New Year's in a Garden on the Moon
A West Bank Story
5 February 2005
The Jericho Intercontinental is a very
posh hotel built next to a casino, both of which were finished
just as the Second Intifada started and thus never really opened.
But they dusted themselves off and offered a New Year's Eve
party, a night in a big lavish room, and two meals for $90 each.
Several Palestinians and internationals jumped at the chance,
eager for a change in scenery and atmosphere.
I loaded up with some Palestinian
officemates and friends into a service taxi on New Year's Eve,
and we made the long journey bypassing the Qalandia checkpoint.
The detour added more than an hour to the trip. If we'd been
Jewish settlers, we could have breezed right through.
It was a lovely drive, though.
The soft hills were thinly, vibrantly green from the rains,
and shepherds and their flocks were out in force. There was
hardly a green hill without a group of trotting goats or grazing
sheep. One flock appeared to be high on a cliff ledge with an
almost sheer face above and below. I asked the girl next to
me, who is from Gaza, "How did they get up there?"
She said, "I don't know.
But it's beautiful, isn't it? It makes you wonder what all
of this was like a thousand years ago."
The Israeli government and
the newspapers keep saying they are minimizing checkpoints in
the run-up to the elections, which is simply a lie. Even if
they have taken out some fixed checkpoints, which I haven't seen
or heard of them doing, they have added a lot more 'flying checkpoints,'
which can show up anywhere. Flying checkpoints are even more
nerve-wracking than fixed checkpoints because they are so unpredictable.
We hit a flying checkpoint
near the entrance of Jericho, and the girl beside me crossed
her fingers and said, "Let's hope nobody gets turned back.
She has a Gaza ID, which is
a different color from West Bank IDs. As a Gazan she's not even
supposed to be in the West Bank these days, where she works and
lives and studies, according to the arbitrary rules of the occupier.
At any checkpoint, at any time, she can be turned back, arrested,
or deported. (Then again, so can anyone and everyone, for any
reason or no reason. An Israeli border guard once admitted to
me that they could say the word 'security' and do anything they
liked.) In essence, she's in house arrest in Ramallah.
A lot of Gazans are in the
same boat and haven't seen their families in Gaza for years,
missing weddings and funerals, birthdays and holidays, because
they are afraid that once they leave the West Bank, Israel will
never allow them to return to their West Bank colleges, careers,
To try to get past the checkpoints
surrounding Ramallah, my friend brought her Palestinian Authority-issued
passport instead of her Israel-issued ID. The passport says
she's from Gaza in small letters in English and Arabic, but it
doesn't scream GAZA like the ID.
The soldiers at this checkpoint
didn't notice my friend was from Gaza, but one of them read that
my passport was issued in San Francisco. He grinned broadly.
"Pamela Jane! You are from San Francisco. You know the
I had no idea what he was talking
about - aren't the SuperSonics in Seattle? - but I smiled and
nodded. He smiled back, and then, still grinning, came to my
window. I looked down, kind of mortified, and we were allowed
to drive off.
We all agreed he was kinda
cute, but I said, "Does that ever work? Picking up chicks
while you are oppressing them? Does he think his gun is sexy
My friend from Gaza said, "Who
knows? Why do construction workers whistle at girls who pass
by? Does that ever work?"
"I don't know... I guess
men with big metal objects in their hands get overconfident or
"'Hey, you are from San
Francisco! You know the SuperSonics?'" My friend mocked
the soldier and giggled. "'And hey, you are from Gaza!
You know Ahmed Yassin?'"
I'd just about put my passport
back in my purse when the driver made the general call for IDs
again. Another checkpoint. It hadn't been 50 yards.
We went through the same stress,
the same waiting in line, the same nonsense again.
And 50 yards on there was another
one! Triple shot. I said, "How can three checkpoints within
ten feet of each other be for security?"
"They're just trying to
make our lives easier," said my friend from Gaza.
The lobby floor of our hotel
was in lovely cut-marble patterns under large crystal chandeliers.
Each of our rooms came with a huge bed, a beautiful bathtub,
and an amazing glass-walled shower. The weather was perfect,
too, warmed by a thick blanket of below-sea-level air.
We were some of the first ones
to arrive, and the place seemed deserted. Only about 100 people
were scheduled to show up to the enormous hotel all told. It
was very The Shining.
When everyone else arrived,
we exchanged checkpoint stories. Ours wasn't even the worst.
