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Islah Jad, Birzeit University, 4 July 2002
Yesterday July the 3rd, we had to make it to Jerusalem. It was an absolute must, as Yasmine, my youngest daughter, had an appointment for an interview to obtain her visa for continuing her studies in th United States. We heard that the curfew in Ramallah was lifted till 2:00 am, so by 9.30 Yasmine, Sireen, my eldest daughter, and myself left the house, heading for Jerusalem.
We arrived al Manarah, the center of town, looking for a car to take us to Jerusalem. I had to ask people where to take a car since I have not been to Jerusalem, for more than two years at least. “You have to wait untill I fill up my van”, said the driver. “But who wants to go to Jerusalem today? We are in a hurry and we have to be back before the army re-imposes the curfew at 2”, I said. The only solution was that we had to pay for 9 seats instead of 3 otherwise we have to wait. “I will take you to al Ram checkpoint through Rafat road since you have no Jerusalem I.D, cards”, said the driver. The ‘road’ was not a road, he drove us along most rocky fields and I could not recognize where we were. It was such a deserted area, that I felt a bit worried. I decided to leave my worries behind and enjoy the sunflower fields around. We were then ‘dumped’ in a very deserted area, ” You go this way, cross that ditch, there you will find some cars to take you to al Ram”, said the driver. “But you said that you will take us to al Ram and where we are now?”, I asked. No point in arguing, we walked for about half a kilometer, crossed a very wide and deep ditch framed by barbed wires. The strong will to live pushed someone to cut a hole in the fence and put some sort of a ‘bridge’ for people to cross. The passage was so slippery, a young child was crying for his mother to hold him. She refused, she was so loaded by so many things, we decided to help but the child refused us so we decided to carry his mother’s load to enable her to carry him.
We took another car to al Ram. Many passing cars and vans were flashing their lights to our driver, he stopped, “There is army and police in the way, be careful”, said the driver in the other car. “If anyone of you is afraid to go on, he can get down here”, said our new driver. No one moved. We arrived to al Ram and saw many police cars and many army jeeps. “What is next?” I asked. I looked like a peasant who entered the city for the first time. We had to take a narrow alley before the checkpoint to bypass it. We walked for about one kilometer, than we had to cross a long fence. By the time we arrived to the main road to find a car waiting for us, we were all exhausted and sweaty. The driver saw us when we were at the top of this hill. Finally we were on the ‘normal’ way to Jerusalem. It took us one hour and a half to reach our place of destination which usually takes less than 17 minutes. We had to pay 45 shekels (9$) instead of 19 (less than 4$), triple the ‘normal’ fare.
When we reached the American consulate a Palestinian guard asked us to wait. “We had an appointment”, I said. I looked at ourselves again, we looked miserable, our feet covered with dust, Yassmine’s eye lashes were almost white, my hair was like metal wires, my feet looked very dirty and our shoes looked those of thehomeless. Before us an old Palestinian woman with her traditional dress was arguing with the guard to let her enter with her son, who to my surprise looked like he was in his mid thirties. We were allowed to enter the building to find an Israeli guard asking us to open our bags. He started to take out everything in our bags. He kept in a drawer my mobile phone and a computer disk from Yassmine’s bag. I felt myself back in Tel Aviv airport where we have a ‘special’ treatment. This is an American territory established on aPalestinian land, why does an Israeli have to search us, have they no Americans left in America? Or at least they could have hired a Palestinian to be with him. It was so insensitive, but I decided to let go, we have to get the visa, but tears started to run in my eyes. Then another machine checked us, again operated by another Israeli guard.
In the waiting room, I noticed many women with their ‘big’ sons. I asked my neighbor who was looking at me in a friendly way where does she comes. “From Deir Dibwan, it was so difficult for us to come”, she said. “I am here with my son, who has to renew his American passport”. I could wait no longer: “But why does he not come by himself, he is a big man”, I said. I asked her because I started to project my feminist ideas that all men depend upon, and exploit, their women, but this time I was mistaken. “It is dangerous to cross the checkpoints or walk in the mountain ‘roads’ when you are a man by yourself, so I insisted to come with him”, said the woman. “But he is an American”, I said. “If he gets killed they might apologize but if he is with a Palestinian passport, they wouldn’t, this is the only difference”, said the woman.
