Ramallah Resilient Under Siege

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It was late Tuesday night and Saleem Sweidan, who runs Nablus TV, was trying to figure out where to sleep that night. The day before he had tried to get back to Nablus and the normally 45 minutes trip took him five hours. The taxi driver deposited him and the other passengers near Salfit, they had to walk, hitch rides and walk some more before getting home near midnight. ‘I haven’t seen my children in days,” he told a group of colleagues from other West Bank cities who were meeting in Ramallah to hammer out an agreement regarding training and support for local television stations. Others from Hebron and Bethlehem had decided earlier that they will be staying at a local hotel.

Nadim a regional salesman for an American tobacco company has the opposite problem. He has a hard time getting back to his home in Ramallah after spending all day in Jenin or Hebron. “Not only are we strained because of the general situation, but our entire family stays on edge until he returns even if it is midnight,” says his wife Jomana. The next morning the family is up from the early morning hours trying to get the children to school.

Despite the siege, the shelling and the continuing intifada, Ramallah is just as bustling as it was before, maybe more. Restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas and theatres are working till late hours of the night irrespective of whether the city is being shelled or not. The resilient of the city sometimes defies most observers. The most impressive sight to this resilience is the Jerusalem-Ramallah road especially on days of high tension. 

The Israeli army has tried every possible method to cut off Ramallah from Jerusalem, as well as other areas, but has failed. Ramallah taxis were barred from driving into Jerusalem. So Jerusalemites filled the gap with Ford vans that illegally carry passengers. Most of the drivers of these vans, factor in an average of two or three 215 shekels a month, as part of the cost of running a large shared taxi. Cement blocks, dirt mounds, and manned check posts have also failed to stop the flow of passengers who continue to travel on this important artery. On Monday my attempts to cross the 5 kilometer trip between Beit Hanina and Ramallah took me one hour because of a very tight Israeli blockade on the main road. We, literally hundreds of passenger cars, had to fight a traffic jam in the dirt road near the Qalandia quarry in order to cross those few kilometers. 

Unhappy about the matter, most drivers considered the trip as part of life under occupation and they went about doing their business albeit quite late for whatever appointments they had planned. Of course such a situation is not only stressful on people but causes havoc to any business or educational institution trying to make any effective work plan. The ad hoc system seems to have taken over as the mode of the day, with cell phones and conference calls filling in when personal attendance is impossible or delayed.

And contrary to the rumor that most foreigners have left Ramallah, a group of foreigners last week staged a three-day protest (it was extended to five days) calling for international protection to the Palestinian people. The protester said that in addition to their call for protection, they wanted to show solidarity to Palestinians with their presence and their willingness to sleep in tents, refusing offers by the Palestinian police to provide them with electric generators.

Ramallah is only a case in point. Similar stories can be written about Bethlehem, Hebron, and Nablus. Of course, the toll of the continued collective punishment to an entire people will exact its effects over a much longer period. The resilience of the Palestinian people despite living in a huge prison are coupled with a genuine hope and aspiration for a lasting peace. But for people in Ramallah and other Palestinian towns, the wait and patience about the current situation will not be satisfied with any more interim solution. The most repeated statement heard in private and public is: ” We are willing to wait as long as it takes, but this time we will not settle for any more phased solutions. We want total freedom, and independence from the yoke of the Israeli occupation.”

Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

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