Otherwise Occupied / Why the Phone Could Not Ring

The telephone operator at 166 was exceptionally polite. She promised that the complaint would be duly registered, called the caller "dearie" several times, and ended the conversation with the words, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Prior experience has shown that the technicians of the Palestinian telephone company arrive a few hours after a problem with the telephone is reported, especially if the message is received early in the morning. This time, though, that was not the case. It was 2 P.M. and the phone was still dead. Another call to 166 at the Palestinian telephone company revealed a new fact: the telephone would be fixed after a minimum of 36 hours from the time of reporting the problem. That is how Monday passed without either a phone or Internet connection for the entire building. And then Tuesday.

The operators continued to answer with utmost politeness ("dearie"), but on Tuesday morning they added the word, "Inshallah" (God willing), and that immediately raised a red flag. For those of little faith, that phrase is seen as code for "it's not in our hands," though believers take it to mean that there will be a change for the better, at some unknown time in the future.

What happened between Monday and Tuesday that the Almighty had to be invoked? What were they hiding from us? At least one other neighbor continued to pester 166 like me, but to no avail. So we continued to fry our brains with our cell phones. At least the problem of Internet access has a convenient solution. Leading Fatah figure Sufyan Abu Zaydeh, the Israeli media's pet Palestinian interviewee, was asked by one of the Israeli radio stations about the Palestinians' obdurateness over renewing negotiations. "What would you like us to negotiate about?" he asked angrily. "About another coffee shop in Ramallah?" And indeed, there is a plethora of coffee shops in Ramallah that offer free Internet access.

On Wednesday morning, we once again heard the "Inshallah," so on Wednesday afternoon, instead of listening yet again to the polite but helpless voices of the operators, I went to speak to a pleasant-looking clerk at one of the offices of Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel. In my presence, he telephoned the technician and asked him to take care of the problem on Al-Irsal Street promptly. And then the clerk heard the voice on the other side and said, "Oh, the military coordination." I thought my ears were deceiving me, but no. The clerk did not hide his smile but explained that, since there are government buildings in the neighborhood, the technicians who climb the poles have to coordinate their work with the Palestinian security forces. I guessed that this was a precaution, lest they be mistaken for assassins.

It is, however, a little difficult to imagine how someone could carry out an attack from our telephone pole, which is located halfway down a steep descent to the wadi. At the very most, someone standing on a ladder can see into the second floor of the private eye hospital that is under construction and the sheep whose pen is located in the vicinity.

It was clear why the security coordination was taking so long. On Monday and Tuesday there had been a large number of demonstrations in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian security forces, instructed to prevent any such incidents from taking place at symbolic points of the Israeli occupation (like checkpoints), tried to hold back the protesters. At least in the vicinity of Bir Zeit, where Palestinian policemen blocked the protesters, the demonstration ended with blows.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian security forces left the temporary checkpoint they had erected on El Bireh's Jerusalem Street, which is en route to the Qalandiyah checkpoint. They left not because of public criticism of their task but because of the clear message that two Israeli military jeeps conveyed when they showed up at that Palestinian checkpoint: Look at what wonderful collaboration there is between us.

Then on Wednesday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Ramallah. The presidential guards and other security forces took up positions in the center of the city. They did not look at all agitated, one must say. Simply busy. In short, coordinating the climbing of a technician on a pole was not their chief concern.

At 6 P.M. that day, two technicians working the evening shift finally showed up and fixed the fault. One even climbed up to ensure that the Internet connection had not been affected and apologized for the delay and the disturbance. From him I learned that the coordination has been in effect ever since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president, since he passes through Al-Irsal Street several times a day.

Because of an onion

Adib Abu Rahma, 39, was arrested 255 days ago. He is a resident of the village of Bil'in, a taxi driver and father of nine; his eldest daughter is studying medicine at Al-Quds University.

The military tribunal has already held eight or nine hearings in his case since his arrest in July 2009, on the basis of the testimony of four minors from Bil'in (even though many of the "facts" they told the police were subsequently proven false). He is accused of incitement, disturbing the peace and entering a closed military zone. Sure, 255 days have passed, but the military's judicial and detention system has plenty of time. The hearings have ended and the judge, Aryeh Dorani, has to set a date for the summation.

Another judge, Eran Lipman, actually ordered that Abu Rahma be released on bail six days after his arrest. But the judge who heard the appeal, Zvi Lekah, ordered continued detention. It's been 255 days, and the military judicial system appears no closer to reaching a final decision.

The so-called proof of how dangerous Abu Rahma is to the public can be found in two films. One, about the activists of Bil'in, was confiscated at the Allenby Bridge; in it, he is seen arguing with soldiers and policemen during one of the demonstrations, as well as throwing water on a soldier and waving a Palestinian flag. The other footage was filmed by video cameras the army placed along the West Bank separation fence, which recorded the demonstrators non-stop as observers sat in a war room to study the real-time images. One of the observers decided that Abu Rahma was holding a megaphone (in other words, that he was a leader, or an "inciter," as the army calls it).

Abu Rahma does stand out in demonstrations, and he is noisy; that's true. He marches at the head of demonstrations against the separation fence, which has taken away his land; that is also true. But he does not give orders and is not even among the organizers of the anti-fence protests in Bil'in, according his lawyers, Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati. Moreover, the order barring entry into the closed military zone does not apply to Bil'in residents like Abu Rahma, and in any case, as the soldier who detained him testified, he was arrested outside the military zone.

And contrary to the statement that Abu Rahma was holding a megaphone, it turns out, as a close examination of the footage reveals, that what he was actually holding up to his mouth was... an onion - a remedy for the tear gas used by the Israeli security forces.