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West Bank, Palestine.
Ramallah turned its back on the Secretary of State when she arrived for her exclusive meeting with the President of Palestine. A meeting that totally excluded the government of this struggling people.
When we first dared the early morning heat we were surprised at the locked shop-doors and the empty streets and were a little angry. Why should these people lose a days work and income (small enough as it is) because this woman with no womanly feelings has decided to streak through the city in a bullet-proof windowless car?
But then on thinking a little deeper it became clear that the closed shops and the empty streets were the only means by which the people of Ramallah could say they did not want to acknowledge the presence of the Secretary, or allow her in any way to participate in the life of the city. It was their way of turning their backs on American policy in this region, too closely allied with Israel’s. The people of Ramallah have precious little except the vibrancy of their always lively streets, and in protest that vibrancy was put behind locked doors to preserve it from the woman of America who had come smiling to gloat over their poverty.
I am sure that Condoleezza Rice, (called Kundara by many people here, which is Arabic for shoes) has no need for the pulsing life of Ramallah but I was glad all the same that she would only see it at its most depressing.
When the new front of Israel’s war opened two weeks ago there was a strange mixture of relief and sadness in the West Bank, outweighed most noticeably by total sympathy for the people of Lebanon who were about to be bombed out of their homes and villages and cities. The relief was two fold for the people of Ramallah. Relief that the people of Gaza were not totally alone in their desperate need to fight a military regime so much stronger than them, and relief that the Israelis, occupying their land and interfering so much in their daily lives, were not totally untouchable.
There were just a few hours of thanksgiving.
Of course no one doubted there would be reprisals, but the action of Hezbollah in capturing two Israeli soldiers was an act directed specifically against a military target and it was against the military regime which has caused so much bloodshed in Gaza and so much of it here in the West Bank as well. For a few brief hours the people of Palestine were grateful.
The second reason for relief was far more specific and short-lived: the Atara checkpoint leading in and out of Ramallah has caused hours of delay everyday for all Palestinians who need to enter Ramallah, whether to work or study or stock-up on supplies that are sorely lacking in the villages. This checkpoint has been constantly manned for the past 6 months and was unmanned for ten hours on the day that Hezbollah attacked the military outpost on the northern border of Israel.
By the time I passed through it at 9 pm on my way to a village for the weekend, it was manned again; and by very angry soldiers. But it was impossible to ignore the relief in the village that evening when Atara was talked about; how services had passed straight through to Ramallah and how the younger men from the village did not have to get out and be searched and interrogated at will and maybe sent back home.
For ten brief hours the people in the Ramallah region of the West Bank could travel unstopped between their homes and the city in which they worked or studied.
But it is heartbreaking to realize at what cost these few hours of relief for the people of the West Bank came.
A cartoon has started circulating again in Palestine.
A poignant and tragic reminder of how much these two countries have suffered in like at the hands of a U.S backed Israel.
It shows Hamoodi, that strange little symbol of Palestinian resistance offering a flower to a maiden who is gazing down at Hamoodi through a gaping hole in a wall, caused by an exploding shell.
”Good Morning Beirut” little Hamoodi says to the maiden.
”Welcome to our struggle.we weep with you we, we suffer with you, we know how brutal your enemy can be.
We too are suffering.
Our sisters and brothers in Gaza are being buried every day.
Buried beneath the rubble of collapsing buildings, and beneath the sands blown by the desert winds in anger against the failure of the World leaders to act.
We have been waiting here for a long time.
We greet you and offer you a flower. The ruins left by the inhuman military machine has devastated your people as it has ours. And now all we in Palestine have to offer you is a flower.
We have nothing else.
I have not faced the world for a long time, because the world does not want to know what I have to say. Nor could it bare to see the scars on my face. But you, sweet maiden, can see my face because you are suffering like us”
The soldiers of Israel are suffering too.
I can scarcely bear to see them loading their weapons into their tanks and jeeps and airplanes, and having to live out in reality, the action-movie unreality of war.
These poor men who we see, rushing to evacuate wounded friends and press — reporting their successes against the ”terrorists” they have been conditioned to hate, are inadvertently being forced to serve a cause that is bent on destroying the very basis of justice and equality and humanity.
