Under the Occupation 

Ramallah, One Day and One Night under the Occupation / Yehudith Harel

Just one short glimpse into another reality, a reality of the Israeli Occupation of Ramallah, the most central city of Palestine. October 2002. Why should an Israeli just " visit " Ramallah these days? For sure it is not the most pleasant place in the world to " visit " and there is a big question mark over the legitimacy of such a visit by an Israeli these days. Despite of various possible reservations, I think it was an important visit for me. One has to see and feel what the Occupation really looks and feels and smells like. It is one thing to hear about the Occupation and another thing to be there, to see and hear and feel and sense and smell and touch it, even if for a short time.

It was a difficult visit - just to see all the devastation - to realize to what extent have we reduced the lives of the Palestinian People into shambles, for every practical purpose. It was difficult for me to look into the eyes of people I know and I respect, people I know that they have no real life any more. And why shouldn't they? What gives us the right to impose on them such an impossible and humiliating reality and deny them that rightful and legitimate space of normalcy that they deserve as human beings? The most difficult thing people report about is the fact that they are denied from controlling their lives and their schedules. They cannot plan anything because they don't know what the next day will look like " curfew wise " , what arbitrary regulations will be imposed on them, viciously penetrating into the very privacy of their every day routine, violating their liberties. So they have no fix schedules and they are all the time preoccupied with finding out what the schedule will be the next day and how to get organized with their kids and their other duties. People can't concentrate, they can't create and they simply can't live a normal life. We are robbing them their freedom in every possible sense. There is no life under Occupation. All the precious vital energies are sucked up, consumed and eaten up by the Monster called the Israeli Military Occupation and its various daily practices. And this reality is not pre-ordained – it is man made - it is our doing.

The once beautiful streets look awful - all the sidewalks and street lamps are destroyed. Many nice plants and trees, some old and some newly planted in the centre of the city and along the streets and between the driveways are all smashed and uprooted. The municipality does not function and there is garbage all over. That beautiful and once graceful city looks like a dirty and neglected village in a third world country. And this reality is not pre-ordained – it is man made - it is our doing.

There is still curfew from 6 pm in the evening till 6 am in the morning and people don't dare to stick their noses out after 6 pm. On Fridays - people's day off - there is curfew during the day too - around the clock. The once lively city, bustling with commercial activities and a vivid night life, cafes and restaurants and a wide variety of rich cultural activities is completely dead. Some people do dare to disobey the orders and go to friends houses in the evenings but is only a small minority. When the army catches people driving during curfew they take their car keys and fine them with 3000 NIS. People of course have spare keys and never go to pay the fine but still - most people are afraid. I did go to see some people at night and it was a nice surprise. My host took me to the house of Jewish couple from England who came to Ramallah as an act of solidarity. They have been there since the first incursion. She is a Psychologist writing a book about the effect of the Intifada on Palestinian children. He is an architect working on documenting the destruction and devastation perpetrated by the " most humane and enlightened army in the Middle East " .

Friday morning - Curfew as usual. I heard with my own ears how they went around in a Jeep calling some threatening orders in their loudspeakers. I couldn't hear exactly what they said but I was told that sometimes they say the following: " Ya Sha'abul Jabarin - stay at home or you will be shot like dogs " . ( Sha'bul Jabarin ' means " people of the heroes " - words used by Arafat when he makes a speech to the people). I went to see the Muqat'aa. It's one thing to see the destruction and the bulldozing of the buildings on TV and another thing to see it with your own eyes. The formerly majestic complex - all fenced with a big paved courtyard and many buildings inside - all destroyed and rendered into rubbles. A huge and monstrous " field " of smashed concrete and rubble...And this reality is not pre-ordained – it is man made – it is our doing.

Sticking out from the rubble one could see some smashed barrels still carrying slogans from some better days in Hebrew and Arabic: " We have partners to talk with " and " There is what to talk about " . One couldn't stop wandering where are the Israeli Partners, where have they been when all this devastation took place? Had I been a Palestinian I could not have stopped myself from thinking what is there to talk about with people who allow their leaders to commit such acts of sheer barbarism, stemming from blind hatred and madness. And this reality is not pre-ordained – it is man made – it is our doing.

