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Palestinian boy in refugee camp, Amman, Jordan Alan Pogue AFTERWORD On the Road to Ramallah BY AZIZ SHIIIAB arly on a Friday morning a year agg I hailed a cab outside my hotel in Jerusalem. I was trav eling to the city of Ramallah, ten miles to the north, to attend a meeting with Yasser Arafat the president of the Palestinian Authority. Ten days earlier there had been a horrible terrorist attack in West Jerusalem, and the Israeli government was pursuing its policy of col lective punishment All Palestinian Arabs were being imprisoned in their towns and villages over in the so-called territories, or West Bank the areas, according to peace treaties, that are under Palestinian control. Road blocks manned by Israeli soldiers armed with machine guns prevented Arabs from traveling between their towns and villages on the West Bank and the places of work in the areas controlled by Israel. It was also difficult for Arabs in Israeli territory to cross onto the West Bank. By birth, I am a Palestinian Arab. I also happen to be a resident of Dallas, Texas, and a citizen of the United States. And I was scheduled to attend a meeting with Yasser Arafat. My driver, a small man no more than five feet tall and weighing perhaps a hundred pounds, seemed skeptical when I told him where I wanted him to take me. “There are Israeli roadblocks,” he said. “Arabs cannot cross them.” “I am an American,” I said. “My tax dollars keep this Jewish state going.” The driver, looking even smaller than he did when I got into the cab, adjusted the pillow he sat on and eyed me suspiciously. I knew he thought I was either an Arabicspeaking Israeli or an Israeli spy. He fixed his piercing dark eyes on me and said, “Let’s go.” He didn’t want to lose forty dollars. I didn’t want to miss my meeting with Yasser Arafat. Two thirds of the way to Ramallah, the second capital of Arafat’s “state” \(the first for now is Gaza and for the future, dreamedraeli roadblock. A bearded, big-bellied, tall soldier stood in the middle of the road and shouted at us to turn back. As the driver stopped the cab, the soldier waved his hand in the air and continued to order us back, giving us no chance to get close enough for me to show my American passport. I told my driver to get close, and demonstrating some small courage he slowly started the cab creeping forward all the while quietly asking me if I were crazy. I opened the door and started to get out of the car and the soldier marched towards me. “Go back, go back,” he shouted wildly. He was armed, larger than the two of us together, and at his back was another armed soldier, facing Ramallah and waving his arm in a circle, ordering drivers to turn back. “Go back!” the soldier walking toward me shouted again. Then, while I remained halfway out of his car, the tiny Arab driver lost his patience. He had faced roadblocks before. He had warned me that we wouldn’t get through. And now I was getting out of the car, putting his life at risk for forty dollars. Angry and shaking, he raised himself up from his seat pillow and he, too, began shouting. But his words were directed at the soldier. “You’re only brave because you have that gun. If you didn’t have that machine gun, I’d get out and beat the hell out of you.” The soldier looked puzzled, stopped ordering us to turn back, and pushed his head and shoulders through the open window on the driver’s side of the old Mercedes. He stared at the driver, then pulled his head out of the car and slowly moved it from side to side, looking amused. “This little man,” he must have been thinking. “This little man has threatened me and says he can beat me up. Is this little man out of his mind?” I closed the 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 23, 1998