Terror and Freedom on the West Bank

Ramallah, West Bank.

The Israeli army arrived in our street at 2 am yesterday morning.

For the past two weeks they have been in Ramallah every night and we knew it was only a matter of time before we would directly experience their invasion tactics. Every morning we had discussed where they had been the night before and how much damage they had inflicted. We had discussed whom they had arrested and who had managed to escape. We had listened with utmost sympathy to the stories of those caught in the apartment blocks that were being searched: to the women who had no time to cover themselves decently, to their husbands taken in nightdress and without shoes.

We had listened to the explosions from neighboring areas of Ramallah and had wondered not if but when our street would be targeted.

It was on August 14 at 2 am.

The only warning we received was a phone-call 10 seconds before the army arrived, telling us that the Israelis were at the Legislative Council, 5 minutes away.

We were still up as my flat-mate was traveling at 5:30 am and we were packing and talking about visa issues and what to do if her visa was denied.

The phone call and then the horrible sound of 10 jeeps and 2 tanks and an arrest-van.

And instant spotlights and shooting and explosions.

Then rocks hurled at our door (aren’t Palestinian youths imprisoned for years for throwing rocks?), and four Israeli soldiers at the door with their faces painted and all pointing M-16’s at our heads. They were shouting at us in Hebrew, ordering us outside.

We decided that we would distract them if we could to give any poor hunted man as much time as possible to escape.

We also gave the neighbors some relief by giving voice to their anger; a privilege for which they would have been shot.

The soldiers of the two jeeps at our doorstep got sick of dealing with us after 10 minutes and as flares exploded over our heads and heavy gun-fire filled the open paddock next to our house, they began to shout at us to get inside.

We went in and sat on the verandah overlooking the paddock in the spotlight of three other jeeps while soldiers raked the field with bullets. They were shouting at the empty field in the vain and arrogant belief that some wanted man would suddenly appear and they would receive the promotion for his capture. We were shouting back.

They said “come out!” so we did.

We went back down the stairs and told the jeep stationed outside that we were being called by the soldiers in the next street. They started to shout at us that the soldiers were not telling us to come out but we assured them that it must be us they were shouting at, because if any person had been hiding in the empty field he would long since have been murdered.

The soldiers were furious at our interruption and for this we were glad.

When we knew that we had pushed them as far as we could in the circumstances and realized that our knees were shaking so much that they were about to give way beneath us, we went back inside to collapse on the lounge in tears, wondering if there was actually some man bleeding to death in the field that we could not reach.

For another hour the jeeps and tanks circled round and round our block. Shooting barrages of machine-gun fire and throwing explosives into every shrub and bush.

And then they departed.

They had not caught anyone and for that we were also glad.

The next hour passed in deathly quiet. It was strange to sit in the dark and know that everyone else in the street was doing exactly the same as us. Sitting up, sleepless and silent, afraid, waiting for the daylight to bring some normalcy back into a night-marish situation.

An hour passed. In a half sleep I heard a sound outside the window and rushed to see what was there. It was a strange sound and I couldn’t work out what sort of devise Israel was using to produce such a singular noise.

As I stood perplexed at the window I suddenly realized that the sound was a bird singing; welcoming the first light of the day. It was sitting in the tree outside the window, hoping from branch to branch, and singing. Actually singing!

I wondered then at how I was becoming conditioned to the inhuman situation here, I was actually mistaking the singing of a bird for some strange weapon of Israel’s. And I realized how much I missed the simple joy of listening to the Australian “morning chorus” as we call it; the great cacophony of sound that no one can sleep through, that you curse every morning but love none-the-less. The sound of the freest creatures on earth celebrating that freedom.

There is no freedom in Ramallah. The West Bank and Gaza are prisons, and this is the reason many people have given for the inability of the Palestinian resistance movement to achieve even the sort of uncertain cease-fire that Hezbollah has managed to achieve in Lebanon.

People here are talking about this and are asking how Hezbollah has been able to enforce this cessation of hostilities when Palestine has been unable to do it for half a century.

Last night I talked with two Palestinian friends about this and they described to me in geographical terms the main difference between the Hezbollah resistance and that of Palestine.

“Here” one said “is Palestine” and he placed on the table two cigarette packets and two lighters forming a square, “in the center. Here” and he pointed to one packet at the edge of the square “is Hezbollah. What is behind Hezbollah? Nothing. They are fighting Israel and America face to face and behind them is open fields, and Syria and other Arab States.

But here is Palestine. Surrounded on all sides. They are not fighting only in front of them, but on every side, the enemy is behind them and even among them. This feeling of imprisonment and lack of support has ground away at the resistance movement here until it has become nothing more than isolated cells of militants who are not even supported by their own families.

Have you seen the wanted men, our freedom fighters, who are homeless?

Even their families are afraid to associate with them.

Have you seen them when they are alone, and the full weight of their situation hits them?

I have seen them, crying like a child.

This is how Israel has been winning the war against Palestine.

Dividing the people and terrorizing them so much that they can not even trust their cousins; half the population of Palestine are collaborators; they are collaborators because they have been broken by Israeli forces.

So while there were celebrations in Al-Minara on the day of the cease-fire there was also a very clear awareness that Hezbollah’s victory will not serve the Palestinian struggle in any way except to assure them again that without the backing of Arab States this struggle is doomed to continue in the insidious and bloody way that it has been continuing for many years.

And not just the backing of Arab States will help them. As my friend concluded; “Hezbollah is indirectly supported by France and Palestinian resistance is not supported by any western nation.”

So a certain sadness envelops the city of Ramallah. A city that has been caught on the edge of a crisis which has been in the international spotlight, while experiencing nightly crisis’ on a smaller scale that fail to register on any international screen.

The people of the West Bank are still prisoners, as they have been for a long time.

The only thing the Palestinians have to counter the nightly invasions and terror tactics of the Israeli forces is their song of freedom.

Still to be heard if you remember to listen for it.

Despite the humiliation and the mistrust and the tangled web of conspiracy that exists in the West Bank and Gaza, there is still absolute dignity in the resistance of individuals here. I do not agree with my friend who says that the resistance has been reduced to little cells of desperate militants always looking over their shoulders; the resistance is also to be found among musicians who hold weekly concerts for free to sing the traditional heart-breaking songs of Palestine, it is also to be found among the teachers of the fatherless or motherless children who work to daily bring some joy and learning into their lives, it is even among the bus drivers who will drive impossible roads to help some passenger avoid a flying checkpoint.

And those little pure messengers of freedom have not forgotten these people. They still wake and sing at dawn to remind of the world existing beyond war and oppression and man-made instruments of torture.

ELIZA ERNSHIRE can be reached at eliza_ernshire@yahoo.co.uk