A Birthday Under Curfew

by AMELIA PELTZ

Living under a twenty-four hour a day, military-imposed curfew often puts me into a reflective, somewhat philosophical, if not self-indulgent frame of mind. Perhaps its the confinement. Perhaps its the continuous shooting, shelling, and horrendous roar of the tanks and jeeps driving around. Or maybe the depressing reality that an entire population–the Palestinians–has been condemned to a life of oppression and dispossession, sanctioned by a world that will not stand up to the might of Israel and the United States.

I suppose that today the source of my meditations stems from the fact that it is my birthday. A birthday spent under military curfew, listening to gunfire, and rationing food and water. A birthday in Palestine.

As the news of another suicide bomber filled the air waves, I felt a growing sense of rage at the reporters who claimed that this attack shattered a period of “relative calm”. While Israelis may have been going about their daily lives, enjoying the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have continued to suffer the most brutal and unjust form of occupation. Since the beginning of the new school year in late August, thousands of Palestinian students have been forced to spend more days at home under curfew than studying in their classrooms. In Nablus, one of the most besieged cities in the West Bank that has been under curfew for over 80 days, students have not been allowed to attend school for even a day. Not one day.

The economic, social, and political stranglehold over Ramallah continues to deepen every day. With the majority of economic activity suspended due to the extended curfews, poverty continues to rise unabated. Curfews mean that no one can go to work, to school, to the doctor, to visit family or friends–unless, of course, they take the chance and break curfew–something that many people, myself included, frequently attempt. What other choice do we have? The choice is between remaining caged in our homes like dangerous animals or trying to carry on with life as best we can. We chose life.

But to chose life in Palestine comes with risks, often life-threatening ones. On Tuesday, I was in Jerusalem and going back home to Ramallah when I got a phone call informing me that shooting had broken out in the centre of town–Al Manara–and also near my house in Al Bireh. After crossing the hateful Qualadiya checkpoint I got into a taxi for the ride up to Ramallah, which by now was under military curfew. Instead of taking an alternative route, the driver decided to head up the main road, passing Al Amaari refugee camp. As we neared the camp an Israeli tank appeared on the horizon. Quickly the driver turned down another road that would take us part way around the camp. As we emerged back onto the main road we found ourselves caught between three tanks. The driver quickly stepped on the accelerator in an attempt to get out of the area. Just as we drove behind one of the tanks, the vans engine died. And at that moment, one of the tanks started to reverse right into us. All the while, soldiers where shooting live ammunition at young children who where throwing stones. For a moment, it seemed like the scene out of one of those old black and white movies–the kind where the car gets stuck on the railroad tracks just as the train is rapidly approaching. But this was no movie–it was very real. By some miracle, the driver got the van’s engine started again just as the tank was inches from hitting us. We quickly sped off, looking back at the mayhem that the soldiers with their American-made tanks and machine guns were causing in the refugee camp.

Relating this story to a friend later in the evening, the response was “Well, I suppose that’s a typical day in Palestine. At least you are alive!” Indeed I am. Alive to celebrate my anniversary with life in Palestine.

Celebrating one’s anniversary with life against the backdrop of death would, I suppose, make anyone stop to contemplate such a paradox. But then life seems to be filled with such contradictions these days. While the regime of George Bush & Co. scream about the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein, a much more dangerous man is on the loose in the Middle East: Ariel Sharon. A man who authorized the murder of over 800 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. A man who has encouraged the massacre of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza since his ascent to power last year. A man who possess nuclear weapons and who would not think twice about using them. A man who has laid out plans for the violent expulsion of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Why isn’t the world on a crusade to stop this man before all traces of Palestine and the Palestinian people are erased? Or does the world only go after dictators who don’t support American economic interests?

Life takes on a whole new meaning in Palestine. What many people take for granted–the right to work, the right to an education, the right to food, clean water and medical care–often becomes a matter of daily survival here. What many people consider the basics of life have become the essence of life in Palestine.

And so it has become a day of being grateful for those basics of life. Of sharing in the struggles, the hopes and the fears with my Palestinian family and friends. Of celebrating what we still have and not all that we have lost. Of celebrating my anniversary with life in a country that continues to defy death.

AMELIA PELTZ can be reached at: atpeltz@attglobal.net.

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