Dec 03 2004

Published by at 12:00 am under Blogs

Tuesday November 30th   2004

This week was scary and hard on the road. It began when I made a visit to some relatives who live in the old city of Ramallah. I had gone to deliver a package for them from Jordan and to pick up a package intended for a Jerusalem family who they can’t deliver because they  are not allowed into the city which has been annexed by Israel and therefore according to Israeli law Palestinians living outside the city are not allowed to visit it unless they have a permit (which is hard to obtain).

As a Jerusalemite I am allowed into both worlds. The visit turned out long and before I knew it they insisted on me having dinner. They had been at our Amman home a week earlier and Salam, my wife had put out a big table so they wanted to at least feed me that evening. After dinner I walked out without paying much attention to the surroundings. I get in my car and start driving when I realize that the entire area I am in is electrified. Boys with stones are crowding on street corners and as I tried to drive I realize what their aim was, an Israeli army jeep was at the end of the street. I quickly back out and decide to use another road, again I notice another Israeli jeep at the end of that road, all of a sudden,  I am scared. It seems that I am surrounded with two well armed Israeli jeeps and I am on the side of the young boys. I consider parking the car and going back to the nice warm home I had just left, but there was no place to park the car now with stones in the street. I decide to turn the car off and wait. Sure enough a few minutes later I see cars coming from one of the roads and I quickly drive out and back into the normal streets of Ramallah. I go to the special check point normally referred to as DCO. I flash my Israeli-issued government press card and I am quickly allowed to go through the check point.

Wednesday December 1, 2004

It seems that while flashing my press card, I must have mislaid it. I search everywhere for my coveted press card but to no avail. At the end of today’s working day I have to use the Qalandia checkpoint were the wait is long. I have a dinner invitation tonight at my brother in laws house and after that I am supposed to go to Bethlehem. After a few stop and go as I wait and wait at the check point, I turn the car off. When I turn it back on it doesn’t work. I try and try but nothing.  Nothing could be more frustrating. Cars behind me want me to move and the car would not start. I pushed it a few times when traffic ahead of me moved, finally I asked a porter pushing some bags on a three wheel cart to find me a mechanic. Jamil, the mechanic came and I realized that I had a good helper. He used to work for an Israeli garage before deciding to open his own garage for less money but with less headaches. A few tinkers under the hood and his diagnosis was complete. You can’t use this car tonight, he said. The electric distributor is shot and you can’t start the car without it.

I took my stuff out of the car, we pushed it back to a place almost opposite his garage, and I decided to walk.

After crossing the checkpoint I take the shared vans to Jerusalem. Once we reach the next checkpoint near Pisgat Zeev something funny happened. Manning the checkpoint was  a Russian looking young soldier. He asked for our papers and most of the passengers show their Israeli ID card. One woman shows him her Israeli issued travel document which is called lassier passier. He looks at the navy blue document that looks like a passport and asks the woman where her visa was. She tried to explain to him that this was an Israeli document and that she doesn’t need a visa if she has this Israeli travel document. He keeps asking her, almost like a parrot for the visa and she tries in Arabic to explain that as a Jerusalem resident with a travel document, she doesn’t need a visa on an Israeli travel document. Finally the Russian-looking soldier goes to his commander and within seconds in front of all of us in van the commander slaps him on the face and simultaneously everyone in the van explodes
in laughter.

During Chinese dinner at my brother in law, discussion centers on parents and grand parents and how to take care of them once they get older and nearly senile. Labib, my brother in law allows me to take his car and I drive to Bethlehem to talk to Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust about whether we will have a Christmas TV event this year. Last year we broadcast live on Bethlehem TV and our Educational TV the entire Christmas eve festivities and choirs. The death of Arafat has thrown everything this year into turmoil. And although December 25th will be past the 40th day of mourning, there was no decision whether there will be festivities or not. The Islamic feast of Id AL Fitr was cancelled because it took place two days after Arafat’s death, but this was 43 days later. Without a clear decision from the leadership in Ramallah, the local leaders were afraid to make a decision and appear irreverent. For Palestinian Christians whose survivor is dependent on the national Palestinian movement protecting them, they were not about to make a decision that could be seen as lacking respect.

After a fruit cocktail in the smoke filled Reem AL Bawadi restaurant, I leave with a friend, Tahsin. We visit Raed Othman of Bethlehem TV who is also running the MAAN TV network which our educational station in Ramallah is an active member of.  After some coffee and lots of talk and about 10pm, I leave Bethlehem.

