‘We heard many explosions’

On Thursday March 30th, 2002, we left our house, located close to the governorate of Ramallah at around 5 pm. We were expecting a concentrated attack on President Arafat’s compound. The compound is barely a 100 meters away from our house.

We thought we had to leave our house to protect our children, especially our eight year old child who terribly fears the awful noises of war, as she had previously been sensitized to them. And so we went to the center of town to my mother’s, thinking it would be safer.

At about 4.30 the next morning, Friday, we began to hear loud explosions coming from the area of the President’s compound. By seven in the morning, we tried to call our neighbors, but the lines were already cut. During the first 48 hours of this onslaught, we could not reach anyone in our area at all.

On that Friday at around 2 p.m., Israeli tanks and armored vehicles entered the middle of town, and the first battle in the downtown area began to rage right by Rukab’s ice cream Parlor, that landmark of Ramallah’s downtown. It so happened that my mother‚s house is located in the same building, on the third floor.

Suddenly, we found ourselves right in the middle of the battle that we were trying to avoid by leaving our house. And so we hid in one of the rooms that we thought was relatively safe. We heard many explosions, and Dalia, our eight year old began to cry and cry and cry. We held her and tried as you can imagine, to comfort her. This lasted about half an hour. Once it quieted down, I took a look out and discovered that shells had entered in shops and buildings right around us.

When it quieted down, we thought that the battle was over. And so I began to assure Dalia, and tell her that she would not go through this again. By night-time, she discovered that our sitting area, located right in the middle of all the rooms was the safest place, so she decided to sleep there, and insisted that I sleep with her on the floor, on a mattress.

At about 2 am Saturday morning, once again, we began to hear shelling and shooting even heavier than before. I estimated that all this came from down below our house, but had no idea where it was directed. Dalia of course woke up and sat on my lap in great fear. After a long half hour of shelling, suddenly the neon light fell, the house shook; it was as if we were in the midst of an earthquake, glass broke, we had no idea where, it sounded like everywhere, and Dalia was stunned with fear. Everyone else crawled, including Reem, my one year old, into our hiding area.

This battle went on and on and on till 6 am in the morning. Those were the longest 4 hours in Dalia’s and certainly my life.

By 6 am, we began to hear loudspeakers calling on the Palestinian fighters to surrender. And then it quieted down till 11 am, we just heard the bad noises of tanks roaming around. Then our phone rang. These were the neighbors, the only ones who remained in our building. They told us that they had been held for two days in their house, but all locked in one room, without access to phones or people or anything, even the electricity was cut off. They also told us that they were able to call us now because the army has left the house and released them.

They also told us that our house was used during these two days as a dormitory by the Israeli army, specifically, one of the Golani Brigades. Those that stayed in our house were an unbelievable 70 soldiers in a space of about 200 meters. When the army left, our house was left in total disarray, they had used everything as if they never saw homes before. We were told that they even used the ordinary floors, carpeted, in lieu of toilets.

My wife Nadia freaked out and began to cry. I did not what to do nor what to think. But by then, battles started raging all over again where we were, and we had to pay attention to our safety and forget the disaster at our house for a while. And then, Dalia began to throw up, and would no longer eat, and I began to seriously worry about her health. I called friends and sought assistance via ambulance for my child.

It is a long story, but finally the ambulance came, and we were taken to a safer place, my sister’s house. Once we got to what we thought was safety, Dalia began to cry, and everyone else as well, old and young. Personally, I cried when I stepped out and saw the destruction in the street. In the course of this dangerous trip, we were able to carry with us bread for all those on that other side who had none. Once people saw the ambulance a large number from different homes all came out calling on us to give them bread, some had not eaten for days.

Four days later, we were able to get back to our house, when the curfew was lifted so that people could obtain basic provisions. First, we were shocked by our stairs, so dirty, leftover food, leftover urine, leftover everything. As we entered, the entire door was broken and out of place completely. We went in, there was unbelievable dirt around, all over, everything thrown to the floor.

In the bedroom, all was on the floor, and then we began to discover what they had stolen: all my wife’s gold, my children’s jewelery, even the little gold bracelets and ear-rings of our one year old Reem that people usually give here at the birth of a girl; They also stole my sunglasses, my cell phone charger, there was no money in the house that I left, but they had stolen our Dalia’s pocket money, around 50 shekels that were in her piggyback. They tore the curtains. The kitchen utensils were on the floor, our provision, like rice and lentils were on the floor, and the bathroom, I will not speak about the bathroom.

Even Dalia’s storybooks and toys were torn and on the floor. And they also tore out Dalia’s drawing of
tanks as well as her notebook of stories. They even stepped on and soiled Reem’s bed covers for a reason I just cannot understand. All the other neighbor’s homes were destroyed in the same way.

I just cannot understand. I can see that they wanted to use the house to sleep and rest, but I cannot fathom why they would destroy and steal this way. I feel bitter, very bitter.