It was Saturday 26 January, and I wanted to take advantage of the warm sunshine and carry my twoyoungest children to Qalandia near Ramallah for a flu vaccine because of the coming winter storms. We woke up early in the morning and felt excited as we got everyone ready. My wife wanted to come along as well to take care of Adam, our 5 year old, and Yousef, our 6-month-old baby, both who had a doctor’s appointment in Qalandia
It was Saturday 26 January, and I wanted to take advantage of the warm sunshine and carry my twoyoungest children to Qalandia near Ramallah for a flu vaccine because of the coming winter storms. We woke up early in the morning and felt excited as we got everyone ready. My wife wanted to come along as well to take care of Adam, our 5 year old, and Yousef, our 6-month-old baby, both who had a doctor’s appointment in Qalandia.
We set out early in the morning at 8:20 am. It was a lovely sunny day. Adam was so exited that he could at last leave the village, so rare these days because of the situation and the dangerous roads. We caught the first taxi to Bethlehem taking with us all the money we had at home, around $45. We were stopped at the first checkpoint in Al Khader. There was the usual checking of papers and banal questions, but, thankfully, it lasted only 20 minutes. We continued to Bethlehem, and from there we took another taxi to Qalandia for 45 shekels ($1 = 4.5 sh). On the way, we traveled the Wadi Al Nar road, (the valley of fire), a difficult and treacherous road which Palestinians are forced to use instead of the easier one through East Jerusalem. People usually start praying whenever they have to use it, because so many accidents occur here every day. We saw two the same day.
After 40 minutes, another Israeli checkpoint. We waited for nearly an hour and were worried about our 10:30 appointment. It was already 9:40. The road was long, and we were running out of time. Little Yousef began to cry. We tried to divert his attention away from the miserable situation that we found ourselves in. There was a long slow-moving queue of cars. When we finally reached the checkpoint, I saw a group of Israeli soldiers, all of them teenagers. They were the much-despised Border Police. They had all the time in the world, caring about no one except themselves. But who dared to complain? He could end up being shot dead! Again we were checked and questioned.
By this time, Adam was feeling very thirsty being pent up inside the car in the hot Judean Desert sun and asked me for water. But we had none, since we didn’t imagine such a long arduous trip. “You’ll have to wait, Adam,” I said, thinking he was nervous or afraid of what he saw on the road.
Finally we left the checkpoint, and my wife said,”Alhamdolillah,” “Praise God! Maybe we will be there on time after all.” But not 5 minutes later, we saw another queue of cars longer than the first one. “Oh, no, another checkpoint”, the driver muttered in anger. “How can we earn money, if every trip takes more than two hours? Is this any way to make a living?”
“These teenagers are controlling our lives.” He couldn’t stop shouting, as he vented his frustrations. I was thinking of my own situation as well. How can we live? No work, no security, no money, no freedom, prisoners in our own land. And what next? Another hour passed just waiting idly. Now we were already 20 minutes late for our appointment.
Another group of teenage Border Police. They just stood around eating, joking and laughing with each other. Adam stared at them and became more and more nervous and even thirstier. Yousef was asleep,Thank God. The checkpoint was less than 50 meters from the gate of Al Quds University, where the soldiers were stopping and checking the students one by one. They looked younger than many of the students. Finally, we left the third checkpoint.
After an hour we saw another queue of cars. The driver was furious. He reminded me of thousands of Palestinian fathers who can hardly find a day’s food for their children. He complained, “This trip used to take us less than 20 minutes through East Jerusalem; now it takes 2 hours. This is state terrorism, preventing us from earning our daily bread.” I understood what he meant, but I wondered, “Does the rest of the world know about all this?”
At last we left the car with our legs completely numb after spending more than 3 hours sitting tense and worried in the hot car. We passed through the Qalandia checkpoint (mahsoun) along with thousands of other Palestinians coming and going and hundreds of cars trying to find enough space to go through. Israeli soldiers watched everyone and were ready for anything.
