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Report from Ramallah
Maha Sbitani, USA
April 1, 2002
By the questions and phone calls we have been getting I am realizing more and more that we are out here alone, unheard, unseen and most of us live in total darkness. The only company is the horrifying sounds of explosions and monotonous sounds of the tank chains ripping the streets.
Saturday morning I looked at Arafat's compound and found about 9 tanks parked, and the streets were full of tanks that constantly revved their engines and moved ever so slightly back and forth. The motion of the tanks shook the stone house to the point that small objects would actually topple over.
At noon (12:00 sharp) the tanks in the compound started moving. I could see them 3 at a time backing up into the hole (the one you must have seen, on television, a million times in Arafat's compound) loading up soldiers. I was elated and started making phone calls to the people in town. "They are getting out?" I honestly thought it was all over. One by one the tanks loaded the Israeli soldiers and moved out of the compound to be replaced by three more.
All the tanks were moving in all directions, two of them came to my
next-door neighbor's house. One of them simply backed up to the house and lifted the rear (or front, not sure) door. The soldiers rushed out one after the other and simply took over the house in the same way they took over mine 24 hrs before. The news was saying that they are getting out of the compound but no one was showing where they were actually going (about one hundred feet away).
TV vans and cars started coming by. I saw the small children in the house across the street whistling to gain their attention. The house across the street was occupied for two days by the same soldiers that left my house. I called out to the camera crew and invited them to my house. We briefed them about what has been going on and they used my roof to film the compound. Later that same crew (thank you CBS crew) would come back with fresh bread and cigarettes for some of the families in the neighborhood. It was getting dark and I saw the soldiers go back in and reoccupy the family home with small children (oldest being about 13, youngest 2).
It was a very restless night. My husband and I took shifts in taking short naps. We sleep in our clothes to be ready just In case the soldiers reoccupy. The town is out of electricity but we have a generator. We use electricity and water sparingly since we have no idea how long this nightmare will last.
Yesterday (Sunday) was a blur, tanks and more tanks. I spent most of my day reporting to our president at firstname.lastname@example.org. I got one automatic reply thanking me and letting me know that my president cares about what I have to say.
My neighbor downstairs finally had the courage to come to the window in the stairway. She was crying and completely terrified. She and her husband are in their late seventies, she took me into her kitchen to show me what the soldiers have done. She was crying and shaking she asked me to help them. I assured her they will not come back and put up signs on all the doors with the American Flag and typed up some signs that read "This house belongs to American Citizens. The United States Government protects us. Please DO NOT ENTER". I am not sure if this will do any good but I did it anyway.
Neighbors were calling each other from windows with a whisper, calling out each other's names to ask if they are OK, to see if they are still alive, to try to get some comfort. Everyone is trying to be brave for the other, yet they all knew they were helpless and terrified.
I got a call from some people in downtown Ramallah last night about 11:30, panicked and thought I could help (since I am American). They told me that there is a building (Draghmeh building, 5 stories, 60 apartments full of families) surrounded by tanks, soldiers asking the people to get out of their homes and threatening to blow up the building. No one got out since they were afraid of what they just heard about the 30 policemen prisoners who were cold-bloodedly made to disrobe after being taken as POWs. And watching on television the 5 people that were massacred, 4 of whom were over 50. No one wanted to risk that fate.
I (like a good American Citizen) immediately called the American consulate in Jerusalem (RSO - 622-7286, 622-7200, and the American Citizens Services 622-7284, and finally called the Council General at 050 223327). There was no answer at any of the lines. I could leave a message if I wanted to but I thought why bother. They probably would have thanked me for making the call just like the automated e-mail I got from my president earlier in the day. All night the tank engines were humming and I am sure no one could actually sleep.
Today (Monday) there was a different type of activity. Beginning at 5:30 am tanks started moving around the streets. Going nowhere really just in circles. They would speed up and slow down. One knocked over the telephone pole in the middle of the street. Another went over it. The main concern of the soldier was to get the cables out of the tanks' chains. No concern or even the slightest thought to the fact that they have just cut off most of the telephones in the neighborhood. Later I saw a repair pickup with the UN flag and I witnessed the Israeli soldiers turn them back. Now most people in this neighborhood are without electricity and phone lines.
We are seeing Israeli jeeps labeled "Police", and the soldiers are actually walking around the streets on foot proudly sporting their machine guns. I saw the TV cars come by and the soldiers turned them back saying, "No TV crew are allowed in". One crew member tried to talk to them to no avail.
The ambulance came by and I was delighted since my husband is almost out of his medication. I practically leaped out the window trying to get their attention but they didn't notice me since Israeli Jeeps surrounded them and were telling them to turn back. The soldier would use his microphone to tell people to stay put and not to get out, as if any one would dare to.
I tried to talk to American officials today to see if I can get out. I was told that the Americans are "negotiating" with the Israelis to get the American citizens out. We are not sure how well the "negotiation" will end up with our "friends and allies" but for sure if our spouses or children are not American, we would have to leave them behind.
We keep hearing about more suicide bombings going on. This in itself is horrifying, and I keep asking myself what is the difference between state organized terrorism and individual terrorism. The answer that keeps coming up is what my Government keeps repeating. Israeli state organized terrorism is defined by the US as self-defense; individuals protesting occupation are called terrorists. I say it is all Terrorism! We have to stop pretending that one sort of terrorism is good and the other is bad. To kill a civilian is to kill civilian, but there is a big difference when the killing is supported by a state.
The truth is the Israeli State organized terrorism and the occupation is breeding the individual terrorist.
Ramallah, next to Yasser Arafat's compound