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Inside Ramallah

I admit it. I’m guilty.

Guilty of what, you may ask? Well it might seem strange, but guilty of not writing. Of not doing more to adequately chronicle all that has been taking place in Palestine during the past few weeks. Not just in Ramallah, but throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Aside from being chronically exhausted from heat and stress, I have been struggling with a certain sense of depression. Whenever I sit down in front of my computer to write I feel so inadequate as though my words can never–and will never–make a difference. Who am I to think that I can do anything to change the horrible, if not criminal, situation that has encompassed the lives of the Palestinian people?

But there is another issue too. I am aware that my “reports” often come across as sounding angry and accusatory and I fear that some people may have taken my past diatribes personally. Please understand that my anger is not directed at any of you, despite the fact that my writing style might lead you to believe otherwise. I do not intend to alter or “water down” what I have to say, but realize that my anger (no matter how valid or invalid it may be) is a lament at the lack of compassion and humanity that I face on a daily basis.

So, full of reproach at my unwarranted sense of self-pity, I sat down this evening to try and put emotions into words.

I am writing this letter on a Saturday evening–a day of the week when many people are preparing for a fun evening out with friends and loved ones. As I write, my desk periodically shakes due to the sounds of gunfire and tank shelling. Israeli soldiers are driving through the deserted streets of Ramallah shouting “Mana ata jawaal, Mana ata jawaal” — you are under curfew. Periodically they catch someone trying to break curfew and either detain them or shoot in the air–like just a moment ago on the street in front of my house. You may not believe this, but I cannot remember what it must be like to have the freedom to do something as simple as taking a walk, let alone enjoy a Saturday night out with friends. I now consider myself lucky if curfew is lifted for a few hours so I can go to my office and meet with my colleagues, then dash to the market to get a few days worth of fruits and vegetables before curfew is slammed down on us once again.

And I am lucky. I have a job that pays me even on the days I am home under curfew (fortunately I am able to do a lot of my work from home). I have money to buy food and medicine. My house has not be invaded and destroyed. My partner has not been arrested, though the threat remains every day that the situation could change and he will end up in the notorious Naqab prison along with our dear friend, Majed. Once again, Majed was arrested and incarcerated along with over 1,700 other Palestinian men. He is suffering from a disease in his eyes that will undoubtedly leave him blind by the time he is released.

Recently there has been an international chorus of voices, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and USAID, proclaiming the grim reality that there is a humanitarian crisis facing the West Bank and Gaza. I will add my little voice to this international chorus — there is a humanitarian crisis facing the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza! I don’t know how much more strongly this can be emphasized, I really don’t. And my words certainly cannot do justice to these facts taken from a recent USAID report (I can send this report to anyone who is interested) and a report by the Middle East Research and Information Project (which I have attached at the end of this letter):

. 75% of the population is living below the poverty line, which means they are living on less than $2 per day . Unemployment rates have skyrocketed to an unprecedented 62% . Over 2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are living under curfew . Approximately 50% of all Palestinians are dependent on food assistance from the FAO or UNRWA in order to feed their families . Communicable diseases are spreading, due to lack of medical care and improper sewage disposal (garbage cannot be removed while under curfew) . During a recent survey of 300 households in Nablus, none were found to have an adequate supply of safe drinking water . 21% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

The numbers only tell half the story. The other half is told through the looks of desperation and despair that are evident in the eyes of people who are struggling to survive.

Two weeks ago I went to Jenin. Last week I was in Gaza. I left both cities ill, physically and emotionally. And I am ashamed that I cannot find the words to tell you about the widespread poverty and destruction. But what can be said that will do any justice to the lives of people who are struggling to survive under a brutal occupation and ceaseless war?

But survive they do. For so many, it is an awful existence — being dependant on food aid, relying on life savings to buy medicine, dodging bullets and ducking tank shells just to stay alive for–how long? a day? a week?

Many have said that the Palestinian resistance is being crushed. While it is not nearly as strong as it was a year ago, I can assure you that the resistance is alive and well. But it is taking on new and creative forms, too.

For example, I heard a story the other night that in a part of the city of Bitounyia (southwest of Ramallah) every night a certain time, the residents bang as loudly as they can on pots and pans so as to annoy the Israeli soldiers. Often in the evenings around my neighbourhood, children come out to fly their homemade kites. One night, I counted over 50 in the sky! And of course non-violent demonstrations and marches in the streets still continue, even if they are on a small scale. Despite their non-violent nature, these protestors (of which I am one) are always met with tear gas, concussion grenades and live ammunition.

These acts of resistance are our survival strategies.

I was recently interviewed by a British news agency that is working on a report describing life, such as it is, in the West Bank. The last question that the reporter asked me was how long this situation can last.

“Before what?”, I replied. “What else do you want! How much more suffering and death do we half to endure before we can compete for a spot on the evening news?”

But these, in my opinion, are not the right questions to ask. What we should be asking is how, despite the enormous might of inhumanity inflicted upon Palestine, do people continue to survive? And, more importantly, how can the world be a witness such suffering–not just in Palestine, but on a global scale–and not act upon it?

Sometimes, my only survival strategy is to cry. At the end of the day, after the demonstrations have ended, the curfew is imposed, bullets pierce the night sky, and dreams of peace with justice seeming like a childhood fantasy, tears are the only comfort. They are small drops of humanity, struggling to claim their place in the world.

Amelia Peltz is an activist currently living in Ramallah. If you would like to send her a short email of solidarity/support we know she would be grateful. Her email is atpeltz@attglobal.net

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