Curfew in Ramallah brings boredom, rebellion

A few grocery stores are still open for business in curfewed Ramallah. A few people brave the otherwise deserted streets and a lone restaurant is buzzing with customers.

Those defying the curfew invariably complain about being jailed in their hometown.

“It’s not so bad here on the surface, especially compared to other Palestinian cities. We’re not starving but I am stressed out inside,” says Yussef Barakat (29) taking an afternoon stroll with a friend.

Along with most West Bank towns, Ramallah was reoccupied by the Israeli army in mid-June following a wave of deadly anti-Israeli attacks, and has been subjected to on-off curfews ever since.

Barakat, who is fluent in Hebrew, French and English, works for a local publication headed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mother-in-law, Raymonda Tawil.

“At least, I still have a job, unlike most Palestinians.
But when the curfew is on, I can’t work. I sleep late and wake up at midday not knowing what to do with myself,” says Barakat.

Twelve-year-old Ahmed also seems to have lost all sense of purpose.

“I’m bored. Grown-ups watch the news all day at home. I go out on the street, bike around and wait for the next day to start,” he moans.

The boy’s sole distraction is to sit at the local grocery shop tended by his neighbour.

Abu Samer (45) takes care of the small shop while his owner is stranded in Jerusalem.

“Groceries started opening again despite the curfew. We stopped being afraid, Israel should understand that,” he says angrily.

“Food’s not missing in Ramallah, people have been getting food handouts since July. Prices are stable but we still suffer. They especially do,” he says pointing to Ahmed who has sunk in a seemingly oversized plastic chair by the cash register.

“One of his brothers is physically handicapped and needs to see a doctor. Go explain to him he can’t because of the curfew,” he adds.

Ahmed does not comment on his youngest brother’s plight. He worries about not being able to go back to school on Saturday, the official start of the new academic year.

A few doors away, Ehab and Issa are baking kaek, a traditional Palestinian bread sprinkled with sesame seeds.

They still sell their bread for one and half shekels (30 cents) a piece despite a slight increase in the price of flour.

They defy the curfew on more than one account when they peddle their bread on Ramallah’s main street.

The Israeli army enforces the curfew every night and changes the hours almost every day, announcing the lockdown at times via loudspeaker or through the Palestinian local authorities. It reserves the right, however, to change the times if the security situation demands it.

The curfew is not lifted every day in every city, nor is it always strictly enforced. When lifted, Palestinians are usually free to move around from 8am until 4 or 5pm.

Ibrahim (13) is sitting by himself on the sidewalk, away from a group of children playing in the street. He is smoking a cigarette, a vacant look on his face.

He too says he is bored and wants to go back to school. In contrast, Majeda Abu Ghosh, a 35-year-old social worker, could not be busier. She works for a local health organisation which offers home visits to sick, housebound Palestinians.

“We get as many as 90 calls a day during curfew. People either ask for medicines or a doctor,” she explains from the Union of Palestinian Relief Committees’ main office, where the phone rings incessantly.

“We get to them by foot if they’re nearby. We also have one ambulance, a mobile clinic and a car. Our services are free of charge,” she says.

Medicines are becoming scarce and expensive. She also notes the “psychological distress” of most families she visits.

“Ramallah is better off than other towns and villages, it’s always been richer. People may not be going hungry here but they are affected in other ways. Children are traumatized by this war,” she says.

As the sun sets on Ramallah, the streets slowly empty. A deafening silence soon fills in the once bustling town that used to attract partygoers from the whole West Bank and beyond.

But a few blocks away from the centre, Hispanic music is blaring out from a lone restaurant. Sangria’s owner Daniel Jaafar (28) caters to a dozen daring customers consisting of a mix of foreign aid workers and well-off Palestinians.

“I now break even after months of losses, people are dying to go out no matter what,” he says, sitting behind Sangria’s well-furbished bar.

“Taking the chance to go out despite the curfew made me feel free and in control of my life for an hour,” says Nehad Ibrahim (31) sitting with a group of friends. - Sapa-AFP

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