Another friend of mine, who also has an ID that Israelis don't
like to see outside of Ramallah, had to get out of her cab and
bypass the checkpoint on foot. But the Israelis saw her, and
she was terrified because a lot of people have been shot on sight
for less. They questioned her and the driver, their guns trained
on them, and finally let them go. Then they caught up to them,
stopped them again, harassed them again, and let them go again,
all the while pointing guns at them. And then they did it one
more time. About fifteen minutes of terror each time.
I ran into two guys I knew
at the pool, an American and a Swede, and they informed me that
Jericho was one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in
the world along with Damascus. The Swedish guy said it was one
of the most-often-destroyed, too.
"And no wonder. It's
in the middle of an indefensible valley. You'd think after a
while they'd say, 'Listen, guys, I don't think this location
is working out...'"
Now this unlucky location can't
even fill a hotel on New Years. And Israel's Annexation Wall,
deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, a ruling
which Israel has ignored, is set to surround it completely, not
like the Canaanite walls, for defense, but like the Qalqiliya
walls, as a prison-like ghetto.
The New Year's party at the
hotel was more like a wedding than anything with people sitting
at long tables enjoying nice food and dancing to music turned
up way too loud. It was an even mix of Palestinians and foreigners.
We put on party hats and popped our champaign poppers at midnight.
Most of us were exhausted from elections work, though, so we
turned in pretty early.
I got in the elevator with
a man who looked like a hotel manager. "Happy New Year,"
He smiled graciously in thanks
and said, "Hopefully a better one."
The next day we rented bikes
and rode around Jericho, a neverending garden. Jericho is also
known as Medina al-Qamr, the City of the Moon. The hills to
the immediate west are dessicated and look lifeless. You can't
quite see the hills to the east in Jordan through the haze.
And the desert all around looks about as dusty and empty as a
But Jericho itself is green,
green, green, a garden city, wall-to-wall groves and greenhouses
irrigated by springs, one lush tropical food source after another.
I yelled over my shoulder once,
in an old but classic joke that still has currency because too
many people still believe the old propaganda, "Who says
Arabs can't make the desert bloom?"
We decided to go back to Ramallah
through Qalandia checkpoint, which everyone must walk through
on foot. Just as I got to the other side, my phone rang, and
I was informed that one of our volunteers for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's
campaign, a 17-year-old high school student in the Gaza Strip,
had been shot dead near Rafah by an Israeli soldier while putting
up posters two days before.
All the happiness and celebration
of the past two days turned to dust and I felt crushed by helpless
horror. I must have looked it because my friend from Gaza asked
me, "Did you know him?"
"No," I said. "What
difference does it make?"
When I got back to the office,
I had the sad duty of writing the following press release on
New Year's Day:
Presidential Campaign of Dr.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Young Volunteer Shot Dead by
Israeli Army while Campaigning for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
1 January 2005
On the morning of Thursday,
30 December 2004, Riziq Ziad Musleh, a 17-year-old Palestinian
high school student, left his home in the Tel al-Sultan Refugee
Camp near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. He was placing
posters on a wall near his home for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's
presidential campaign when, without any warning or incident,
he was shot in his right side from the direction of the Rafah
Yam* Israeli settlement. An observation tower manned by Israeli
soldiers is located in the settlement, about 500 yards from where
Riziq was standing.
The bullet lodged in Riziq's
heart. He was taken to the Abu Yusef al-Najjar hospital in Rafah,
where he was pronounced dead at 11:00 p.m. that night.
A formal complaint about this
tragic event and other serious harassment faced by Palestinian
presidential campaigners, volunteers, and candidates has been
lodged with the EU Election Observation Mission.
We call for immediate intervention
by the international community to stop all assaults on presidential
candidates, volunteers, and campaigners by Israeli forces. We
call once again on the international community to make sure that
the Israeli government lives up to its promise of allowing free
and fair elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in
the best interests of peace, justice, and democracy for all peoples
in the region.
We also call for serious and
sustained pressure by the international community on the Israeli
government to end policies at the highest levels that foster
the atmosphere of immunity that allows and encourages such egregious
assaults on the most basic rights and freedoms of Palestinian
* The Rafah Yam settlement
was built in 1984 on expropriated Tel al-Sultan land, and in
2001 it was illegally occupied by 134 Israeli settlers.
Pamela Olson is an American who lives and works
in Ramallah, West Bank. She served as Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's
foreign press liaison during his recent bid for Palestinian president.
She can be reached via her website www.pamolson.org.
* Originally published
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