On the Underground Railroad From Gaza to a Ramallah Grocery

‘Why should we return to a prison whose twin wardens are Hamas and Israel?’ ask the gutsy Gazans who live in the West Bank.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians in a Ramallah supermarket marking goods produced in the settlements, February 2015.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Blessed be the food stores that are open both in Ramallah and El-Bireh until very late at night, making it unnecessary to interrupt one’s writing routine in the midday heat. One can put off buying groceries until the cool winds make it pleasant to be outside and harder to go home. It would behoove the offices of the electric, water, and Internet companies in this temporary capital, whose capitalhood is striking deeper and deeper roots, would do the same.

But we’ve digressed, because we’re here to talk about the greengrocer. One recent evening he had two guests, who were drinking tea with him around a makeshift table made of crates. As is customary he suggested I join them; as is not customary I refused, because they were sitting too far from the ventilated doorway.

“How are you?” he asked, in his demonstrative Hebrew. Whenever he has customers in his store other than yours truly, he makes sure to speak a few words in the language of the occupier, making sure that everyone knows that “cousins” (Jews) frequent his store, or at least one particular female cousin. And he could not care less about those who cluck their tongues over the Hebrew or the customer who speaks it.

We then reverted to Arabic and discussed the source of the fruits and vegetables; as usual he informed me which items were locally grown (the parsley, watercress, grapes and figs), and which were “from the enemy,” (the watermelon), knowing that this cousin prefers the local stuff and tries to avoid enemy produce. But before we risk a lawsuit for preferring Palestinian parsley over the Jewish rival, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the guests.

“These two are from Gaza,” the greengrocer said, as if they were some special breed of human or a museum showpiece. Even before your excited correspondent started to ply them with questions, it was understood that both were in Ramallah without permits from the enemy.

Of all the violations of the occupier’s rules and prohibitions, the one we particularly like is Gazans living in the West Bank without the approval of some Israeli officer (Druze or Jew, it doesn’t matter). We should stress that there are many violations that warm our hearts, including the digging of cisterns to collect rainwater; going to the beach, to Al-Aqsa, or to work without a permit; erecting solar panels; the paving of agricultural roads; remaining in lands and villages that the enemy declared fire zones; and the building of mosques and schools without the Civil Administration’s seal of approval. The demonstrations at A-Nabi Saleh and Bil’in and Kafr Qadum are also dear to us, due to the courage of those who confront the most maniacally armed military in the region. We cannot but hope, God and Allah willing, for ongoing mass popular violations of the closure and separation orders and the construction bans and water quotas.

Even more than we like the violations do we embrace the violators. But once again, we’ve digressed and possibly risked a loud complaint from the hills’ elders, so let’s go back to the gutsy Gazans who live in the West Bank.

Given that Hamas has not managed to invent an aircraft to transport its subjects over the enemy’s barbed-wire fences and watchtowers in the dead of night, one had to conclude that the two came by land after having received some permit from the aforementioned enemy, and didn’t bother to return. “Why should we return to a prison whose twin wardens are Hamas and Israel?” they asked, confirming that assumption. Fleeing the seaside prison, however, forced them into a different prison – within the borders of Ramallah-El Bireh, which they should not cross lest they be caught by some uniformed Israeli teenager and sent back to the Gaza prison.

Is it any better here? “There I couldn’t develop,” said one, who within a short time opened a business in Ramallah-prison based on his artisanship and creative talents. The second isn’t making a bad living either, yet more evidence of how resourceful Gazans can be if only given the opportunity.

From their names I immediately knew from which pre-1948 villages they’d originated, but I will disclose neither the villages’ names nor their full names and our common friends and acquaintances, in order not to give the three regimes that meddle in their lives an opportunity to harass them. So why don’t you contact the Palestinian Authority’s Civilian Affairs Ministry, which might be able to get you a permit? I asked one of them. “They’re just the [Israeli Civil Administration’s] mailmen,” he said.

He stared, considered his next words, and added, “There are two classes here; they are one class, and the people are another class. You’ve heard of the French Revolution? They’re the class that doesn’t care about us.”