At exactly 5 minutes to nine oâ€™clock, 5 minutes before the Israeliâ€™s allowed us to start moving, I hit the road carrying my one year old son, Kameel, on my shoulders and lead my 5 year old son, Nadeem, by a tightly held hand. We jumped from one side to another to avoid traffic and the mass of people in the street walking, running, waving, shouting with one aim, to be the first to get milk, bread and veggies. We have to be home with my family in four hours, maybe five. By 2 in the afternoon, we all have to be back home to our prisons. When will we be released again? Nobody knows until when, the last time we were jailed for five days.
At exactly 5 minutes to nine oâ€™clock, 5 minutes before the Israeliâ€™s allowed us to start moving, I hit the road carrying my one year old son, Kameel, on my shoulders and lead my 5 year old son, Nadeem, by a tightly held hand.We jumped from one side to another to avoid traffic and the mass of people in the street walking, running, waving, shouting with one aim, to be the first to get milk, bread and veggies.We have to be home with my family in four hours, maybe five.By 2 in the afternoon, we all have to be back home to our prisons.When will we be released again?Nobody knows until when, the last time we were jailed for five days.
I passed one of my favorite parts of Bethlehem, the Old City, the place in more relaxed times I would meet most of my friends, share coffee with a few, chat about politics with a few others and attend to our daily needs in the centuries old rhythms of our Arab world.Today I couldn’t.There was no socializing.I barely had the energy to wave for a taxi to take us to the nearest vegetable store!Now, at the store, the mood is different.Too crowded, too loud, and from amongst the murmurs I singled out news of somebody, some organization was taking a vacation and leaving the city.I was surprised at how anxious the people reacted to the news of somebody leaving our Bethlehem.I left the store, carrying three medium size plastic bags of what ever I could buy by squeezing between my competing neighbors for whatever was available.The kids were great at that.They were expert at fitting between the heaving bodies to snatch what we wanted.I could not imagine fitting in places the way they could!I look at our fortune, most of which Nahida would not approve of, but improvisation is necessary under such circumstance.I took another taxi to the Golden Angle Mini Market on the outskirts of Bethlehem, thinking it would be less crowded there since curfew had been lifted for more than an hour and a half.
â€œDid you hear about the one month vacation,â€ the cab driver said as I stepped into the cab.What is he talking about I said to my self as I settled the kids and the bundles in the seats. ” The World Bank is taking a one month vacation starting in three days,â€ the taxi driver explained.â€œImagine what could happen in one month, economies could fall apart, no payments, no support, no humanitarian aid, no long term loans,â€ he said.I smiled and said not to worry, they never go on vacation unless all their business is taken care of, things would still function even if they were on leave.The radio was on and suddenly a joyous folk song was replaced by a grim voice that announced that the UNRWA is taking a leave of one month starting in two days.I started to get worried then, why now, why one month why in two or three days.The voice continued announcing that Amnesty International was also taking a one-month leave.All its offices and sub offices will be closed for one month starting July 15 2002.I could see people on the side roads exchanging views, raising the heads often and clapping their hands sadly and in dismay.I got out of the taxi, paid him ten shekels, and started my new venture into the world of milk among the racks of cheese and tinned food.
â€œDid you hear?”Maher, the shop owner greeted me.â€œ’The UN Security Council is taking a leave for the month of July.All decisions are suspended until they come back.What will happen to us?What if Sharon decides to occupy Jordan and annex Egypt and declare Syria a settlement?â€™â€œStop exaggerating,â€ I said.â€œThey cannot just take a vacation and leave things as is.They must have appointed a special committee to oversee things.â€But, the whole UN is taking a vacation for one month,â€ he said.â€œI know a UN officer who used to sell me all his duty free items he got during his stay here.He called to check on me and to tell me that he will be leaving for Italy for a month!He is joining CEO’s at the IMF and high ranking officers from the EU.They, too, are having their summer leave starting in two days.”
I did keep eye contact and the occasional nodding as he went on talking, but time was flying.I went through the inviting food racks to pick items from the list Nahida so carefully prepared.Only a liter of milk, two yogurts and a pack of cheese, that is all that was left.I must have missed the parade or was late.I treated myself to some crackers and some whole wheat bread, assuring my self that this is a proper time to go on diet!
Mary, his sister, comes into the store, almost shouting.”The Arab League is taking a monthâ€™s vacation, too!â€œThey are starting next week and will not be back till the end of August,â€ she said.â€œBut, what about the summit on Palestine, the King Faisal proposal for peace, the emergency assistance for the refugee camps under curfew, their call for the end of occupation?”She was interrupted by heavy shooting just across the street.We took refuge behind the chocolate rack, almost empty, but at least it felt deliciously safe.Nadeem was wide eyed and was anxious to see what was going on.He was afraid but curious.Kameel was startled.We stayed there, not a word spoken for five minutes.Maher courageously leaped out and signaled us to come out.I paid my bill and left on foot waiting for a yellow taxi to pass.â€œTaxi,â€ I yelled.It stopped; I put the stuff in the boot, seated the kids and asked the driver to head home.”The Presidential Palace via the Cinema Road, please.”He turned around and said that we have to choose another way.â€œWhy,â€ said I, ” Is a tank blocking the street?There is a right turn just before the main street if thatâ€™s the case.”No,â€ he said, “the people are queuing to pay electricity bills. â€œThe Israeli Electric Company is taking a leave for one month starting in three days, and they announced that all due payments must be made now or the electricity will be cut off.â€
It is getting strangely serious here, why is it that everybody is taking leave at the same time.”It is good that the telephone and water companies are not talking leave, too,” I exclaimed.”But they are,” he said, â€œdidn’t you hear the 12 noon news? People are queuing there too.Others are buying water tanks.”
He suddenly stopped the taxi and said, â€œThis is as far as I can go.It is almost time and I need to head home in the other direction.”I paid him ten shekels, picked up the plastic bags from the car boot, helped the kids out of the car and started walking home.This time I walked a bit faster.Does Nahida know about this, did she pay the bills?What about my father, my brother, my other brother, do they have enough money?What would happen to the food I just bought without a fridge?Where do we keep the fruits?It is incredibly hot now; we can barely stand it with three fans on, cold water and ice cream.But what if they do cut off the water?Would they be crazy enough and cut the water off the whole city during summer?But, how can they differentiate between those who paid, those who could not pay and those would not pay?It is too short a notice!!!If they do cut the water off, I will call Salim, my friend who works at the central office.But, maybe Telecom is taking leave, too!That would be something, we will be totally cut off from everything.Who will know what is happening here?Who could stop them from doing anything worse than they have already done?I need to get home.Nahida must know, she must have done something.I went faster, though my burden became heavier with every additional step I take but I had to get home, at least 20 minutes before the time, before 2 in the afternoon, before they announce curfew again.
I rushed, Kameel enjoyed the odd galloping but Nadeem could barely keep up.I could not carry the two of them.No taxi in sight, all cars are going the opposite direction.Only a few meters more.My back is aching, my shoulders are crying for mercy, my feet failing to carry the weight, mine, Kameel’s and the contents of the plastic backs, I could sense my heartbeats banging against my forehead, sweating, tired.Is Nahida home?Only a few feet now, hang on guys we are almost home.Nadeem’s sweaty hands slip quickly from my hand, fells down, cries; I look back, down, .I wake up!
God, I was dreaming, with my eyes half open, I look at the alarm clock to my right.It is only 20 minutes to seven in the morning.God, it was only a dream, and what a silly dream.â€œHow could everyone take a month long vacation at the same time?â€I said to my self, “this subconscious is something!They have been on vacation for the last 22 months!!”