(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: There were a few Palestinian police stationed outside the military complex in half-destroyed, forty-foot shipping containers, which they had tried to make into guard shacks. We drove right in as the guards waived us through.
As I climbed out of the car, I was struck by the awesome thoroughness of the destruction of the entire facility. The preventative security palace had been completed in 2000 with the help of millions of dollars of donations from the other Arab states. It was really the pride of Arafat and the entire Palestinian Authority. It had represented military and intelligence sophistication fitting a new Arab country, even if they were not yet recognized as such.
We walked around the large, four-floored main building. It had been a magnificent facility with fine architectural appointments. Carved marble eagles had been perched on spheres representing the world and adorned the grand glass and marble entrance to the main building. Now, everything was blown to bits. The domed glass roof on the entry atrium was mostly on the marble floor with a few remaining pieces dangling precariously from the original framework overhead.
Israeli tanks had encircled the facility and meticulously aimed their cannons at every strategic inch of the building while attack helicopters fired rockets from above.
We walked through the rubble and broken glass and marble right into the main part of the complex. Desks, office equipment, a newly framed oil painting of Arafat … all lay in ruins on the floors. Nothing in the building had been older than two years. Now everything lay in burned heaps of charred rubble.
We made our way cautiously to the grand marble stairway to the upper floors being careful not to accidentally step on any unexploded rockets or bombs. I reached down and turned over the tail fin of a high-tech “smart bomb” with all the burned wires still dangling.
The main intelligence department had been located in one corner in the upper floor. As we approached that area the texture of the ash and rubble changed. I don’t know what kind of incendiary missiles must have been shot through the thick walls of the building and into the intelligence headquarters. But the heat that was created must have been exceptional. Where the banks of computers and high-tech equipment once sat there was absolutely nothing. On the floor, however, was about six inches of very fine white ash, the only remains of the department’s contents. It was my understanding that the Israeli forces had notified the Palestinians to evacuate the buildings before the strike so that there would not be intentional loss of life.
Outside, and behind the complex, stood the remains of Arafat’s armed security vehicles. They were just like President George Bush’s armored Chevy Suburban SUVs. Bush’s were black, Arafat’s had been white. Systematically, the tanks and helicopters had blown up or totally disabled the fleet of prized vehicles. I would guess that about 100 vehicles had been destroyed.
It was getting dark on Saturday night as we left the preventative security palace, and Mohamed’s uncle returned us to the old home place of the Jodeh family in Ramallah. It had been an incredible day of learning and emotion. The Middle East tensions and conflicts had gone on for centuries. Today, they remained complex and very serious, perhaps more complex and serious than ever before in history. There was no question that it was a literal life and death struggle.
Sunday, June 9
The Jodeh family had lived at the same location in Ramallah for over 50 years. Mohamed had grown up at the same address and had attended the local Arab schools. In subsequent years, most of the children had moved away. However, just a few years ago three of the sons decided to pay to have the family home enlarged so that they could eventually move back home. On top of the old original structure, which had been constructed of native Holy Land white stone, they built three additional levels. Each level contained a residence for each son. Mohamed’s mother was still alive; one of the single daughters now lived with and assisted her.
On the south side of the old home were two lots about one-third acre each. About fifty years earlier Mohamed’s father had started planting fruit trees and grapes on the two lots. Over the years the trees had matured and enlarged into quite an outstanding orchard and garden.
Before going to bed Saturday night, Mohamed asked me if I would like to get up early Sunday morning and tour the garden. Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up we were out picking plums, apricots, almonds, figs, lemons and two different kinds of berries, which were growing on trees instead of prickly bushes. The grapes, pomegranates, and apples were not quite ripe but there were plenty of chickpeas to pull up and take to the house.
When we were finished, we sat under the shade of a beautiful lemon tree located on the patio and enjoyed a cool breeze and a cup of hot espresso coffee. It was difficult to believe that I was sitting so peacefully within the heart of one of the most explosive and strife-torn regions of the world.
Our first appointment Sunday morning was at the Red Crescent headquarters building. As we traveled by taxi across Ramallah we once again saw scores of automobiles lining the streets that had been run over by the Israeli tanks. The rules were that if an Arab car was left on the street and impeded the destination of an Israeli tank or tracked personnel carrier, the Army vehicle simply would run over the top of the vehicle. Once destroyed the vehicles were worth nothing, so they were left along the streets or pushed off onto a vacant lot.
Red Crescent’s headquarters were situated in an adequate three-story building, completely surrounded by white ambulances with the organization’s logo, a bright Red Crescent moon, on each side.
The director general, Feyeq Hussein, warmly welcomed us into his office. He had been a schoolmate with Mohamed. I explained that Project C.U.R.E. had worked closely with Red Crescent in Iraq, Senegal, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, and other Muslim countries around the world. The director general told me that he was already familiar with the fine work of Project C.U.R.E. and understood that we worked with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others on a non-political basis. I assured him that our interest was in taking help and hope to the medically needy all over the world.
I went on to explain that in the past I had been disappointed that we had met with difficulty when we tried to deliver donated medical goods into Lebanon, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
“I sincerely apologize to you for any occasion where your efforts were hampered when trying to deliver needed goods to the Arab communities.”
“Well, Mr. Hussein,” I shared, “I really need your help in order to successfully deliver Project C.U.R.E.’s donated medical goods into West Bank. Will you help me?”
“I will not only help you, I will guarantee that you will no longer have problems even if we have to ship the goods in through ports in Jordan instead of Israel and truck the containers to Ramallah with our own vehicles,” he replied.
We talked about the desperate needs experienced by the small hospitals and clinics in West Bank. I told him that we would like to specifically donate some of the goods to the places where we had already finished the needs assessment studies, but in the future Project C.U.R.E. would also be happy to consider donating medical supplies additionally to Red Crescent. We had tea together, and Mohamed and I left with the assurance that it was now possible for our goods to arrive in Ramallah unhindered.
The rest of the day was filled with more meetings and about 9 p.m. we were driven to the lovely home of Mohamed’s brother-in-law and sister, where we ate an absolutely incredible dinner meal of rack of lamb, rice, cooked vegetables, and desserts. Of course, you will never find any alcohol in the home of a Muslim and when one of the five daily prayer times roll around, you stop doing whatever you were doing while they get out their prayer rugs, face Mecca, and pray with their foreheads on the ground.
Following dinner Mohamed walked with me to a cyber shop where I paid to get on the Internet and send an e-mail home to Anna Marie letting her know that everything seemed very peaceful in Ramallah, West Bank.
My message was premature and way wrong!
Next Week: This isn’t Tbilisi, Georgia
© Dr. James W. Jackson
Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House