Waking up in America

At 10:30AM U.S. Central Time, I phoned friends in Ramallah. The first call was to a mobile phone that has been switched off, something that makes no sense with an Israeli invasion going on. The second to another friend provides me with the disturbing answer as to why.

“Yes, it’s switched off because Israeli soldiers are in his living room, preventing him from making calls. I know this because early on when they came in and forbid him to use his phone, he sneaked into the bathroom with his mobile in his pocket to tell me what was going on.”

From this second friend, I hear the story. Much what we’re hearing and seeing on the news. The Muqata (the main Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah) has been surrounded with tanks. The prison has been overrun. A couple of rooms have been entered, and Arafat is somewhere inside.

Ramallah has no electricity. We switched from the mobile to a landline early in this conversation, to preserve batteries. No idea how long the electricity will be switched off.

What’s it like on the ground? Are Palestinians shooting back? “Not really, it’s very very rare,” says my friend, “probably a few people who were surprised and caught ‘outside’, in a different area of town.” As always, the media reports of a “war” is incorrect. The wire services photos back this up, with only a few AK-47s against tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

After the goodbyes, I ring another friend, who has just arrived back there. She’s on the floor of her home, whispering. I find out that there are soldiers outside because their house is located very near to the center of the operation, the Muqata. She asks me to hassle a mutual friend to do some unrelated and inconsequential work project. Hmm, I think. You stay there on the floor and worry about what’s going on with you. Last night they saw the Israeli soldiers crawling up the valley towards the area.

I ring other contacts across the country. I send out e-mails to the Foreign Press with phone numbers of people they can speak to on the ground in Ramallah for comment. I’ve done this many times before, for far too long.