Mar 07 2002

Surviving War

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

Six-year old Nadeen Khayyat woke up in the middle of the night terrified. Clutching to her grandmother this Palestinian child was petrified that the Israelis will shell her home. I had been staying at the Khayyat home Tuesday night in the center of Ramallah. My house on the edge of Ramallah was deemed by all my friends too dangerous.

Nadeen had good reason to be afraid. A few hours earlier all of us were live witnesses to a criminal assassination of three Palestinians. The three whose charred bodies were splattered over all the television stations belonged to members of the Fatah tanzim. At the time we didn’t know the targets but the rockets that hit the car had lit the skyline of Ramallah twice leaving an eerie feeling throughout the city. A few hours earlier the city had participated in a huge funeral for two families made up of women and children. Even that morning news had brought news of three explosives having been discovered on the grounds of an elementary school in East Jerusalem.

The news on television did little to overshadow the most popular story in almost every Palestinian home. The story is that of the Palestinian sniper who picked off 10 Israelis soldiers using no more than 25 bullets from an old gun. While the basic facts as had been reported in the press are repeated in all versions, everything else is different as versions of heroics reach an exaggerated level. Some talked about him being an older man who has been hiding for years waiting for this once-in-a-life time opportunity.

Palestinian roads and the checkpoints on them also occupy a major part of daily discussions. This includes movie-type stories of people braving the weather and the elements in order to get from one place to another using their cars. Of course the more colorful stories are the stories of people using various animals and other primitive means of transportation to get from one city to the other or from one village to a nearby city.

Perhaps the Qalandia checkpoint connecting Jerusalem with Ramallah wins the race for the most talked about crossing point. The situation there has deteriorated from one in which cars line up for long long waits to people in long lines waiting to be allowed to enter in groups almost like herds of sheep. Things have deteriorated even worse with the main checkpoint closed to all- under the threat of live bullets- thus forcing people to use alternative roads. These alternative roads seem like nature paths that would fit a group of hikers rather than men and women with children and luggage.

Of course the amazing thing is the speed in which these alternate roads become alive. Taxis quickly find an empty lot nearby to organize their business. Boys with small cars also jump into business helping travelers with bags make this two kilometer journey easier for a small payment for the equivalent of three US dollars. Salespeople also set up their mobile products just as quickly and for those interested in hot coffee or tea, for a few shekels they can have a warm drink.

The ‘situation’ overshadows all conversations in Palestine as everyone sits by their television sets waiting and hoping to hear some good news out of the bulletins that seems to apply the media slogan: if it bleeds it leads. While the bleeding fills the newscasts, Palestinians seem to have taken a fatalistic attitude. This attitude has introduced a dose of humor to most conversations as people discover that laughing is the best medicine in such a situation. Naturally jokes and laughter are all connected to the ‘situation,’ and no leader or issue, on either side is immune. The new found sense of humor among adults often coupled with an increase in the consumption of alcohol has few ethical limits as people seem to go for dirty jokes in such a difficult situation. For an unknown reason quality foreign wines from Italy and France are available for unbelievably low prices. Maybe they were bought by Israeli hoteliers and restaurant owners expecting large numbers of tourists in the third millennium.

Whatever the means, it seems that Palestinians have united behind a simple goal of surviving this madness with the hope and the prayer that this bad dream will soon end and children like Nadeen Khayyat and others will no longer have to deal with these nightmares anymore.

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