear and vivid. The sight of the fire adds a new dimension to our fear. The little girl is screaming now. We turn the lights back on. She is still crying. I am watching her cry, and I cannot believe we’re still alive.

Finally, the bombing stops, but only for a short while. Just enough time to allow us to put the little girl to sleep. We had to lie to the little girl again, “we’ll go bye bye tomorrow morning, sweetie, as soon as you wake up.”

I walk gingerly back to my home. The ten meters separating both houses is now a lengthy marathon. My shaking hand turns the key to the lock. Wrong key. I try a different one. Wrong again. God, how many times have I opened this stupid door?

On the third try, I step into my house. I re-lock the door. I run to the window overlooking the tanks and armored vehicles behind the house. They’ve just started the bombing and shooting again.

It’s as loud as before but much more colorful. The noise is a little different. There is a whistling sound to each shell, followed by a bang. These are not bomb shells.

These are fireworks. Yes, fireworks.

Now, I understand. It’s Israel’s independence day. The soldiers decide to celebrate, right here, right now, in Ramallah. I suspect they are also celebrating my fear, right here, right now, in Ramallah.

Pain is urging me to cry. Pride impedes my tears.

God, I am still under siege, right here, right now, in Ramallah.

Hakam Kanafani is CEO of Palestine Cellular Communications (JAWWAL), the first Palestinian Cellular Network, and is based in Al-Bireh, occupied Palestine.