A day in Palestine

Palestinians in Jerusalem live a life marked by uncertainty where military incursions, home demolitions, evictions, arrests and abuse of Palestinian children and youth and constant surveillance by the Israeli secret police and collaborators are all routine.

On the final day of our recent visit to ‪Palestine,‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Fadwa (my better half) and I decided to go to Ramallah to see my friend, the brilliant Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh. He and I always meet at Café Zamn, a trendy café in the heart of the city.

I had been in Palestine three weeks by then and this was not an easy visit. The morning after I arrived I had to appear in court for a trial, (see my piece about the trial here). I was charged with participating in disturbances during the weekly Friday protest in the village of Nabi Saleh.

That same night I had a lecture to present, and the following morning my Arabic language sessions began at Alquds University, three hours every morning, reading, writing and speaking. The classes are held at Alquds’ campus in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jerrah neighborhood.

Taking classes in a Palestinian university in Jerusalem with Palestinian professors and Palestinian students and staff is wonderful. I have been doing this for several years, and for an Israeli it is a journey into an unknown world. Jerusalem is the most divided city in the country and life for Palestinians and Israelis could not be more different.

In the neighborhood of Sheikh Jerrah for example, close to thirty homes have been marked and plans are underway to evacuate their Palestinian residents and replace them with ultra-religious Israeli families. Several families have already been evicted and the others are being debated in the Israeli courts, which means it is just a matter of time before they too are forced out. Two of my professors live in the neighborhood.

Students and members of the faculty live in various Palestinian neighborhoods and for me, coming from the sphere of the privileged occupier, this is a glimpse into a world I have never known. Palestinians in Jerusalem live a life marked by uncertainty where military incursions, home demolitions, evictions, arrests and abuse of Palestinian children and youth and constant surveillance by the Israeli secret police and collaborators are all routine.

Throughout the month of October there were countless cases of young Palestinians shot and killed, allegedly because they were about to stab an Israeli. It was madness: In one incident, a thirteen-year-old boy was shot in the street and as he lay terrified, bleeding on the sidewalk a crowd of Israelis was yelling at him: “Die you son of a bitch!” This boy was spared, but was deemed a “terrorist” and was taken to Offer Prison.

An Eritrean refugee, seeking asylum in Israel wasn’t so lucky. A security guard who thought he was a Palestinian terrorist shot him and then as he lay on the floor bleeding, he was lynched to death by a mob of Israeli bystanders; an Israeli stabbed another Israeli mistaking him for a Palestinian. Most of the incidents ended with an extra-judicial execution of a Palestinian, so there is no way to know what really took place. All of this, by the way, continues as I write these words.

East Jerusalem is full of restaurants and shops, hotels, cafes and theatres yet over the last few weeks the streets were empty after six in the evening. Events were cancelled and shops closed early.

For me the worst of it was seeing the plaza in front of Damascus Gate, one of the major entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem, empty on Friday and Saturday. Usually the plaza is full of life, packed with people, but over the past few weeks there were mostly soldiers and police in riot gear and very few people (me among them) walking into the Old City.

In Ramallah, Fadwa and I spent the afternoon drinking coffee and chatting with Mohammad. The café is about a twenty-minute walk from the bus stop, but rather than taking a cab we decided to walk, finding it hard not to peek into every jewelry store or buy something at every fruit stand on the way. We were late as usual and Mohammad was already there when we arrived. When it was time to leave Mohammad gave us a ride to the bus station.

Kalandia checkpoint sits on the way between Ramallah and Jerusalem. It is a huge, ugly messy thing made of concrete and characterized by cruelty and callousness. Soldiers and a civilian private security firm, whose employees look like Rambos, man the checkpoint. As the bus approaches the checkpoint on the way back to Jerusalem one never knows what to expect: Do we stay on the bus or do we get off the bus? If we get off where do we go? The rules constantly change and the only thing that remains consistent is uncertainty.

We were to stay on the bus. A soldier came up to check IDs, followed by a civilian Rambo. The Israeli soldier decided to stop me and told me to get off the bus. “Why?” I asked, “I always go this way and I’m never stopped” (almost never). “You are an Israeli Jew aren’t you? So you are in violation of the Commanding General’s order that prohibits Israeli Jews from entering Area A.(The famous General’s order I keep violating, I have an entire chapter about it in my book, “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”). As we got off the bus he added, “Besides, don’t you read the news, don’t you know what is going on here these days?”

Now we wait. Then a Palestinian Druze working for the private security firm and dressed like Rambo takes me into a room, checks my things for knives and other terrorist paraphernalia. They are not concerned about Fadwa though she too has an Israeli ID. But she is not an Israeli Jew, so the general’s order doesn’t apply, I guess the general doesn’t care about her. I get a body search and a policeman comes in and starts a whole bad cop routine on me:

Him: Where are you from?
Me: Jerusalem.

Him: No you’re not! Where are you from?
Me: Jerusalem!

Since I am originally from Jerusalem I really had no more to say to him at that point. Then he asked me what I was doing in Ramallah.

“Just walked around, looked around and bought a few things.”
“No you didn’t! What did you do in Ramallah?” The bad cop routine again.

“We have laws here, and laws are to be followed,” he preached. I tried to explain calmly that if everyone obeyed the law around here that he and all the others like him would be in jail a long time ago. We sat in his office and he made a call to see if I was to be detained. He hung up, looked at me and in a totally different tone told me I was free to go.

He was so disappointed. Then on the way out I asked the Rambo, who was a Palestinian Druze how could he work for them. But he had his “I am proud Israeli citizen” script all memorized.

We made it to Jerusalem just in time to meet my sister Nurit and go to Hadassah hospital to see Issa Mo’uti. Issa is thirteen years old, from Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers shot him in the leg four times, using ammunition that explodes once it hits the target, thus obliterating it. He has been there for several weeks, handcuffed to his bed.

Since he cannot walk, and will never be able to run, one wonders why the need to handcuff him to the bed. Much of the leg below the knee is black with gangrene and Hadassah is charging one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to amputate. The Israelis shot him, tortured him, then they charge a small fortune to cut off the leg they destroyed.

Issa was pale, his small body curled up in his bed, his lips dry and barely able to move, but he smiled at us when we came and was generally in good spirits, like a little hero. His mother, also pale and looking exhausted was with him. We talked for a while, he showed us a video of the incident where he was shot and then arrested. Then he looked at Nurit and I and said:

“You are not Yahud like them.”
“No, we are not.”

But we are Israeli Jews so we are privileged, which means that at the end of the day, even a day such as this one, we go to our safe, comfortable spheres, spheres empty of soldiers and Arabs.

This article was written by Miko Peled for American Herald Tribune on Nov. 3, 2015. Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the US. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. His father was the late Israeli General Matti Peled. Driven by a personal family tragedy to explore Palestine, its people and their narrative.