The Palestine Times/ London
Jan. 28th/ 2003
Just after listening to the 6 a.m. news broadcast and hearing about the Israeli official and public sheer and venture at the country’s first astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon’s blasting off aboard the space shuttle Columbia, I called my work to find out if there will be a curfew in Bethlehem on that day. I wanted to decide ahead of time whether I had to risk sneaking along the edges of Beit Jala or to go the torment way of the Gilo checkpoint.
The receptionist told me that the District Coordination office of Bethlehem announced that the curfew would be lifted from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. today. “It is the Armenian/Palestinian Christians’ holiday and the city will be open for prayer,” he explained. I finished my coffee in a rush and prepared to leave for work.
“You work overseas,” my family jokingly tells me. In addition to Al-Ram checkpoint, Gilo junction is the second permanent boundary I have to cross on my daily trip to work. Except for the Israelis who go into Bethlehem to pray at Rachel’s tomb and the few Palestinians who have special and hard-to-come-by entry permits, Gilo junction is almost a desert land.
I got off the bus about 1 kilometre before I reach the soldiers at the Gilo checkpoint situated between the Arab villages of Um Tuba and Bethlehem, the southern municipal boundary of Jerusalem.
I walked alone on that windy and rainy morning gazing at two of the several settlements that surround Jerusalem and seal off the city from its original people—the Palestinians. Gilo settlement is on my left and the Har Homa settlement is on my right. Har Homa was built on the green, confiscated Palestinian land of Jebal Abu Ghneim and Sur Baher village in 1997, during the honeymoon of the peace process. At the time, it represented a brazen violation of the Oslo peace accords and was condemned by the United Nations, which demanded an immediate cessation to the construction of the settlement. However, the U.S. administration twice vetoed the UN Security Council resolutions that were aimed at halting that violation.
At 8:10 a.m., I arrive at the Gilo junction checkpoint where I am confronted with six white male soldiers who speak Hebrew with a Russian accent. They take my documents—a Jerusalemite ID card, the Palestinian Medical Association’s membership card and the Bethlehem hospital employee’s card—and my two bags inside their office and start making their investigatory phone calls while two others interrogate me as I stand in the rain. Of the little they revealed, I learned that lifting the curfew was cancelled and that Bethlehem would be under curfew for the fifth day in a row.
The presence of those fresh-off-the-boat Israeli-ized Russian/Ethiopian/European/etc. army soldiers at Palestinian doorsteps and their brutal behaviour against the natives of this land is one of the manifestations of the Jewish exclusivity of the state of occupation. Anyone who claims to have “Jewish blood” and who is willing to make Aliaa (Jewish immigration to occupied Palestine) becomes an immediate citizen and is soon given a gun to fight the Palestinian existence in this land. However, if a Palestinian leaves the country for a few years to work or to study, he or she is very likely to be denied the right to return to or to live in their birthplace. Now that the Jewish immigration rate to the land has dropped dramatically due to Israel’s political and security instability, the government seems to be liberating its criteria for citizenship to include the “Jews for Jesus” and is welcoming its collaborators in the former South Lebanon army to “join the club” on the basis of their contemptuous hatred of the Palestinians.
An hour passed without my being allowed into Bethlehem or even getting my papers back to go to Jerusalem. I was just held by two soldiers who were entertaining their boring life by chasing Palestinians. Suddenly, my boss, the Medical Administrator of the hospital I work for, appeared in his car at the checkpoint. He was stopped by the Russian-speaking soldiers at first and was ordered to turn around and go home immediately, but the arrival of two fast-driving jeeps coming from Bethlehem put an end to the argument. Hurriedly, two soldiers came out of one jeep—a middle-aged man and a woman who appeared to know “my boss.” They were anxious, sweaty and breathing fast as if they were on a “mission.” They shook hands with him and ordered the soldiers to allow him in. Out of the other jeep came four soldiers and two tied up Palestinian teenagers that were crying with bloody mouths and bruised eyes. I figured out what that mission was and felt the rage growing in my chest. The two young men were handed over to other soldiers coming from the Jerusalem area and were forced into another jeep that took them away from the sight and mind of the Gilo junction soldiers. My boss, seemingly disgusted at what he had just seen, but denying his feelings in order to grease the wheels, got out of his car and came with the woman soldier to me. ‘Samah is our resident doctor—Shushana used to be a psychiatric nurse.” I was stunned at Shushana’s “dual conscience” and her ability to be a killer and a healer.
