Nablus Under Lockdown

Not content with the injuries they inflicted yesterday, the Israelis have today become even more violent, and the following incidents occurred just in our small area. They beat, kicked and spat on two accredited photographers for Reuters and AP, knocked over a 65-year-old UK grandmother (me) with a blow in the back from a rifle butt, and beat up one of the young Ambulance Drivers when he was stopped in the mud of Beit Fouriq to change a wheel. Soldiers also injured a baby (who needed hospital treatment) with a blow from a rifle butt, refused for ages to return my passport, kept ten or more ambulances at a time waiting at a newly set-up tank-point (road-block), and generally made a nuisance of themselves. These huge tanks swivel their large caliber shell-firing gun straight at you while you wait in the ambulance, and today, for the first time, I was able to see all the way down the barrel–even considering what is normal here, that was pretty amazing–the mouth of this unbelievable weapon not three feet from my eyes. I also took a VERY close look at the rest of the death-delivering monster, paid for by the Tax dollars of US citizens, and ran my hand along the side from end to end. Inside this metal container soldiers live all day–no wonder they are quite crazy.

We are under total lock-down which will last for the next two weeks, mainly because a few kids threw stones at their precious tanks, taking chips out of the paint. Ramallah is suffering the same fate. Lockdown, or curfew as the occupying forces term it, is a concept beyond imagining unless you are in it. No one can go to a doctor. No doctor can visit a cancer patient dying in agony. The obstetrician is powerless to assist in a difficult birth. No medicines can be obtained from the pharmacy. No one may visit a parent in the next street, or pop to the shop for a missed food item. Any child who goes outside for a few minutes to get away from the confinement of a couple of rooms is liable to be shot dead–and there may well be no toys, books or other playthings inside. I have been in only one home where there was anything to play with, and that was a well-to-do home in Ramallah.

For the past two weeks it is as if no one lives here. Tanks or armored personnel carriers (APCs) are at every strategic point–all paid for by US tax dollars. In the APC’s at the newly-sprouted checkpoints are 6–8 young soldiers who hide under a back-breaking, low roof all day, so that they will be ready to kill the imaginary terrorists in every ambulance. Israel’s collective paranoia seems to be intensifying. But how is it that they do not have a single psychologist in their government who understands the simple truth that the more you humiliate and murder, the stronger is the resolve of the people.

At times like these the number of Chevy ambulances in the City is amazing–where do they roost in normal times? No one here can really remember normal life. I was privileged to travel all day with our Ambulance, and I really can see that it helps to offset the vicious brutality that is everywhere now. A young woman, Samar, told me that as she drove home with her children of 2 (Amir) and 3 (Dana), checkpoint soldiers shot at the car, hitting them both–the littlest one in the head, and the other in the cheek–think of it if you can. First they refused to let her go on to the hospital and then, when she finally made it and was returning through the same checkpoint, they took away the children’s pain-killers and antibiotic medicines. At one tank-point today, I took our identification documents to the soldiers and they did not even look at them–we were let through unhindered. It makes me angry that I have so much presence here in a land not my own, and the Palestinians none.

I was not on the one trip in which Feras, the young ambulance driver, was attacked. When he came back from the neighbouring village of Beit Fouriq completely covered in mud–face, hair, upper body, jeans–his anger and stress were at what must be maximum level. He had a quick wash under the cold tap in the yard and then we were off to–well, you will think I got this wrong, but it is so–to a large apartment block, the top three floors of which the Israelis have commandeered as a headquarters while the remaining families live in the lower floors. Parked outside their home were four huge tanks and assorted smaller vehicles. A troop carrier arrived while we were there waiting for our doctor to come out of an apartment. It watched as Feras gave an impeccable display of a precision 3-point turn on a steep hillside in 10 inches of slippery mud–completely calmly, as though he were on a flat paved road. The troop carrier then disgorged 20 soldiers; one came up to us and wanted to talk. He and Feras ended up having a long conversation. I found the picture of these two beautiful young men talking together, face to face, similar age, height, colouring, features and eyes, very moving. One, ready to kill, armed with the latest in designer guns; completely deluded that the Palestinians “will kill all of us if we don’t do this”, and failing to understand even the tiniest facet of the reality. The other, with a perfect overall grasp of the historical and political realities of the situation, unarmed and risking his life every day of the year, to preserve life or to bring it into the world.

At the hospital were crowds of frightened people begging to be taken home, but the situation here is so tense that Feras does not dare to do so–we feel that anything could start the shooting. After last night–the first time I felt the gut-wrenching fear of standing alone in the rubble-blocked streets of a city under curfew–the agony of leaving them behind is terrible. Later we took a mother, grandmother and new baby girl from the hospital to the ‘New Askar’ Refugee Camp. What a monstrous construct–a new Askar, where a NEW lot of refugees are forced to exist. The three generations of this family were born in the Askar camps. It was a very emotional hour in the ambulance, giving this beautiful little creature her bottle and watching her fall asleep on my lap–it is very difficult to keep oneself on the stretcher in the rear, not to speak of holding a baby too! A couple of tears forced their way past my closed lids, which Feras saw. He urged, “no crying Anne, or I not bring you again”. Later, I told him that they were only two very small tears, because the baby moved me so much; he, of course, said he understood and that I can always come! The rejoicing when we arrived at what passes for a home in Askar was a lesson in survival in Palestine. The whole street turned out!

Our Doctor told me how the lockdowns (curfews) are intended to destroy family relationships. Whole families are penned indoors for weeks at a stretch, imprisoned with the windows closed and the curtains drawn–they do not dare to open them. They will be shot if they can be seen inside–inside their own homes, in their own land, having done nothing to deserve such punishment. Often the Israelis will shut off the water and/or the electricity so that they cannot flush the lavatory or listen to the radio or TV. Although this puts enormous strain on the families, somehow they gather all their strength and survive even this. Because here in Palestine the family structure is very strong and is sustained by mutual love, caring, and affection. Thanks to this, violence does not break out, and they do not abuse each other. It is a testament to their immense courage and closeness that they emerge from this intolerable confinement triumphant. But for how long, as the curfews go on and on? The spirit dies a little each time: can their natural love and respect withstand these endless onslaughts, not only unprecedented but never heard of in human history?

Now it is 7.30 in the evening in Nablus, and I am waiting for the Ambulance to come back so that I can go out with it again. The young volunteers had to be taken home safely first! We have been to the shop opposite, whose door is closed except to those who know, and bought eggs, corned beef, Jordan almonds, falafels, milk and rice. Muntaser is making a delicious meal. He is still here, unable to take up his first job as an Ambulance Driver in Jenin, because of the lockdown. We will miss his cooking, and him, when he leaves. The eggs here are especially good–all the food produced here would be considered premium organic in the US or the UK! The quality is superb.

Tonight there are crowds of youngsters on the streets, armed with stones and staying close to the doorways. I wonder what power these kids have which enrages the Israelis so–can it only be their courage? I hope against hope that none of them will be shot. Today Feras and I had many conversations with soldiers; I had many yesterday too. More and more, I am puzzled and fascinated at the unprecedented level of indoctrination that has produced these young people–without a clue about the world around them. Don’t they feel stupid repeating the same mantras endlessly and getting nowhere? (“We must defend our land”; “they are terrorists!”) It is very hard to see how this has happened, given Israel’s access to international media, the internet, and ready contact with other cultures. I am going to take every opportunity to speak with these men–hoping to see the tiny chinks in their hard-coating.

Anne Gwynne, Independent International, is currently working with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus. She can be reached at: