It’s not all over after the ceasefire. A salute to the #18 bus driver and a personal epilogue.

Drukuj
Since Wednesday’s bomb blast, despite the ceasefire for security reasons we have been still banned from traveling to Tel Aviv or using any Israeli public transportation. Therefore, my only choice of spending my day off was either in Ramallah or Hebron to both of which I could get with Palestinian buses. Obviously I could have stayed in Jerusalem, but after all – I always feel a deep urge to do something. After Wednesday experiences, where Mohammed and I got caught up in Tel Aviv during the bomb blast and later found ourselves stuck on the motorway in Ashdod way too close to rockets from Gaza, I decided to take it easy and just go Ramallah. Ramallah is a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. But distances, as we learn here, mean nothing for the Palestinian and Israeli twisted geography.

In Ramallah the atmosphere was of a celebration and the city was in a party mode. Clearly the ceasefire has been seen by many Palestinians as a victory or at least a way of ‚talking back’ to the experience of humiliation that many people here face every day by Israeli authorties. Ramallah is crazy and I never quite get it – it’s intense, it’s messy and bursting with energy. But also until you know where you are going it makes you feel like you are in a carousel of similar images of shops, coffee bars and food stalls just blurr so it’s difficult to differentiate one street from another.

After 90 minutes of wandering I got a call from my Mahmoud, my arabic teacher and decided to head back to Jerusalem for an arabic class. I managed to support Palestinian economy by buying a pair of shoes and made my way ‚home’.

I fall asleep on the #18 bus to the sounds of Mecca preyers broadcasted live on the bus TV. I woke up to the sounds of bullets. We were stuck just before Qalandia checkpoint in a familiar spot next to the Wall with huge Arafat mural. In front of us a group of around 20 heavily armed soldiers clearly in the ‚middle’ of their action – shooting, running, screaming.  As I looked back I saw a bunch of Palestinian youth throwing stones. Ah, so here I was, right in the middle of clashes in Qalandia in a first day of ‚effective’ ceasefire agreement.

My first thought was of a regret that I do not have a big camera. Than most people started leaving the bus – women would hold bits of their scarfs right next to their lips and noses. Teargas was clearly used. I decided to stay on the bus along few people. Not because I am so brave, mainly because I did not want to give the satisfaction to the soldiers of destroying our ‚normal’ life. If they start shooting towards us, I will just hide behind the seat – I thought to myself. It’s pretty surreal, I think now how, you we get used to the weird level of violence our life and just choose to ignore it. Because this is exactly what was happening in Qalandia – in front of us and on our right – there was a heavy exchange of hostilities between soldiers and kids. On our left, people were selling duvets, pastries, newspapers and coffe makers with their pop up coffee stalls were brewing coffee observing carefully the new developments on the other side of the street. And we were stuck in front of them just because soldiers decided to put two big stones on the street to stop all traffic. And the traffic is just insane in this place.

And than, out of the sudden, our bus driver, a 30- something man with a long  beard just stepped out of a bus and just approached the soldiers as if they were not holding guns, as if they were not in the middle of their action. And than, our bus driver in a flawless hebrew started explaining to the soldiers: My job is to drive bus. You cannot stop all traffic just because of bunch of kids throwing stones. You cannot punish everyone, just because of some kids. Now please, let us drive – somebody on a bus was translating for me and we were all frozen in fear, respect and admiration. He was taking to them an equal man, without a slight element of fear. He completely disarmed them. Without a single bullet. He was no longer a victim of an unjust collective punishment. He was a free man reducing the soldiers to the silly executors.

It took us another 20 minutes to finally enter Qalandia. It took us another 20 minutes to drive through Qalandia. Wow, your Hebrew is very good from what I could tell …  – I told him in admiration. Do you think I am a bus driver? – Well, this is how it looks like. Well, I am a microbiologist,  I work with Jews, I work in hospital in West Jerusalem. But every afternoon I also have another job to sustain my family. 

As we finally passed Qalandia checkpoint, we drove to a bus stop, where our driver quietly left the bus asking another man to replace him. He went on the side of the bus and started praying.

After few minutes he was back on the bus and we finally drove off to the preyers from Mecca on the bus TV. Sorry it took us so long today – he said as I was leaving. Your probably will not go to Ramallah ever again.  It took us 2 hours 20 minutes to pass the 18 km distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

This is how ‚back to normal’ looks in the occupied territories. The ceasefire might be in effect and Gaza might have dropped from the international headlines, but the quiet, non – reported violence continues on the daily basis, being an integral, ‚normalized’ part of everyday experiences of thousands of Palestinians.

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Also shots at qalandia are ‚normal’, ‚normalized’ in a strange way: a ritual exchange of ‚love’ between the IDF holding guns and Palestinian kids throwing stones. Rubber bullets and gas cisterns. Like loveletters flying between the parties that cannot get away from this hostile embrace.

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