Palestinians in Ramallah brace for visit by 'that criminal' Bush
Though some do not expect dramatic change, the event does instill feelings of pride in West Bank.
It was only at 1:30 P.M. that Amjad arrived with his truck and his crane to hang American and Palestinian flags on the streets around the Muqata government headquarters. No one from the Palestinian Authority wants to leave them hanging too long, for fear they might be burned.
However, the hot topic in Ramallah was the closing of the roads. On Wednesday afternoon, the Palestinian security forces already were stopping cars from approaching the Muqata, where President George W. Bush is scheduled to land this morning. Photographers were asked not to photograph the complex even from a distance, and media teams were asked to leave nearby streets.
Ala, who lives nearby, said Preventive Security personnel had been moving from house to house for the past few days and taking down residents' names.
"We were asked not to go out onto the balconies or the roofs. We are not allowed to go into the street, either," he said. "That criminal, George Bush, has put us under curfew. The Israelis are not enough - now him, too. He is destroying the world and he will yet be tried for his crimes," he added.
His female companion, from East Jerusalem, nodded in agreement. Bush's visit has not brought good news, in her opinion.
A man selling peanuts nearby was even more forthright, describing his attitude to Bush in crude expressions. On Wednesday he said he would not be coming to work Thursday, since the entire length of Al-Irsal Street, leading from Manara Square to the Muqata, would be completely blocked off.
At Samar's barber shop, the attitude was different. One of the customers, who refused to give his name, said he believed Bush's visit could bring a change of direction. A few minutes later it came out that the man, S., was one of the most wanted men of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Ramallah, and had hid out in the ruined Muqata in 2003. He was eventually thrown out of there, and was recently pardoned by Israel as part of the agreement on wanted men.
"Maybe something will come out of it," he said, "but let me tell you something. You Israelis are strong now and we are weak. But the day will come, you'll see, when we'll be stronger than you and the reckoning will be made. And if anybody doesn't like it, let him go drink out of the sea at Gaza," he added, referring to a well-known expression Yasser Arafat used to use.
Feelings are mixed. Passersby do not seem to expect a dramatic change, but still, Bush's first visit to the West Bank since the intifada instills feelings of pride.
The atmosphere is festive for another reason as well: the motorcycle unit. They are passing by constantly, revving their 650-cc engines, sirens wailing and lights flashing. One of them explains to Haaretz that this is their training. They set out "on the road," driving their white Hondas the 20 meters around Manara square again and again, until the passersby smile. They are working hard to make an impression.