Again at the checkpoint I am stopped, this time by an Ethiopian-looking soldier who wanted to know where I live. I tell him in Beit Hanina. So where is your Israeli ID card, he asks. I explain to him that I am a resident and that my residency is stamped on my American passport, again like the soldier the day before he keeps repeating the same question. Finally I ask him to check with his commander. His commander gives the ok sign and I am allowed to pass.

Thursday December 3, 2004

Jonathan, my brother calls and he says he has to come to Ramallah for a few meetings, I suggest that he pick up my car from Jamil the mechanic. I have been busy all day with a meeting at the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (trying to convince them to screen the Palestinian version of Sesame Street) Radwan Abu Ayyash, the chairman of the PBC agrees but the meeting drags on as we discuss the situation of Palestinian media and the Israeli demands to stop incitement. I explain to him that it is like asking someone to stop beating his wife. If he refuses then he is bad if he agrees he admits that he was bearing her. Both answers are problematic.

IN the afternoon I am also busy with a meeting we planned to talk about the debate. I wanted to do a presidential television debate and I had asked my staff to prepare different scenarios and ideas. The meeting today is rushed because I read in the papers that Abu Mazen had offered in a press conference to debate his opponents. I was worried that someone else would beat us. My staff agree that we should do it immediately but we are worried about any public statement because we might not succeed in getting it off the ground. On the other hand, I am worried that if there is no public announcement we would be beaten by someone else. So I came up with an idea, we will make the idea public but without issuing a press release. Basically we will write a story and place it with friends working in the local press. I assign myself to write the story that will be leaked to the press (anonymously) and I asked Ayman and Hassan Sarandah to draw up an official letter and send it to the 10
candidates who had nominated themselves.

It is almost five o’clock by the time we are finished. Jonathan was waiting for me so we rush out and I ask him to drive using the DCO. I figured he can use his Israeli bar ID card to get through and I can wing it. I was wrong. The officer was very clear, Jonathan can go and I could not. But  I lost my press card I explain, I came by two days ago. No way. They insisted. I said I will walk and he can drive, we can’t go back to Qalandia now (we had another visit before going to Jordan). But the officer was clearly in command and was adamant. We turn around and I explain to Jonathan that he should drive across and I will walk pick up a taxi, walk the Qalandia checkpoint and then we can meet. I start walking back to Ramallah and he gets in line again. No cars come by and I notice that there was a side road closed by mounds of dirt which make car crossing impossible, but there was nothing preventing a pedestrian from crossing it. I walk around the mound, and within seconds I am on the
other side waiting for Jonathan to pick me up.

The last visit we had to make before going to Amman was to a sick woman. Miriam Nesheiwat is a relative who had been living in a covenant almost all her life. She recently had to have an operation to remove her only functioning kidney and therefore she had to have regular dialyses. After the operation the doctors from Hadash Hospital had sent her to a hospital that has a dialysis machine. She called Jonathan, and said she was disoriented because all the Israeli  patients and doctors spoke no Arabic or French (she knows no English). The location of where she  was placed is the settlement of Maaleh Adumim. We get into the settlement and spent half an hour looking for the location. We pass a canival like event which turned out to be some type of religious ceremony with people dancing with the Torah and a van full of lights parading around the streets and Israeli police men keeping order. When we get close to the hospital a security guard in civilian clothes drills us, where are yougoing, who are you going to see. Finally we are let in and we see Miriam who is very happy to see us. I search the place for Arabic speakers. I discover a Palestinian cleaning man, a nurse and a fellow patient. I introduce them all to Miriam and she feels better after finding out that there were fellow Arabs. Jonathan using his cell phone, manages to call some of her relatives in California and she is happy to talk to them.

By 7pm we were done with our family duties. We walk out of the hospital and into the settlement streets. The carnival is over and as we approach our car to drive to Amman we are wondering how many other people in the region cross so many political and social borders within the same day and week. Less than ninety  minutes later we are at the Israeli crossing. As we get close, we call the Palestinian Israeli driver of the bus that drives across, he says hurry if you want to catch his bus. After parking the car I go to pay the exit tax (while Jonathan goes to the passport control). A group of Palestinian Israeli men are exchanging money and flirting with an Israeli woman of Moroccan backgrounds. Knowing that the bus is about to leave, I ask them to let me through and they can continue the chatting. They allow me to get the two exit tax receipts, and I run to the passport control. Within minutes we are done and on the waiting bus. By 10:20 that evening we are in our home in Amman eating

Salam’s Mlukhieh.

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