We had a hard time finding our way. However, this was not the end of the trip. We still had another taxi to catch. This time we would have to bargain, because we were running out of money. The taxi took us through Qalandia, a refugee camp, and I asked the driver why he was taking this road. He answered impatiently, “Don’t you see that the main road is blocked? How can we use it?” Another passenger sighed, “Leave it to God; he will take care of this situation some day.” I understood what he meant. Our people have strong faith and believe that God will not allow this suffering to go on forever.
“We’re here,” my wife Aziza exclaimed. ” Let’s ask. The clinic cannot be far.” We left the car and walked a few meters and at last saw the clinic’s sign. It was 12:30, two hours late for a doctor’s appointment! We discussed it with the nurse who smiled knowingly, “We understand. This is our situation. But I’m sorry, the doctor just left.” Her words were like a slap in the face. “I guess next time we’ll have to come two days ahead to catch the doctor! It is not possible to meet him the same day we leave Bethlehem.”
The nurse wanted to do something to help us, so she said, “It is not that difficult. I can give them the vaccination myself, if you like.” Without any hesitation we agreed. At least we could do something for the children after all this misery. In a few seconds, I heard Yousef crying from the medical examination. Then Adam started crying, when he received the injection. The shocking thing was that we had to pay 100 shekels for a service that is free in most of the world. Here, without our own state, we have no free services. I whispered in my wife’s ear, “How can we make it back home? We only have 50 shekels left?”
We then left the clinic trying to think of a way to get home. “At least we have enough to get us back to Bethlehem.” Aziza commented, trying to calm me down. I replied, ” I know that, my dear wife, but I was thinking of the promise I made to Adam to get him a small toy.”
I soon found myself in the taxi to the Qalandia checkpoint. At the checkpoint, we searched for a Bethlehem car in this orange sea of taxis. Suddenly, we heard some school children shouting as they ran towards the soldiers carrying stones to toss at them. “Quick! Bring your children inside,” a shopkeeper shouted to us. I only later realized he was crying because of the tear gas bombs. I also realized that it was very dangerous for Adam with his respiratory problems. It could kill him as well as our baby. “Close your nose and run,” I signaled to Adam and Aziza as I carried Yousef in my arms into the safety of the shop. There were two little schoolchildren outside crying. I pulled them into the shop and closed the door. “I hope no bomb breaks through the glass as happened recently.”
One of the girls asked me, “Uncle, don’t you have a mobile phone? I want to call my father.” I offered it to her, and she started sobbing, “Please, Daddy, come get us out of here; we are so scared.” I tried to calm them down, saying we were all here together and not to worry. We had not yet learned of the martyr in the camp that same day.
Half an hour later, we ran outside between the soldiers and the stone throwers, until we found a car back to Bethlehem. The trip back was a repeat of the morning through the same checkpoints. By sunset, we were in the Bethlehem taxi to our village, hurrying so that Adam wouldn’t ask for his toy. I noticed him looking at one of the toyshops. I expected him at any moment to remind me of my promise. But he was silent.
Finally we were home, drained and exhausted. Adam stayed silent for a long time. After we had something to eat, I asked him,” Adam, why didn’t you ask for the toy?” He answered, “I don’t want to go outside the house again.” It seemed strange to me that he didn’t even bother to answer my question. “I understand, my son,” I thought to myself, “How could you ask for a toy when you could have been killed?”
I realized that he was so terrified that he hardly slept that night. He woke up crying and ran through the house with his hand holding his nose as we had done while running from the tear gas and rubber-coated
Sitting alone at the kitchen table in the darkness of the night, I wanted somehow to make it up to my family for such a terrible day. “I don’t want my children growing up with hate,” I thought to myself. “Don’t we have the right to live in peace too? But they are suffocating us. We can’t breathe. We can’t move. They are killing us body and soul.”
“Won’t someone hear our cry of despair? Does no one see our hot tears? What is the world waiting for? They have forgotten us. But don’t we have the right to live in freedom and security as much as the people of Afghanistan?” But no one was listening.