The Price of Curfew: Two Parts of the Globe

On September 19, 2002, about 100 feet from where I lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israeli soldiers shot dead Abdul Salam Sumrein, a 9-year-old Palestinian school boy, from Al-Amari Refugee camp. Sumrein was shot when he ‘broke’ an Israeli curfew to buy cigarettes for his father.

The tragic death of Sumrein is an example of what the Israeli curfew means; a non-voluntary 24-hour house confinement. Life under curfew has been the case for Palestinians since April 2002, when Israel launched its massive military offensive é Operation Defensive Shield, into the West Bank.

Few weeks ago, I read about the on-going debate between Parents, the City Council and the Police Department in Columbia, where I currently live, about efforts to impose a teenage-curfew in the city.

For Palestinians curfew is not like a curfew for a teenager here in Columbia. There, in the other part of the globe, it means one can’t leave the house for days and may be exposed to Israeli army house-to-house search. It means one can be left with no food supplies if a curfew is imposed suddenly. The streets are empty except from Israeli armored personnel carriers (APC), the market is shut down and the schools closed. Even the sick can’t make it to hospitals.

In an article Curfew in Palestine, not same as curfew for European teenagers Majdi, a Palestinian teenager from the West Bank city of Hebron says “the only sound of life comes from families calling out greetings from their windows and the distant loudspeaker of an Israeli military jeep announcing curfew”.

While the on-going debate about curfew for Columbia teenagers involves only those under the age of 17 with some exceptions including those who are accompanied by their parents or guardians, those who are at work, or commute to and from work, or those involved in an emergency or those attending school. The on-going curfew in the West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip involves almost 3 million Palestinians, regardless of age, occupation or gender. Even the Israeli claim that ambulance crews are allowed to work under curfew, they are often subject to the harassment of soldiers.

Curfew in Columbia is for the average of six and a half hours at night, if multiplied by 365 days, then the total is 2372.5 curfew hours per year.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), since June 2002 through February 3rd, 2003, Ramallah city was put under curfew for 2410 days with only two to three hours when curfew was lifted every four or five days and sometimes a week. In the West Bank city of Nablus, for example, out of 54 days of curfew, there have been 32 hours when curfew was lifted (1264 curfew hours in 45 days) which is 53% of the Columbia curfew hours in one year.

If a Columbia teenager breaks the curfew he or she could be taken into custody and later picked up by his/her parents or guardians. But if a Palestinian breaks the curfew he could be arrested, if fortunate, but if unfortunate shot dead like the 9 year-old boy Sumrein.

Curfew as a method of military activity is a collective punishment; it not only has psychological effects on people but economical and social. To deal with curfew Palestinians tend to amuse themselves with playing cards, smoking Nargila (water pipe) or watching TV. Some go to the extreme by making jokes out of it, one of which is that with the 24-hour curfew and with electricity cut most of the time, the fertility rate in Palestine has gone up.

Walid Batrawi is a Palestinian journalist and producer from Ramallah. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Columbia, Missouri, USA.