“Shall I take Dr. Jabr with me to the hospital?” he asked.
Shushana tried. She went to ask her boss and came back to tell him:
“You go alone or the two of you go back to Jerusalem.” But sympathetic Shushana was helpful. She got me my papers and allowed me to go home.
I am not used to stepping backward. Going back home according to the soldiers’ orders could have filled me with a sense of defeat. My parents always ask me to not take chances, but sometimes the drive of anger is stronger than a parent’s advice. I decided to try one of the dangerous sidewalks. I sneaked into a big garden and olive grove of a nearby Christian institution, Tantour. Tantour institution is a place well known to many Israelis and Palestinians due to the peace-promoting activities that were held in that place. Walking in the land of Tantour was a terrifying experience on that day. I had to run and then stand still behind the wide stalks of the ancient Roman olive trees whenever I heard shooting. Then I jumped over a high wall and crawled through barbed wire to reach the edge of Bethlehem, only 200 metres away from the Gilo soldiers. A kind family living on the mainstream opened their house for me. There I called the hospital and hid near the window waiting for the ambulance driver to come pick me up. While waiting, I saw the soldiers from the other end of their station holding the taxi drivers and the people who broke the curfew, making them undress and stand against the wall. I was crippled with fear. I felt the helplessness and humiliation of my people whose only crime is trying to live and keep going despite all the odds. I could not help but weep generously for what I saw and felt. I hate to cry, but if I don’t weep for this, then what are tears made for.
I grieve for the injustices of this world. I am angry at governments and people who condone our occupation, permit our torment, and allow foreigners, like Russian immigrants, many of them non-Jews, to come to our birthplace and make us live like aliens and hide like criminals in our homeland.
A century ago, when the French Authorities imprisoned Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus on Devil’s Island for being suspected of espionage on behalf of Germany, the French intellectual and novelist, Emile Zola wrote the famous public letter, “J’Accuse” (I accuse), in defence of human rights and a searing denunciation of fanaticism and prejudice. Where are the Israeli Emile Zolas? Where are the brave international intellectuals to denounce the human atrocities committed in my homeland? Are there enough sincere efforts being made to try shedding a brilliant new light on the official mind and public opinion of Israelis?
We, the Palestinians, who are made to pay the price for the crimes of others, accuse our judges. We accuse all the governments, authorities, institutions and passive people who permit our torment and agony of the human atrocities that continue to be committed in occupied Palestine. We accuse the Israelis, our exploiters, their fascist politicians and army and their “liberal-Zionist” people who are consuming the fruits of disposition. We accuse the American and European partners in crime, the United Nations who has nothing more than the refugees’ tents to offer us. We accuse the Western mass media that demonize us as terrorists, sub-humans and unworthy of freedom and dignity and universal human rights. We accuse the international community that deleted our name and existence from the world's map and made us live like a nameless, faceless, voiceless nation in this world.
The Palestinians are deeply rooted in this land despite all the odds and the poor conditions that are incompatible with life. We have no place to go to, even if we want to; we cannot go to school or work, let alone going to outer space or to the moon to escape the shadow of conflict. We have no wish to play the victims or the heros of this conflict. We want a just peace in our homeland; we want to live in a safe place, and we want the power and the empowerment that will allow us to burn our registration cards and to revolt against our oppressors and tormentors like the Indians in the movie, “Ghandi.”
As for me, estrangement seems to be my eternal fate. In the near future I will start a new life in Paris, where I will be specializing in the field of psychiatry for four years and will be a grass-root ambassador of my people. From there I will continue my struggle for interracial harmony, inter-religious respect and human sanctity, for people to live together. Palestine will always be with me; the people and the land will always be nurtured inside me. Every town and every village will be in my heart and in my mind, especially Bethlehem; the memory and the very name of the city will always make me weep in silence.
*Samah Jabr is a physician and a life-long resident of Jerusalem.