Home Under Siege

It was 1:05 AM when I heard huge explosions and the shouts and commotion of some Palestinian security forces. My second night home had not prepared me for what was to come. I wasn’t sure what was going on or what I should do. I ran to my parents’ room and found them awake and listening to the news. At first they told me to relax assuring me that it was safe, but then we all tried to take shelter as the explosions drew closer. We all felt so helpless! There was nothing we could do but sit and wait until the explosions stopped.

About half an hour later, my parents decided that it was safe for us to go back to bed, but I just couldn’t do it! I needed to ask so many questions– where was the place that the Israeli army had shelled? Was anyone injured? Did anyone die? After exhaustion and fear finally took over, I fell asleep leaving my fate in the hands of the unknown.

First thing that morning I called my friends to make sure that they were alive and well. Luckily they were fine. They even wondered at my concern. It dawned on me later that mine was the only sense of shock and fear. They acted calmly as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened that night and wondered at all my persistent questions. Some laughed, others tried to assure me, but all told me that I needed to get used to it because this has become a “normal” part of our life.

Their reactions saddened me even more. How can bombs and machine guns be normal? How can people just learn to live with it? Needless to say, a few days later, those thoughts slowly sank into the lower recesses of my consciousness and I found myself developing a strange immunity. I now do not even wonder at how I can manage to sit here and continue writing while explosions are well within earshot. My feelings have turned to sadness and anger.

Assassinations are very popular and hip these days in the agenda of Israeli Prime Minister (and indicted war criminal) Ariel Sharon. It hurts me to see all these people die because of one man’s extremism and racism. The Israeli army’s military power is let loose on a defenseless people. Yet what saddens me even more is the response of the world to such cruelty and murder. As an undergraduate studying in the United States I usually watch the news every day to make sure that my family and loved ones are not on the list of martyrs. It took only a few days at home to show me that what is covered in the media and what actually is happening are two different and contradictory worlds. Even if we disregard the bias and the fabrications, no amount of description of coverage can fully express the horror that the Palestinians go through in any “normal” day.

Many people don’t know that the Israeli occupation army is demolishing homes of civilians and confiscating land (by force), cutting down olive trees, destroying crops and killing people, including children, every day. And all this is happening to a population that is imprisoned by a brutal and strangling siege. I don’t know if one should blame western public opinion for being misled or misguided, or whether the media are responsible for deceiving their audience readership. Most of all governments should bare the blame because they are supposed to know better and they have the power to change to intervene and affect reality.

The road between Ramallah and Jerusalem is not the only road that shapes the collective prisons that Israel created for us. Birzeit University is the largest and one of the best Universities in Palestine which is attended by students from all over Palestine. Every morning they have to go through an Israeli army checkpoint that blocks the only road leading to the university. They have to face armed Israeli soldiers daily and pass in the sight of the Israeli tank that is stationed on the top of the hill overlooking the road.

Most of my classmates and friends from school attend Birzeit University and I asked them how they get through that ordeal daily. Amani, one of my best friends tells me that they go by cab until they get to the checkpoint then they hike about a couple of kilometers through rough terrain down the valley and up the hill then they get around the checkpoint but the soldiers sometimes shoot at them for daring to cross. Then they take another cab on the other side of the checkpoint to get to the University.

What Amani just described is the “easy” road that people living in Ramallah and other closer cities take. But students living in Jerusalem and other places simply cannot attend due to the collective imprisonment. Not like anywhere else in the world, education in Palestine is a crime! Students deserve to be watched over with tanks and machineguns, and they need to walk and take their chances at survival if they dare to get to class; they are armed with books!

Every day new events are slowly shaping my views on peace, coexistence and tolerance. Men and women are murdered daily, nor does innocence protect the lives of children. The West fights for environmental and animal rights, and we are still trying to figure out what it is to be alive, for we haven’t had that right yet. The people of Palestine, houses of Palestinians, the Palestinian flag, and even the Olive tree became targets and guilty for daring to exist. The Palestinian people are terrorists for defending their land and loved ones with “very hard stones” and therefore deserve to die. Palestinian homes shelter those who dare long for freedom therefore deserve to be demolished. The flag is a symbol of identity for those that shouldn’t exist and therefore should not be raised. The olive tree is a book of a thousand years of history that tells the story of an ancient and proud people and therefore needs to be bulldozed in an attempt to bury history along with all hopes for peace.

Zeina Ashrawi is a Palestinian undergraduate student at George Mason University.

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