Last Saturday, during curfew, Mary’s sisters who had come from Paris said goodbye and sneaked out of Bethlehem by climbing, with all their luggages, over a little hill in Beit Jala known among both Palestinians and the army as an escape route.”It has the feel of crossing the old Berlin Wall,” said Mary’s sister afterwards.
Last Saturday, during curfew, Mary’s sisters who had come from Paris said goodbye and sneaked out of Bethlehem by climbing, with all their luggages, over a little hill in Beit Jala known among both Palestinians and the army as an escape route.”It has the feel of crossing the old Berlin Wall,” said Mary’s sister afterwards. In the wake of their departure, we felt that palpable silence of the curfew again, interspersed by children’s voices in the afternoon playing outside because of the spring-like beautiful weather. We hear the neighbour playing softly on the harmonica while sitting on the stairs before his house, and we also hear once again the explosions during night. One day soldiers exploded the door of a nearby music shop where presumably somebody was hiding. During another silent, unholy night, thieves stole the car of our neighbour using a rope to pull it out of the drive. After being warned, Palestinian police said they could not come because it was curfew after all. Now we all the time hear about robberies; curfew conditions make it easier to break into departed places and shops and, of course, the mounting poverty breeds crime. “Keep always your door shut from inside when you stay at home,” advises a visitor.
The suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was unsettling not only because of the many dead but also because the people immediately started worrying about its consequences. This time no ‘spectacular’ eye-catching measures like the siege of Arafat were imposed but “administrative measures.” Those younger than 35 (that is, 70 % of the Palestinian population) are now not permitted to travel outside their towns or villages. As I hear from one affected by the measure, even those Palestinians who have both an Israeli ID and a foreign passport cannot travel. According to Israeli announcements, the “basket” of measures includes the closing of three Palestinian universities, although up until now it is not clear which ones are chosen. Elias’ son Fady was stuck for some time in the northern West Bank town of Jenin where he studies, but by walking over the fields, taking risks and taking lots of taxis, he managed to reach Bethlehem less than 200 kilometer south, after a ten hours’ costly journey.. Much of the occupation in fact consists of administrative measures that categorize Palestinians according to the degree to which people presumably constitute a security risk. To be male and young makes you a security risk. When you live in a town out of which a bombing mission was organized, you are also a security risk, and may be curfewed. Refugee camps are treated as a supreme security risk. Only yesterday soldiers shot dead a stone-throwing youth, and injured several others, in Aida camp behind Rachel’s Tomb. Mary informs me of the event in a resigned voice, as if such wanton killings have become somehow normal.
I start realizing that apart from the obvious ways of enforcing the occupation – military force, humiliations, mobility restrictions, perhaps poverty – there is also an element which is often overlooked: creating uncertainty. Of course nobody knows when ongoing punitive measures are lifted or “eased,” or whether they are fully enforced. So nobody can plan life, work or study. People here are used to say that they plan day by day, and with the present curfews changing all the time, perhaps hour by hour. But I would not be surprised if there is a purposeful Israeli policy of creating uncertainty. This week we suddenly heard a lot of rumours about the period the curfews would last – some suggested 10 days; others mentioned periods up until after the Israeli elections at the end of this month, some spoke about several months. The source of the rumours was not clear; the Irtibaat office (liaison with the Israelis) did not know about any official or informal information provided by the Israelis. Some therefore speculated collaborators were planting the rumours. This week it also happened that one day fuel was available, another day the supply was blocked. As if the army was playing with the nerves of the people. The psychological effects of consistently feeling no control over one’s life and environment, and being subject to arbitrary measures imposed by others, should be substantial, especially over the long run. One consequence, a Jerusalem psychologist tells, is shrinking self-respect, a loss of human dignity.
While waiting for the schoolbus in the early morning, a passer by tells me and Jara that it is curfew and that there is therefore no school. We didn’t know; it wasn’t announced on the TV. So we go back home. Jara is somehow relieved. First she wanted to go to school and the school was not open. Now (yesterday and today) the school is open but she didn’t want to go. Also Elias’ child and Fuad’s grandchildren didn’t want. All children are out of their rhythm, become a bit lazy, and are disoriented. Jara complies only after a promise to have an afternoon outing in a restaurant. In fact, I decided for her to have additional school time at home. Now we work for an hour on the school books every day, to maintain rhythm.