There isn't a week that goes by that I don't think of the events of this week, sixteen years ago. I recall, as though it were yesterday, as Israeli soldiers drove tanks through the streets of Ramallah, crushing cars and beautiful trees in their path before stopping in front of my building on Library Street.
"They're here. I have to go. I love you," I told my father.
I remember the 2:30 am phone call to my dad in Canada telling him that the army was approaching and giving him the play-by-play as they broke the front glass doors to my apartment building (they could have simply pulled the door open). I remember my father, who was a 9-year-old child during the Nakba and witnessed shootings, advising me to grab money, my passport, a phone charger(!), some toiletries and a change of clothing and stand away from the windows, in the center of my apartment.
"Make sure to tell them you are unarmed," advised my father. I stayed on the phone with my dad — a home phone with a long cord — as I collected my things. I remember hearing the sound of a spray can and realizing that the army had spray-painted the peep hole of my front door. As the screams from my neighbors got louder, my dad kept telling me that I would be OK. Finally, I heard the doorbell ring. One of my neighbors -—who was being used as a human shield — rang the bell and between sobs asked me to open the door. "They're here. I have to go. I love you," I told my father.
I did as my father told me — I opened the door while informing the soldiers that I was unarmed. My neighbor was freed and rushed to her young children who were standing in the hall. They had been awoken in the middle of the night. I still remember the pattern of their pajamas.
How did the soldiers feel invading an apartment building? How did the South African feel when he ordered me out? Does it keep him up at night?
As about five soldiers entered my apartment, one soldier (with a South African accent) told me that they would be taking over the building and that I had no choice but to leave. Obviously, it was not safe — tanks lined my street and I could hear shooting — but I was given no choice and forced out at gunpoint. I ran out the building, arms in the air, to my car which, mercifully, had not been flattened. I still remember driving the wrong way through Ramallah's streets to get to a friend's house where I stayed (with limited food supplies) for a few days.
I was unharmed. My neighbors were forced into one apartment where they stayed for some time. My neighbors moved shortly thereafter, or at least I never saw them again. I still remember the fear I felt as I maneuvered Ramallah's streets with tanks approaching. I still remember the sound of the tanks (loud, piercing screech) and the sounds of the bullets.
When I think about this event, I find myself thinking about what others were thinking. What was going through my dad's head? How did he remain so calm? Why did my neighbor, full of dignity, ring the doorbell and not bang on the door? Do the kids remember it? Why break the glass? How did the soldiers feel invading an apartment building? How did the South African feel when he ordered me out? Does it keep him up at night? Does he find himself reliving the event just as I relive it 16 years after the fact?