By Katherine Mukhar
Piled into a Land Rover, three of us (me, my friend and his driver) began our trek from Jericho to Ramallah over one of the most hazardous roads I have ever been on. It reminded me of what it would be like to drive on the edge of the Grand Canyon…but on terribly pot-holed, extremely narrow roads. I learned that this road was the only way Palestinians were allowed to take in order to travel between Jericho and Ramallah. All roads, even those in the middle of Palestine, are controlled by Israel; we had no choice except to take the dangerous, winding road. I learned that many die on the road and I could easily see why. I tried not to think about what would happen if we came face-to-face with another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Snaking through the steep mountains, going higher and higher, I took one look down and gasped.
My friend laughed. “I do this all the time. Don’t worry. We haven’t had an accident… yet.”
That ‘yet’ concerned me.
My friend urged his driver to move more rapidly along the winding road. When I protested, he explained it was even more dangerous to remain on the road for too long of a time because the Israelis would often lead air strikes against Palestinians taking the road, claiming the people they had killed were suspected terrorists.
I, too, then urged the driver to step on the gas. It seemed that either way, we were going to die, so we might as well risk doing a ‘Thelma and Louise’ dive over the edge instead of facing a possible Israeli attack.
So much for the territorial integrity of Palestine.
“This road is called the ‘Curb’, explained my friend, “because we can’t really call it a road as you can see. We call it the ‘Curb’ because we’re not allowed to take a real highway, like the Israelis. We balance on the curb, hoping we don’t fall off. It’s the only road the Israeli’s allow us to use. Theirs are super highways, of course (which I was to discover later when I went to ‘the other side’), and we are not allowed to even pave or widen these roads, unless they okay it. All rests on their whims, really. Everything is under their control.”
With the jagged mountain on one side and the sheer drops on the other, I wondered how people could manage to negotiate the road at night, but all he did was shrug and say, “No one travels at night along the ‘Curb’, unless absolutely necessary.”
I understood why. It was a nightmare during the day.
Once we had made it through the hazardous mountain stretch, we entered some rolling hills which had what appeared to be semi-destroyed settlements peppered across the barren land, all of which were eerily deserted. Here and there I could see blackened structures, most of which were riddled with bullet holes, many leveled to the ground, but not a soul in sight. Not a tree or bush or animal. All had been cut and burned. The landscape was sadly barren. I asked my friend what had happened.
“When we regained parts of Palestine, the Israelis made sure that all the areas in between our cities were completely empty wastelands. They said it was all in the name of security for Israel. That meant they had to ‘cleanse’ the area of people and their livestock. They forced everyone out by killing their animals, torching their homes and finishing everything off with a few bulldozers, as you can see.”
“What happened if anyone refused to leave?” In my own naive way, I thought they might have been moved somewhere else.
“They killed the ones who refused to leave, right in front of their families,” he sighed. I was horrified by the sheer inhumanity of these acts. Hadn’t the Israelis learned from their own history? What is the point of all those Holocaust Museums? Yes, it is important for us to remember the horrors of our past actions so that we don’t repeat them. But in learning from the past, we also shouldn’t become what we hated most. We should not become heartless and forget our own humanity.
Such is the so-called democracy of Israel, I was beginning to learn.
It seemed their Golden Rule had become: Do unto others whatever you want… because you can.
“But where did the survivors go? Where are they now?” My inexperienced, idealistic American sense of justice and liberal ideas left me confused and angered by the devastation I was witnessing.
“They found other places.”
“But why didn’t anyone stop Israel from doing this?” I couldn’t understand how something so inhumane could actually take place without the world stepping in to put san end to it.
My friend just smiled ironically at me and sighed, “We Palestinians are a resilient, patient people. We have learned how to deal with being dust in the wind.”
For miles and miles, all I could see was settlement after settlement after settlement, all of which had been ruthlessly destroyed.
Dust in the wind.
We traveled the rest of the way to Ramallah in troubled silence.
-Katherine Mukhar contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.