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The Bustle of Life Silenced in Ramallah

During Israeli Offensive, Few Residents Venture Out and Most Businesses Close

By Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 14, 2002; Page A16

RAMALLAH, West Bank, March 13 -- Dahieh Deib did a brave thing today. She bought bread.

She bought bread for herself and her family and all her neighbors. She bought as much bread as she could reasonably carry. She bought bread not knowing when she might be able to buy it again. She bought five plastic bags full, all warm from the oven, and she trundled out into the streets to risk her life walking home.

"People were afraid to come out, so I decided to come myself," said Deib, 50, a short, stout, no-nonsense woman. "The women with younger children decided not to go outside. No one wanted to come."

As Israeli tanks roared along the streets and Israeli helicopters buzzed overhead, shops and businesses were shuttered and few Palestinians in Ramallah ventured beyond their front doors today.

The crack of fire from assault weapons echoed through the streets along with the dull churning of heavier caliber machine guns. Practically the only hint of Ramallah"s usual bustle was at the Sarafandy bakery, where Deib and about 25 other Palestinians filled a tiny space, jostling and straining to buy what they could.

Most customers were men and boys, since their wives and mothers were too frightened to go outdoors. When an Israeli armored vehicle appeared and maneuvered around a corner 100 yards down the street, everyone stopped, stared and backed away slightly.

Omar Sarafandy, the owner of the bakery, is an unassuming, unshaven 42-year-old. His house is just a few miles away, but commuting in Ramallah is out of the question these days. So for the last two nights, Sarafandy has slept on the floor of a storeroom adjacent to the bakery to keep his business going.

There have been no deliveries of any kind -- no gas, no yeast, no flour -- since the Israelis invaded late Monday. Pharmacies and grocery stores are closed, and taxi stands are abandoned.

Near the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Kamal family waited for the Israelis to leave as they would wait for the passing of bad weather. No one in the family dared venture beyond the pear trees in their front yard.

The older son, Khader, 22, has not been out of the house in three days and cannot get to classes at Bethlehem University, where he is a business student. The younger son, Nael, 20, an art student at Bir Zeit University, was also confined to the house.

Their grandmother, Fadieh, 75, needed to renew her supply of medication to reduce hypertension and cholesterol, but no pharmacies were open.

Fadieh"s son, Omar, 55, an accountant at the Palestinian Finance Ministry, was also stuck at home. Omar had once hoped for great things in Ramallah, the Palestinians" unofficial capital in the West Bank. In the mid-1990s, following the Oslo peace agreements, there was a burst of construction and new investment. Palestinian Americans returned, many to start new businesses.

"Ramallah was becoming more civilized, more outward-looking," Omar said. "I expected it to grow more and more."

Now, he said, his optimism is evaporating: "Hopefully the world will feel for us, somebody will intervene before we reach the zero point."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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