Thursday, 4 January 2007

Side by Side: Meanwhile, In Ramallah...


Earlier today, there were 3 attacks in the West Bank on Fatah officials: a kidnapping, the burning of a car, and firing of weapons outside a funeral, each designed to let Fatah know that if they didn’t back down, the situation in Gaza would spill over into the West Bank.

They were all supposed to be messages. Maybe the attack on Faleh was another message.

As we’re are all ready to leave for Abu Ghosh to begin our photography workshops, Khaled’s phone rings. He quickly switches the tv to Al-Jazeera and we watch, live, as the Israeli military rolls onto the streets. There are fire-fights in the streets, kids throwing stones at armoured cars, sporadic gun-fire. People are running through the streets with white sheets waving above their heads. The armoured cars move forward, they move back, they send in bulldozers to run over a few parked cars for no obvious reason.

Khaled seems most bothered by the cars. Sitting next to someone from Ramallah, he asks “Is that your car?” Khaled and the others in the flat begin to panic as the situation starts getting worse. They’re worried about their family and friends, I’m worried about anyone getting anywhere for the workshops now that the checkpoints are closed.

Every few seconds a mobile phone rings (everyone in this flat has at least two phones) with another panicked family member. “It’s okay, I’m in Ram.”
“No, I’m in Ram, it’s okay, talk to you later.”
“Don’t go to Ramallah! I’m in Ram, it’s okay.”
The only relief is the ring tones, punctuating the panic every few seconds, with an Arabic pop song, or that unavoidable Zamphir tune or, in Khaled’s case, a cover of “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”

Every few minutes, people start come out of the shops and houses they’re hiding in, only for one of them to be shot and everyone to scatter again.

One of Khaled’s friends is speaking on the phone to his family in Ramallah. He can see, on the screen, what’s going on outside their door. “Stay inside,” he tells them.
“Okay, I think they’re pulling out” Khaled says watching the television.
“Oh, they’re pulling out,” his friend says into the phone,
“Oh, no, wait! They’re back!” Khaled shouts, hearing gunshots and watching more people scatter
“Stay inside! They’re still there!” his friend yells down the phone. It’s all feeding live into Khaled’s living room - we’re watching, hearing the police and ambulance sirens on tv, and now, outside the window of his flat.

I suddenly fear, as well as everything else, that this project is never going to happen. Qalandiya is closed, the only checkpoint any of us can use to get to the Abu Ghosh. If the violence spreads just outside the city of Ramallah, we’ll all be locked inside. For a few minutes, we each sit in silnce staring at the screen, each thinking his own fears and frustrations.

Khaled eventually decides to pack the car. The taxi drops us off at a smaller checkpoint just outside Ram and we carry the equipment, two flip charts, video projectors, photo albums, laptops, through in several trips. The Israeli soldiers don’t know what to make of me walking through the checkpoint, waving my passport, carrying two flipcharts under my arms. I smile and act chirpy.

When I come back through with the second load of gear, the guard motions for me to stop and asks “show me your passport”.
“I just showed it to you!”
“Oh, you’re the same guy?” he looks surprised.
There must be a lot of Palestinians crossing this checkpoint with flipcharts under their arms.

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