”We blow up their tunnels if we can, but we know that we will have to enter as well, at some time, and in the dark tunnel come face to face with a terrorist,” some soldier reported to BBC.
It is frightening to witness how the education of these young Israeli soldiers has dehumanized their neighbors into a term: one single word they use to describe a whole people. A word that justifies killing and maiming and terrorizing.
Used to justify in the eyes of the common soldier as surely as in the eyes of the International world of Diplomats who have to sit and listen to Condoleezza Rice as she uses this word to justify calling for a cease-fire that is not immediate.
How can a cease-fire not be immediate?
Next week, next month there will need to be a cease-fire. After a week, a month of useless bloodshed and horror. It is like some horrible nightmare that two weeks of the onslaught in Lebanon has passed and one month of the killing in Gaza has passed and the leaders of the US and Britain have not enough humanity to say enough is enough.
And the leaders of the EU have not enough clout to be heard, and the leaders of the UN have been targeted because they were too vocal.
(The UN personnel based in south Lebanon were in the process of investigating claims by Lebanese doctors that the Israelis were using phosphorous in their air-attacks when their building was hit and four UN personnel were killed. Will the UN continue this investigation?)
Let there be a cease-fire and allow a channel of assistance to reach the unreached civilians in this tragedy and then see what to do next!
Sometimes the priority of being a human being ought to override the desperation of being the toughest and most powerful regime in the area.
Of course the Lebanese and the Palestinians are not the only ones suffering at the moment. The citizens of Israel are suffering too. But still the World Leaders allow Kundara to speak only about a cease-fire that is not immediate.
The word Terrorist has been strategically placed alongside the names of Hezbollah and Syria and Iran and, up until last week, Hamas as well. But a knew strategy has emerged this week which sees Hamas no longer being named with the other members of the ”Axis of Evil”. This is cause for concern.
It is as if, by mentioning Hamas, people might get a vague pang of conscience or sadness about that devastated strip of land they had forgotten since the Lebanese crisis. Maybe the World Leaders don’t like to deal with the conscience of the International Community on too many issues at once. And Gaza is an easy place to forget.
This frightens us in the West Bank. And people are growing angry too, as Gazans continue to die.
There is precious little safety routes for the people of Lebanon to take, bombed out of their homes and off the roads if they attempt to escape, but there is even less possibility for the people of Gaza.
As foreign nationals are rescued from the bloodshed on the northern front of this war, there are all but no foreign nationals in Gaza to be focused on. No rescue ships will drop their anchors off the blood-stained beaches of Gaza. There is no road to Damascus for these terrorized people.
Yesterday 23 more people were killed in Gaza and shocking pictures are being aired on Aljazeera of the continual violence. Today a medical Relief team has been denied entry into that war-zone whose only wish is to provide assistance to the population who are being killed.
Our call from the West Bank is that Gaza be not forgotten. It is hard to focus on too many horrors at once but we are obliged to do this.
The morality of the western world is at stake; while the leaders and heads of state and secretaries continue to neglect the human aspect of this conflict, the rest of the community has to work harder to focus on it.
Unfortunately at this time I have little of good-cheer to report on. The people of the West Bank are in daily mourning for the deaths in Gaza and Lebanon and are waiting to see where Israel will turn next. Maybe Syria and maybe here.
As I finish writing the drone of a reconnaissance plane is keeping me company. It has been circling and circling for hours overhead. It has no lights and its grey bulk in the midnight sky is a little unnerving.
Some friends have left for the mountains an hour since saying that the assassinations of people from Nablus and Ramallah will begin again. A local policeman just called to say that the men in the station up the road might take to the park for the night
The streets are often quiet now and there is far less bravado around And this too is saddening.
The war machine seems to be grinding away at the very fabric of human life. Here, in Lebanon, in Gaza and in all countries where indifference has started to take hold
Hamoodi wants to show you his face, but for the moment as the flower of sympathy is offered to the people of Lebanon by those of Palestine, the face of Hamoodi remains hidden.