Then I went to see the former new main street - a new boulevard connecting the centre of the city to the road to Bir Zeit - Share'a Irsa'l. It used to be a very nice boulevard - with new and modern buildings on both sides - residential condos, Banks, high-tech companies etc. It used to be such a busy street - now everything looked deserted and the street itself ruined. The new asphalt was dug up in many places just in the middle of the road, the sidewalks broken, the trees and flowers planted in the middle all uprooted and ruined. Here and there one could still have a glimpse of a heap of deliberately smashed private cars being used as building blocks for an occasional road block. People told me that they started to be very particular about where they parked their cars so as not to allow for them to become easy prey for an " occasionally needed " road block... And this reality is not pre-ordained – it is man made – it is our doing.

I also went to see the different roads leading in and out of the city - all of them were blocked. One cannot get in and out of Ramallah except for through Qalandia or Surda checkpoints with all the harassments included...The city has practically become one big prison -one big concentration camp. And this reality is not pre-ordained - it is man made - it is our doing.

I met people who are really afraid from a possible Transfer. I met a woman, who experienced the transfer out of Beirut in 82' and she is absolutely terrified from another possible transfer. She told me that she has already packed her most precious belongings and papers so that she does not forget anything in case " they come and tell me to go " I saw the fear in her eyes. This home of hers in Ramallah is her first decent home that she has ever had in her life since Beirut, a place that she can once again regard as Home, where she has hanged curtains over the windows...

I found out that the wives of PLO people who came back within the so called " Oslo Returnees pact " were not granted a permanent residence permit. I know personally two such people whose wives are " foreigners " . These men came back within the above mentioned agreements and got permanent resident permits and passports but not their wives. These women have to go out of the territories every 3 months and come back in order to renew their " tourist " visas. Otherwise, if they don't - they become illegal and can be transferred out any time. Now they are afraid that any time they go out and want to come back they will be denied the entry visa. An what then??? Some of these women are considered privileged because they have Western passports and connections but there are many ordinary Palestinian Women, formerly refugees in Jordan or other places, married to Palestinian men, with the same " stateless " status. These women have to go out to Jordan and come back etc, but now the Jordanians are making difficulties, it's also difficult to get to Alenby because of the curfew and the siege and the closures. It is also very expensive - you have to pay 200$ for being taken by a so called " VIP " taxi hacker who will carry your luggage in case you have to walk, and take you to the bridge on roundabout dirt roads and occasionally walk with you across the mountains, as all the roads are blocked... So many of these women gave up - they simply can't take the stress and the hazards of such journeys, nor can they afford the luxury of getting to the bridge and crossing to Jordan. So they stay at home, become " illegal " in their own homes and therefore are afraid to go out because they fear to be picked up by the army in a checkpoint, found to be illegal and consequently risk immediate deportation. So they sit at home, fearing the moment when they might be visited at night by the Israeli army - being picked up and thrown out of their homes to Jordan - never to be allowed to come back. And this reality is not pre-ordained - it is man made - it is our doing.

Can one believe all this??? It is true, so how can we live with this reality?? And this is just one tiny human aspect of the Occupation. And one should see Qalandia checkpoint - how dirty and neglected it is... It looks so awful. You are coming from Jerusalem - all nice and green and clean and orderly and all of a sudden you are in a different world - a world of neglect, of dirt, of sewage running free on the " road " where people have to queue up and walk between barbed wire fences, in the midst of all the dirt that seems to be building up in a very quick pace. As if we are telling those people - " you are dirt - you are garbage - therefore thou shall live in the dirt - that's what you deserve " . And then one " crosses " back to the " other world " - in a couple of moments one is in a totally different world, back in the so called Civilization, in the world of the Lords...

I came home absolutely devastated - exhausted - emotionally drain and decimated by the pressure of what I have taken in. I was so ashamed - I cannot express the shame and the guilt. I came home and went to sleep from 14:30 till 19:30, woke up made some dinner and went back to sleep till the next morning as if I was moonstricken...