Leading a normal, safe life is a juggling act for any Palestinian family. Even the prospect of enjoying a Christmas dinner with your loved ones and neighbors must take into account the risk of an Israeli army raid, invasion, or closure.
By Dalal Erakat
Living in Ramallah is thought of as trendy these days, and to a certain extent, represents a relatively luxurious life. Restaurants and cafes are packed, there are clubs and parties on weekends, there are sports and cultural activities, art galleries, and concerts.
Yet that assumption, that life is good as long as you are inside Ramallah, is not always reflective of reality. Israeli forces raid the city regularly, entering a neighborhood in the dead of night, taking over an entire home or building, and leaving at dawn with whomever they came to capture.
This week, with Christmas approaching, Israel didn’t just invade one neighborhood, it put the entire city under military closure; all of the roads in and out of Ramallah were blocked, making it impossible for civil servants to get to their homes outside the city. Many risked taking back roads and many others who did manage to make it out were attacked by armed settlers.
At noon on Thursday, in my office at the Arab American University, where we teach conflict resolution, I received an urgent call from my children’s school asking parents to pick their kids up early. Israeli forces, both uniformed soldiers and undercover units, were in the heart of the city, on main streets and even inside some buildings. Their presence, needless to say, brought fear and panic to the public.
When I finally reached my children’s school, I found my eldest holding the hands of his siblings, standing next to the teachers waiting for me.
My son (Sari): You’re late! The other parents arrived before you!
Me: Don’t worry, I am here to protect you!
Sari: What do you mean? How are you going to protect me? The Israeli armed forces are everywhere in Ramallah — I heard they invaded the city.
I brought my three children in for a hug and told them: “No need to cry. In Palestine, you have to be strong, resilient, and fearless! We live under occupation. The Israelis occupied our land but not our courage and perseverance.”
Thinking back later about what I said to my kids, my words felt totally out of context, unrealistic, and unfair.
As we drove home through the empty streets of the city, the roads were littered with stones and tires, left over from clashes between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian teenagers, who had fled their schools and homes without the knowledge of their parents, to face down the occupation with their bare chests.
Over the past few days, armed Israeli settlers have been attacking Palestinian villages, breaking into and shooting at homes, protesting on highways, attacking Palestinian drivers, and plastering the West Bank with posters calling for the assassination of President Abbas.
While the whole world is still talking about the peace process and the two-state solution, on the ground, there exists only one sovereign state. That state, Israel, exercises complete control over every inch of this land, with no differentiation between the territories captured in 1948, 1967, and those designated as Palestinian areas in past peace processes.
The international community loves talking about boosting the Palestinian economy, but they need to be reminded that security comes first. This time, it is the security of the Palestinian people that requires immediate international attention, intervention, and protection.
Classes have been canceled in Ramallah. Christmas parties for kindergartens have been called off. Universities are closed. Many restaurants and shops went on strike. In Palestine, no matter how privileged one is, at the end of the day life is still life under occupation.
On Saturday morning, a huge number of Israeli troops invaded Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, forced residents into school classrooms and a football field, and demolished the four-story house of Um Nasser. One of her sons, Islam Abu Hamid, is accused of killing an Israeli soldier by throwing a stone from a rooftop during yet another raid into Ramallah earlier this year.
Israel is confident it will be able to continue to act with impunity. The international community, as always, is silent, which translates to: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” But if the world recognizes the occupation’s right of defense, even when it is manifested as collective punishment against civilians, why can’t the world comprehend the Palestinian people’s right to defend itself?
The Palestinian Authority has its hands tied by various security coordination agreements. It is time to recognize that those agreements are being violated on a daily basis — by the Israelis. When Israeli military battalions invade Ramallah, nobody should be surprised if one day Palestinian security forces decide to actually protect Palestinian homes and civilians.
Dr. Dalal Erakat is an Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, Diplomacy and Strategic Planning at the Arab American University in Palestine. She is a weekly columnist at Al Quds newspaper.