Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #7 from June, 2002

Tuesday, June 11

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: At 3:45 a.m. the Muslim holy man would usually mount the prayer tower at the local mosque and sing out his call to prayer. When there was no call to prayer, I knew that Tuesday was going to be another troublesome day.

How could he give a call to prayer?  How would anyone respond and go to the mosque for early prayers if they couldn’t leave their houses? The tanks and soldiers still held Ramallah under siege.

There was no way to get to the e-mail store. Besides, there would be no one there anyway. I kept trying to reach Anna Marie by telephone. Finally I was able to contact her and assure her that I was all right even though the situation was quite tense.

Tuesday was a frustrating repeat of Monday. Nothing moved outside. No dogs barked, no voices of children, no honking of horns … only the sounds of shelling and tanks and helicopters.

About sundown the loudspeakers announced that the curfew would soon be lifted so that people could go out and get food and more water. Everyone waited but the announcement of the lifted curfew never came. It would mean another long night.

The electricity was returned, and the local television news reported that a large number of Ramallah residents had been taken captive and arrested. It apparently had been a very well planned operation to extract known terrorists. Until they got the ones after whom they had come, they would simply stay. They were obviously in no hurry to leave.

While we were just sitting inside the house waiting for something to happen and hoping that nothing would happen, I had lots of time to talk to Mohamed about what he felt it would take to bring peace and why Arafat had rejected the peace initiative of Israeli Prime Minister Barak. One of the underlying contentions held by the Palestinians was that the United Nations had no jurisdiction in the first place to disenfranchise the Palestinians and allow the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. So, the state should be dissolved and the land should revert back to the rightful Palestinian owners, who were now displaced refugees, and reparations should be paid for the past grievances.

Over the hours we had some pretty frank and insightful discussions. Meanwhile, outside there was no confusion as to who was in charge.

Wednesday, June 12

No wake-up call to early prayer by the holy man on the tower at the mosque. It was not a good sign. I jumped out of bed to see tanks still in the streets. After showering and dressing, I went to the room where Mohamed was sitting and joined him in a cup of real strong tea.

“Well,” Mohamed said with an uncertainty in his voice that questioned his own statement, “they have announced that they will lift the curfew this morning from 8 to 11 a.m. for the people to go out and buy bread and get fresh water. But the checkpoints are not allowing any delivery trucks into West Bank or particularly Ramallah, so there will not be anything for sale that is fresh anyway.”

Mohamed’s brother-in-law had agreed to come by and pick us up in his car. He wanted to go as quickly as possible to the center of Ramallah to see if anything had happened to his business during all the shelling. It would give us a good chance to see what had taken place the first three nights and two days of the siege.

It seemed to me that everyone wanted to go downtown to check on their businesses. By 9 a.m., everyone was trying to make it through the central roundabout. The army tanks had not worried much about going around the roundabout, just up and over it.

The streets were a scarred mess and the sidewalks and curbs broken. Lots of cars were smashed with tank track marks over their hoods or right up over the center of the car. Most of the side streets were blocked off with huge mounds of dirt and rocks, which had been dumped sometime within the past 60 hours. We stopped at the outdoor market, which had been quickly assembled, and bought some stale bread.

Mohamed’s brother-in-law’s business had escaped any damage, but an entire two-story building close by had been blown up and burned. “They claim al Qaeda terrorists were hiding in there and were using the building to store explosives and weapons.”

One of the saddest things happened as we passed Mohamed’s old high school. On Saturday he had pointed it out with pride and told me stories of when he had attended. Wednesday morning the walled fence had been broken down and the school lot was full of tanks and personnel carriers. “Look at that. That’s where we used to play soccer when we were boys in Ramallah. Now it’s a parking lot for the Israeli army!”

But as I listened even during the highly charged emotions of the day, I never heard any remorse for the suicide bombings or condemnation of Hamas, al Qaeda, Islamic jihad, or other terrorist groups. Rather, many referred to them as the “underground resistance” groups for the ultimate freeing of the Palestinians.

Eleven o’clock came all too quickly. We had made it home safely with a little time to spare. But some cars were still speeding back to their places of safety as the shelling started up again.

Our conversation Wednesday took a little turn. We had faced the fact earlier that we would have to scrub the idea of visiting Jenin, Nablus, or even Bethlehem. Now the problem was: “How would I catch my flight back to Toronto and on to Denver when I was in a virtual lock down in Ramallah?” We had come to the conclusion that if the tanks were not moved out and the curfew not lifted so I could freely get back to Tel Aviv by Thursday morning, then we would call the US embassy in Tel Aviv and have them come and escort me out of the West Bank.

Later Wednesday afternoon Mohamed called the minister of health’s office and asked if we could have an early meeting on Thursday morning if by any chance the curfew were to be lifted. The minister agreed. 

Next Week: Out of West Bank and into Jerusalem

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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