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Tania Nasir, Birzeit University, 6 July 2002
Today I was a witness to a harrowing experience on the Birzeit-Ramallah road – an experience that buttressed my conviction of the immorality of the Israeli occupation and the inhumanity of its army.
After frustratingly waiting for days on end, I set off from my home in Birzeit heading towards Ramallah seven kilometers away. I planned to visit my ninety year old mother and my sister, something I did almost daily before the recent Israeli army incursions in the area. The ensuing state of blanket curfews on Ramallah have made it impossible for me to go and see them for the past few weeks. Today the curfew was to be lifted from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and this was an opportunity for me to visit them as usual.
But it was not as simple as that! We are under siege and before heading for Ramallah I made sure to ask about the situation on the road. I was assured that it was safe. The soldiers manning the military check post, usually prohibiting or supervising passage, were gone. It was a signal that one could go without the hazards and intimidations, although cement blocks remained in place and as usual, preventing cars from passing. The only way to get to Ramallah was to walk part of the way through the check post area – a distance of about one kilometer.
I joined the walking crowd. There was close to what one might call a normal cross traffic flow on that hot summer morning from Birzeit to Ramallah and the other way round. Birzeit is almost a suburb of Ramallah, the big city, where most services are available and where one can resume contact with the energy of activities and encounters. So it was with excitement yet cautious anxiety that most of us took to the road. We were happy at the chance of living once again, an ordinary day, taking a familiar route. After living the stagnation and prison-like conditions of the past few weeks, there was a sigh of relief on everyone’s lips and a reluctant hope in the heart.
Hurriedly we moved along, aware of precious time. The hours will pass quickly and the curfew will be back in no time. Apprehensively and with a light gait we set off to visit relatives and friends, keep appointments, shop at favorite stores or simply enjoy a casual walk downtown. Likewise, there was the crowd from Ramallah, mostly students, faculty and staff of Birzeit University, heading for their campus in the town of Birzeit. Foremost on their minds was the need for the resumption of the much interrupted academic life, finishing the semester for some and graduation and celebration for others. Watching the young people, I felt the vibrant energy of youth, the determination to go on regardless of hardships, and of a life edging on despair. Their resilience is contagious. We have a future to live for, I remind myself. I reached Ramallah almost forgetting the perils of our days.
I visited my mother and enjoyed the reunion with her and my sister. My mother smiled doubtfully when I promised her a daily visit like before. She knows how difficult it is to keep such promises under the prevalent conditions.
Sadly the time passed quickly and it was getting close to 1 p.m. The hours of freedom have almost come to an end. I had to hasten and leave before the curfew is re-imposed at 2 p.m. Once more I found myself part of the milling crowd, returning with heavy hearts. The excitement of the morning hours was almost gone, the optimism reduced as we got closer to the check post area – a tangible reminder that we are under occupation and that our lives are monitored by the dictates of curfews and siege. We moved along burdened but at least relieved that the passage seemed smooth.
How terribly mistaken we were! Suddenly from around the bend an army jeep appeared, speeding crazily through the peaceful crowd. Instantly the quiet road became almost like a battlefield. There were intangible ferocious sounds coming from the chasing jeep – words and orders that no one seemed able to understand. All I knew was that we were being chased and dispersed and that there was panic and fear on the faces of all around me. Hundreds like me running and scared and wondering what was happening; men carrying goods, women with shopping bags, their children confused, traumatized, clutching at their mothers skirts, others holding babies or trying to push prams, students with books, old people pleading for someone to guide them along. All were desperately trying to avoid confrontation with this solitary army jeep, zigzagging its way in all directions, seeking innocent victims like a demented ogre on the loose. We ran. Some took to the nearby rocky terraced hills, others took refuge in the vineyards and fruit orchards below and some like me opted to remain on the main road. All the time, gas bombs hurled from the jeep were chasing us like vultures hunting their prey. The tender loving landscape was transformed to the ugliness of fear and rage.
Heart beating, muscles aching, I ran for dear life. Why this all of a sudden? We had left our homes this morning without the presence of a manned check post, and now we are faced with the threatening presence of soldiers. Was this perhaps a trick for the army to remove check posts and then whimsically reinstall them and thus trap us like now creating this horrific pandemonium? May be far-fetched, but reminiscent thoughts of the horrors of the Kufr Qassem massacre, years ago, came to my mind. I could not help but painfully remember the bloody events of that day when farmers of this northern Palestinian village were returning home after a long day in the fields, not knowing that a curfew was imposed on their village by the Israeli army. Without any warning they were shot in cold blood as they approached their homes in the evening. Could something like this happen again? Scared more than ever before, I keep on running.
The road is uphill. I struggled amongst the scrambling crowd, the unbearable heat suffocating me. The contemptible military jeep, that kaki green object of terror and intimidation, screeched to a halt next to me. I see a soldier jumping down, nervously, threateningly waving a grenade in his hand. I wanted to scream at him, but fear got the better of me and I continued running. A young woman pulled me ahead, warning me that the soldier is about to throw the grenade. I ducked as I heard the explosion behind me and I choked on the poisonous gas.
I am coughing and running, coughing and running I desperately needed water, my throat was on fire and dry as sun-scorched earth but I kept on running, fleeing, until after what seemed like an eternity, I stumbled into the safety of a passing car that took me home. Behind me the madness continued.
I am over whelmed by this experience and I desperately seek an explanation. More than the physical pain and terror that I have experienced, I am angry and humiliated by the arrogance, the immorality, the inhumanity of the insolent power of Israel. This traumatic incident that I was a part of, happens almost everyday, everywhere in Palestine. The injustice is unbearable. I try to recapture what really happened today. There was no provocation. There was no threat. There was no danger to the security of Israel. To me, the only explanation to what happened was that we, simple and ordinary civilians, dared to go on with our lives as ordinary human beings do everywhere else in the world. Yes, despite thirty five years of occupation and despite attempts by Israel to crush us as a people and as a society, our only crime was that we dared to be ordinary citizens, living ordinary lives in our ordinary land.
Sadly, knowingly, I remember the poignant words of our renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “…we do not seek to be victims nor do we seek to be heroes. All that we want is to be ORDINARY.”