Nov 16 2000

My Ramallah diary

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Blogs

It is 8:50 a.m. on Tuesday, November 14, and the phone is ringing off the hook. My cell phone reads 6 missed calls. I must have overslept. I was up late the night before working on the script for a documentary about how Palestinian children and adults are trying to cope emotionally with the violence all around them. The last call on my cell phone is from a colleague, Hania. She is waiting for me in my office. I dress quickly and hurry to the office. I had asked Hania to help with an academic collaboration with a professor from Northern Texas University. The professor had heard me speak on the American National Public Radio about our special television programs aimed at helping traumatized Palestinian children. He had sent me an email saying that he had never heard of research done on people giving emotional support, especially children, while traumas were actually taking place. Usually the trauma in the US is short lived, and the emotional support takes place afterwards. 

He tells me he wants to cooperate with us in order to publish a study in a major academic journal.

Another missed call has come from my wife, Salam, who is in Jordan and wants to make sure I am okay. She had heard that Israelis were killed near Ramallah the night before and that an retaliation was due to take place.

The issue of retaliation soon became a major cause of disturbance.

Parents are getting frantic phone calls from schools and nurseries to come and pick up their children because the Israelis are about to start bombing Ramallah. The rumor is that the Israelis have warned the Palestinian Authority to empty their main headquarters and that shelling would start any minute. By 11 a.m., a number of our staff are back to work, this time with their children running around.

12 a.m. We were scheduled to pay condolences to one of our staff, Ghader, whose father had died. Her family is in Jerusalem and because no one could get to Jerusalem, everyone has to wait until she returned to Ramallah to pay their respects.

On the way, the Voice of Palestine, broadcasting temporarily on local FM stations, quoted head of Palestinian West Bank intelligence Tawfiq Tirawi, who denied that Israel had asked the PA to empty their headquarters.

He insists that he is still in his office and asks people not to accept these rumors.

Debates erupt as to why the schools had quickly dismissed the children. During our talk, one of those attending gets a call saying that the source of the rumor was the UN, whoapparently received a call from an Israeli source. “That explains why UNRWA schools had been the first to dismiss their children,” said one parent.

More debate about the schools. One parent complains that his daughter gets nervous when she sees the photo of Mohammad Dura, the 12-year-old boy who was killed while in his father’s protection.

“Why do they plaster this photo all over schools,” he complains.

Back at our educational television station, I am asked by our film editor Nahed to take a look at some of the television spots we were commissioned to produce by UNICEF. The spots tried to reassure children and help them adjust. This spot was simple. It showed a young girl waking up, as usual. Washing, as usual. Packing her sandwich with labaneh, as usual. And going to school, as usual.

While viewership of local television stations, who depend on advertisement, has sky rocketed, they are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the economic standstill in the Palestinian territories. The official Palestinian radio which was bombed by Israel has apparently received a lot of Arab governmental funding but local stations who are doing an independent and professional job are literally out of money, many of their staff were injured, and some had their video cameras destroyed by the Israelis.

I suggest writing up an emergency appeal and sending it to donor organizations as well as having it published in a major Arab paper. I spend the next hour working on the proper wording.

6 p.m. I visit the family of a relative who had also died. Again the family has to carry out two wakes, one in Jerusalem and another in Ramallah.

7:30 p.m. I finally reach Khaled Abu Aker from the Arabic Media Internet Network (AMIN). Internews Network had helped us establish this media site in 1996 and I have since used that as my official email address. Unable to raise any money to keep it going, Khaled says he volunteers to maintain this site, which provides censorship-free reporting and informs of attacks against the press. The mail server has been down for three days and I am missing my daily dose of emails. Khaled assures me that an alternate server has been set up, he gives me the new details.

9 p.m. My wife calls again, saying she hears the situation will get worse on Wednesday because of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Will you be able to travel back to Amman on Thursday? I ask her not to worry and decided to go home early.

10:03 p.m. As I step out of my friend’s house I am asked by a Palestinian policeman for some water.

Noticing large groups of policemen in the streets, I ask him what is going on. “Our officers expect that the police headquarters in Tireh will be shelled tonight,” he tells me. Apparently being out in the streets is the safest place. My heart starts pounding. I look to the sky to see helicopters but there are none. I decide to race home before becoming an intifada statistic.

11 p.m. A journalist friend of mine calls. Nothing will happen until after the special meeting of the Israeli security cabinet, to be attended by Prime Minister Ehud Barak. 12 p.m. Still quite awake, I work at my computer. The new server produces only that day’s email. Apparently my article calling for international observers had been published in the LA Times a few days ago. I spend the next forty minutes finalizing the documentary script and go to bed.

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