A STRANGE VISIT
by Vera Tamari
Ramallah, Palestine, March 21, 2008Note by Vladimir Tamari: the following text was attached to an email received from my sister who is a well-known Palestinian ceramics artist and painter, and is art professor and museum curator at Birzeit University. Apart from her beautiful artworks wryly commenting on life under Israeli occupation and celebrating memories of family life in Jaffa in pre-1948 Palestine, she is not involved in any political activities. My illustration uses a photograph by Vera of her home taken on an earlier and happier occasion.
I was the first to be honored by their "visit". I am still traumatized by that "routine check" of my house at 2:00 am by the Israeli army the night before last. They did the same to two other houses in the neighborhood. It was so unnecessarily aggressive- banging and shaking my outside door, barging in like brutes when I was asleep. They rang the door bell with a disturbing insistence and shouted like lunatics.
"We'll break the door, Open!!!! yalla Open!!!.
At first and being woken from a deep sleep I couldn't figure what was happening. With the noise and banging rising I hurriedly put on my robe, moving around in circles trying to recollect myself . The screaming and banging continued. Shaken by the noise I called out
" what is it, who is it I am all alone in the house what do you want, I cannot allow you in, I am all by myself."
I was trembling violently and my legs almost letting go but I managed to open the little window of the main door leading to the patio. I could see from behind the patio's wrought iron gate what seemed like scores of helmeted faces, machine guns with menacing red laser lights pointing at me. The shouting continued, also the shaking and banging of the iron grid,
" Do you hear! open or else we shall break the door." Bang! Bang!
"Who are you , what do you want? " I repeated my voice failing
" We are jeish, the army "
" Which jeish?" I timidly asked .I knew they were Israeli but I simply was trying to insinuate that there is the Palestinian police in charge of the Ramallah area. What were they doing here when Ramallah as all major towns are supposed to be free of occupation? What a farce this Oslo thing is !!
" Which jeish?" came the rude reply " Listen to that as if there is any other army??? Yallah Open I tell you!"
I knew by their accent, their full military gear and their sophisticated weapons that they were definitely from the Israeli Defense Forces. Keys in hand I fumbled to open the gate.
" Can't you see I am trembling ? I cannot even put the key in the key hole, you are scaring me by your shouts, could you stop that, can't you see I am trying to open the gate?"
I was now standing face to face with them, only separated by the arabesque wrought iron works of the semi arched gate leading from the patio. A sudden silence, then from behind the cluster of khaki helmets a weak "don't worry". After what seemed an eternity I managed to open the gate and in surged the whole battalion, or so it seemed to me then. First to the patio, then into the main door and the living room. I followed disbelieving how simply they are getting in the privacy of my home.
Machine guns still pointing at me, "Who lives here"
I am all by myself, I told you this before.""
"Where is your husband"?
For some unknown reason I answered abruptly " My husband is dead" . Why did I have to invent having a husband, I who have been single all my life? How strange! By saying this I perhaps wanted the reassurance even of a "virtual" dead husband!!
"Allah yirhamo [ may he rest in peace]" I heard someone murmur behind the group.
"What did he do"
" A businessman" I continued my bluff .
"Bring your ID!"
I rushed to my bedroom happy to separate myself briefly from this monstrous crowd.
Handing my ID, I was ordered by one to "Sit there." I sat on the antique bench my father had bought in the thirties of last century, when he was still a young man. I tried to adjust my robe so as to look less disheveled. Two soldiers were now guarding me , machine guns pointing in my direction. The rest, about eight of them started roaming about, opening doors going into my bedroom, my study, the bathroom etc…
Except to where I was told to sit in the living room, the rest of the house was dark. By now it must have been 2:30 am . The soldiers stealthily guided their way in using the red laser beams from their machine guns.
"I don't understand, someone explain to me , what is this all about?"
"Just routine" came the curt answer.
After a brief tension, the soldiers watching me had started to relax. I could see their eyes roaming about the details of my living room. It’s a stylish space with comfortable furniture, paintings, art objects, plants and an imposing white Kirman Persian carpet. I wondered what are they thinking now. One of them brought his face down to scrutinize a nicely framed wedding photo of my parents. Mother holding a lovely bouquet of Kala lilies, father smiling and proudly standing by his beautiful bride. This was in 1940, in the Russian church al Maskobiyyah in Jaffa.
I noticed that a tall blond soldier, paper in hand was drawing something in the other room, then he came to where I was sitting. He looked around the room drew something, then put some notes, I stood up asking," what is it you are doing?"
"What is over there?" he pointed in the direction of two closed doors.
I went ahead of him opening the guest bathroom and the guest bedroom.
"Who sleeps here?"
"Family and friends when they visit."
By now the rest of the soldiers had gone down to my art studio, a floor below. Then they came up giving information to their draughtsman on what the saw He jotted more information. . I wondered, did they notice my sculpted buttocks series ?? They are in clay, I never had the chance to fire them. Then they opened the kitchen door and went outside searching the garden and the roof, all the time with their walkie-talkies on.
"Who lives in the tall building over there? How many families?"
" Just two I think"
"Only two? and the rest?"
" I don’t think they are rented"
As if not liking my answer, the soldier abruptly changed the subject . He points to my Gauloise cigarette packet and asked in English.
"Do you smoke these?"
" Don't you think it is strange that you smoke these and also those?" he says looking in the direction of a Kent packet on the counter.
"These were left by a woman friend," I smiled a bit remembering how many times I wanted to return this packet to my friend Rula who left it there many months ago.
"Its not good to mix smoking two kinds you know" he said in an embarrassed tone. I think he initially wanted to accuse me of hiding someone in the house to whom he thought the cigarettes belonged. Inspector Clouseau indeed I smirked!!
More roaming around the house, more going in and out of rooms. By now I had become more courageous, being more familiar with the presence of the soldiers around.
"This is unacceptable!" I shouted "Just tell me what are you doing?"
"Just routine! Why are you angry, did we hurt you, did we take anything from you?"
"You took away the privacy of my home!" I said defiantly. I was fuming with anger, no longer afraid.
Then suddenly they filed outside the kitchen door, into the garden and down the outside steps which lead to my sister's empty house. Did I hear one soldier saying "good night" as he scuffled his bulky body through the door, crammed full with a knapsack , a machine gun and a belt of tear gas explosives. I hope they will not break the door of my sister's house. I should have taken the keys down to show them that the flat was empty.
In the distance I hear more banging and shouting – it’s the turn of my poor neighbors I thought. By the time I heard their noisy jeeps, trucks and Hummers leave the street, It was already 4:20 am. The muazzen had just started his dawn prayers.