Yasmine’s name was called, the interview started, she was asked a few questions and that was it. I felt frustrated; we did not put all this time and effort for less than five minutes, but at least our ‘mission impossible’ was carried out.
It was noon and we had still two hours to go back home. Yasmine wanted to go to al Aqsa Mosque, “No we cannot, that might take one hour from here and we cannot make it to be back in another hour, we have to reach our house before the curfew otherwise we will have to stay in Jerusalem till the next lifting of the curfew”, I had to tell her.
It was difficult to leave Jerusalem without going to my usual bakery and buy the traditional ‘ka’ak’, a special kind of bread covered with sesame. Jerusalem looked different; less people in the streets, lots of poor looking men in cafes, lots of police and lots of military. Another stubborn little boy did not not want to walk with his grandfather, “O.k, I will leave you here and the soldiers will take you away”, said the man. The boy started to cry.
No drivers were calling for passengers to Ramallah, as in former years.
I kept asking where are the Ramallah cars? “There are no cars here for Ramallah, only to al Ram checkpoint or Kalandia checkpoint”, said a man. Are these checkpoints replacing the cities? I felt so alienated and again tears started to run down my face.
The cars for Kalandia checkpoint were close to the office of the Ministry of Interior. A big crowd of Palestinians were sitting on the sidewalk; some were standing in the burning sun close to the entrance. In front of the entrance something like a cage similar to the prisoner’s cells in Guantanamo in which an Israeli guard was sitting to allow the crowd to enter one by one. Palestinians must come to this miserable place to add their children or their spouse to their ID cards. They also come to this place to get their “Laissez Passer” if they want to leave the country. “When is God going to end this humiliation? I am here since 8 in the morning and it is already 12.30”, said an old woman.
In the car, I watched the Jerusalem road from my window, more hotels in the way, more walls, and this ugly suspended bridge leading to Jewish settlements. I never saw a suspended bridge with high closed walls like this; they became obsessed with their security to the point that they cannot enjoy any view, what a pity.
On the way back a very long line of cars was waiting at al Ram checkpoint, gloomy frustrated faces inside the cars. I turned my face and decided to talk to my daughter. Yasmine was thinking of her interview: “Did I talk well in the interview, did I pronounce well, I tried to remember all my English speech therapy. I almost told her, don’t keep worrying about your pronunciation, you better worry instead about getting out of the country, but decided not to talk, I was too tired to argue about anything.
We arrived to Kalandia refugee camp, finally something cheerful, The school’s wall and surroundings were like a garden, new red soil, lots of flowers instead of the ‘usual’ garbage and some people were working in the place and watering the flowers. By one o’clock we finally arrived to Kalandia checkpoint. I didn’t know if I had to cross the checkpoint or go through what we call it now ‘Tora Bora’ road, meaning the dirt road. “No, you can go fairly directly but of course not through the soldiers”, someone said. We walked through a passage full of garbage and rocks and then I heard the drivers calling, “Ramallah, Ramallah”. Finally I heard the name of the city but only after the checkpoint, not before.
We arrived to al Manarah to see the now daily demonstration after every lifting of the curfew; I see the usual faces. An Israeli journalist was in the crowd. “What do you think of the changes in the Palestinian security forces?” the journalist asked me. “Your security is different than ours. If the changes mean more law abiding and more care for the people, that is good. But, if it means more security for you only, thus will lead to more oppression and more restrictions for us.”
Islah Jad is a lecturer in Cultural Studies at Birzeit University, a member of the University’s Institute of Women’s Studies, and a prominent activist in the Palestinian women’s movement. She is currently writing her Ph.D. dissertation for the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.