Jul 18 2002

Palestine Under Curfew

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The ninety minutes I spent in the Jordan National Bank in Bethlehem said it all. I had gone to Bethlehem when I learned that curfew was to be temporarily lifted. People were loitering outside the branch shortly 9 am but the staff, which arrived at the same time, needed time to prepare before allowing the customers to come in. Lines were much longer, I was told when the Israeli incursions and curfews began, most people had withdrawn whatever money they thought they would need. Now customers had little money left and those waiting in line were using the bank for check cashing transactions and paying bills and taxes.

After three days of continuous 24-hour curfew, people learned that the Israeli restriction was to be lifted from 9am till 1 pm. The Israelis did not relate this vital information to the Palestinian population. Most had heard about it from the local Palestinian television stations, which apparently received the information from the Palestinian liaison office. The previous night I had tried to call the office of the Israeli army’s spokesman to find out if the curfew would be lifted and got the run around. “We are not sure,” an army officer told me. Angered by her lack of concern to the plight of tens of thousands of Palestinians I screamed at her “you are talking about people who need to plan their lives,” I said. “And we are concerned that terrorists are not allowed to move around,” she retorted without any shame of holding an entire population hostage. (The following day Palestinians attacked Israeli settlers in the northern areas of the West Bank, despite the fact that curfew was not lifted in that area.)

On my way from Jerusalem and before reaching the bank, I had spoken by phone to a friend in Bethlehem who speculated that the lifting of the curfew might be extended till 3pm. When the bank finally opened around 9:30 the mood of those waiting in queue was somewhat normal until someone said that the curfew would be resumed at 12 noon and not at 1 as had been previously been thought. This brought a series of complaints. “What are we chickens that the Israelis can coop up whenever they want,” said a women in her fifties. Others directed their complaints to the Arab world for their apathy. Three hundred and fifty million Arabs are living a normal life and we are penned up like mice.

Cell phones started working with people trying frantically to find out if this was in deed the case. Most were unable to get a straight answer, but one was able to confirm yes the lifting of the curfew would be over sooner than expected. The bank’s security officer moved quickly to close the door at 11 in order to allow the bank staff to finish those who already entered. A man wanting to withdraw a large amount of dollars was asked to wait as the cashier had only 300 greenbacks. One of the cell phone callers shouted that the curfew will not be restored till 1. A sigh of relief fell on the waiting customers as if they had been rewarded a major contribution. The bank’s security officer was not affected, minutes later it turned out that this good news was false and another cell phone caller delivered the bad news.

Clients were complaining about many things. One said that he has not been able to cash his check drawn on a Ramallah bank. When Bethlehem opens, Ramallah is closed and when Ramallah opens up we in Bethlehem are under curfew, he said angrily.

While waiting for my turn, I decided to speak to Susie Murad, one of the bank staff who deals with credit. How are things I inquired? We, the bank employees, must come to the bank as soon as the curfew is lifted and stay until it is re imposed, when are we supposed to take care of our personal needs, she inquired? How is work I asked trying to shift the conversation. Well, I have little work these days. The bank has decided to suspend all kinds of credit programs until the political situation clears up, and almost no one is coming to collect on credit card bills, because there are no tourists and shopkeepers are only dealing with cash these days.

Back in line, it became clear that the dollar cash flow problem had been resolved. A person with lots of hundred dollar bills was depositing rather than withdrawing. Curious about the source of this cash, I discovered that the man works for Lama Tours. “Don’t tell me that tourist have been visiting the Church of the Nativity during curfew, “I asked cynically. No, he said, rather seriously, this is from sales of airline tickets for Palestinians, some leaving for summer vacations but others permanently emigrating.

I left the bank in a hurry trying to get back to Jerusalem before getting stuck in the birthplace of Jesus under a round the clock curfew. The roads were filled with cars and a number of civilians near the ministry of education were trying to direct traffic. Palestinian police had always directed this corner and this led me to ask one if he was a member of the Palestinian police. “Not yet” said a young man wearing a white T-shirt. Somehow it sounded like some one still wanted to have the honor of wearing a Palestinian uniform even though the Palestinian Authority was in disarray.

One response so far

One Response to “Palestine Under Curfew”

  1. […] the army closed the village and I remained at home for four days because my village was under the curfew and this meant we couldn’t leave. A year after being shot I still feel the pain, especially in […]

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.