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Anita Abdullah, Birzeit University, 3 December 2002
8.30-9am: Monday morning we heard Surda checkpoint was closed, and decided to go and check it out. As soon as we got beyond the Best Eastern Hotel we could see that the Ramallah end of the checkpoint had been moved up to the last building on the road. There were some 6-7 taxis, as well as a pharmaceutical distributor for the Birzeit area, and a few people standing behind a fresh mound of rocks and earth blocking the road ahead.
A bit further down was an APC with a mounted machine gun pointing westwards to the mountain across the valley. An old woman was just turned back and sat down on a rock in resignation. She is a resident of one of the few houses sited along the empty road stretch between the two ends of the extended roadblocks.
Meanwhile, a young woman kept negotiating persistently with the soldier on top of the APC for a while, but finally was made to go back too. She told us she was a nurse and showed us the contents of her only bag, all medicines, which she was supposed to take to the family of the old woman for their sick children. We noticed that the soldiers’ attention was now drawn to the far mountain beyond the valley, where four or five people were trying to walk around the totally blocked road from Surda to Ramallah.
All of a sudden, the soldier started sniping at them and within seconds we saw them strewn motionless on the ground between olive trees. Whenever one of them tried to move they were shot at again, with all of us watching in horror, and wondering how an injured person could be rescued from such an isolated spot on rough mountain terrain. I realized that we were witnessing an attempted murder ‘in flagranti’, one of the countless war crimes committed daily against Palestinian civilians for trying to carry on with their lives.
I was too stunned and scared to walk up to the soldier and talk him out of this madness, although I felt guilty for not doing so. So we just stood there petrified, until the soldier apparently got bored with this game because his targets had stopped moving altogether. Then suddenly, the APC turned around and started driving uphill at full speed in our direction, around the dirt hill and towards the cars standing there.
The drivers jumped into their cars and drove away like crazy, and in a moment the whole road was completely empty except for our office car, which they fortunately did not touch. We and the other bystanders just stood on the side of the road, as the APC came back after chasing the last taxi away, and disappeared down the road behind the curve.
In the mean time, the people on the mountain had managed to escape, and it seems nobody was seriously hurt this time. The nurse, too, had disappeared, and we spotted her and an old man diligently climbing down the steep slope towards the valley. Very soon, the taxi drivers returned to their positions. Two of them showed us their smashed windshields, which had been broken by gun butts earlier in the morning because they had not managed to escape fast enough.
How could anyone pretend that these people would ever accept to be forced into surrender?
Anita Abdullah works at the Institute of Community & Public Health, Birzeit University.