When the Tanks Rolled We Continued to Drink our Coffee – Ramallah Raid 2007
September 9, 2009 Leave a comment
(01-05) 04:00 PDT Ramallah, West Bank — Israeli troops staged a rare incursion into this city Thursday, bulldozing cars and vegetable stands near the central square as they engaged gunmen and stone-throwing residents in a chaotic two-hour battle that left four Palestinians dead. (LA Times, 5 Jan 2007)
“While the Israeli tanks rolled through our neighborhood, we sat at a sidewalk café and continued to drink our coffee” commented a diner at Thursday night’s Ramadan feast. For the past four nights, most of the Palestinians I’ve met on the West Bank have shown a great enthusiasm in engaging me in conversations about Palestine, Ramallah, Israel, and the impression Americans have of the conflict and country.
The gentleman discussing his thoughts and memories of the last incursion Israel made into Palestine, nearly two years ago, was one of fatigue. “We are just tired of the misery this conflict has brought into our lives. We are no longer afraid of Israel, we just want the problems to go away.”
These words attracted several nods from my table and nearby tables, bringing several others into the conversation. One lady described how the house across the street from her home was destroyed by a shell, and it blew the front of her house apart due to the concussion of the explosion. Israeli soldiers would not let her approach the house, as the area was a “security problem.” She was able to return to her home a day later to being rebuilding her life.
“What gives one person the right to destroy the home of another?” asked the lady. Of course I have no answer.
An evening of stories and thoughts of prior conflicts, incursions, the leadership of Arafat, and the current climate of tolerance and desire to get everybody’s lives back on track.
“What is your impression of Palestine, do you think we have hope?”
I took a risk and answered the question by saying “Americans in general hate victims. We don’t like anybody who sits back and waits for others to solve their problems. When I see construction workers on the job at 5 a.m. during my morning jogs; when I see Palestinian software companies popping up doing outsourcing for American companies such as Cisco – and companies in the semi-conductor business, yes I have hope.”
“You are right. I’ve lived and studied in America and that is right. Never really thought of it before. Our leadership is making a mistake. They believe we should tug at the heart strings – which of course won’t work in your country. This story needs to be told.”
During the past four days I have walked the streets of Ramallah, met dozens of people, and had a wonderful time. During the past two days I have encountered two American State Department representatives, both of whom were protected by teams of what appeared to be Blackwater security, or a Blackwater suitable substitute thugs. “The package is 30 seconds out, all is secure…”
And one of my local colleagues asks “why is that guy carrying guns around in my country?”
“I don’t know. Guess they think they are in Long Beach.”
We Really Haven’t a Clue
When I watch Fox news, I get the impression everybody in Ramallah or the West Bank wants to demonstrate against the US, Israel, motherhood and apple pie. Americans think Ramallah is a cauldron of hate, looking for every opportunity to disrupt life as we know it. And we run around the country with armed security forces that are, well, NUTS!
There are four consulate offices near my hotel, and there are Palestinian police protecting the residences – just like in any other country. The local consular officer travels freely throughout Ramallah without concern, as this is a pretty peaceful place. Jogging along the streets you see representative offices from just about any NGO (non-governmental organization) in the world, as well as the United Nations and the World Bank. No Blackwater Security.
How can Americans possibly expect to learn about this ancient and wonderful part of the world when our own leadership acts with such arrogance and elitist actions? The journalists following state department officers in the middle-east must get a small sliver of reality when traveling with the “package.” It appears even the state department officers have convinced themselves this is appropriate behavior.
The Ramadan evening buffet meal over and another walk through the city back to my hotel. It is such a beautiful at night, with a half moon and clear sky, that it would be a sin to ride in a cab or car. Dodged a couple cars as I walked into the street to avoid some construction debris, otherwise the trip was uneventful. No kidnapping attempts, no assaults, and no problems other than I forgot how to say “good evening” in Arabic.
John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine