It was almost warm today and windy and the sky seemed scrubbed and the black water tanks on top of the apartment buildings were gleaming in Ramallah. “How come I never noticed before,” thought I to myself, “that they are beautiful?” The wall at Qalandia was not beautiful of course, though it did seem a little crisper than it usually does and everyone was cheery at the checkpoint, maybe not cheery, just disinterested and not actively murderous, and Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem, you had on your best clothes this afternoon! The ultra-orthodox men looked ultra sharp and the falafel guy was even ruder than the norm and the American teenagers seemed especially American. Even their vowels slouched.
Earlier today, I attended the funeral of Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi. I took no photos and my notes are smeared with rain. He was 14. He died in the hospital yesterday afternoon. He had been shot in the back with a single bullet in the Jalazun refugee camp, just outside Ramallah. According to his family, the shot was fired without warning from a watchtower at the Israeli military base at Beit-El, which borders the camp. There were no clashes with soldiers at the time, they said, and no one throwing stones. The IDF, Haaretz reported, “confirmed that it was conducting an operation near Jalazun at the time of the reported shooting.” I arrived in the camp just before the bier bearing his body made it to the mosque. He was tiny. His body was wrapped in a flag. A wreath of orange and yellow daisies rested on his torso. His face was bare and open to the sky. His cheeks were smooth. The pallbearers ran forward, the bier on their shoulders, and disappeared into the mosque. Most of the crowd—there were hundreds, maybe a thousand, I didn’t try to count—squeezed into the camp’s small central square, where, beside a stone memorial to Yasser Arafat, a group of men with masked faces pointed guns in the air. Behind them, other men stretched their arms above the crowd to take pictures of the gunmen with their cell phones. The prayers concluded and the gunmen fired round after round. While my attention was elsewhere, someone had pasted a poster bearing al-Ramahi’s image on the monument. It covered Arafat’s face. Only his hand was still visible, waving. The pallbearers carried the boy’s body out of the mosque again, the mourners following them through the camp’s narrow streets, forming a long and solemn chain up the hill towards the cemetery. Far in front of me, I could hear people shouting chants and the gunmen firing their guns, but the men around me walked in silence. Women looked on from windows, doorways, and rooftops, holding their faces, rubbing their eyes. The rain fell harder. In the cemetery at the top of the hill, men scurried from all directions between the graves, jogging through the rocks and the mud, converging in a far corner around al-Ramahi’s grave. In addition to al-Ramahi, two Palestinians were shot by Israeli soldiers in Hebron this week, in the back and in the stomach, and two were shot through the legs in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.
“Is the desolation of the land the result of the fatal embrace of the Deity? Hapless are the favorites of Heaven…”
—Herman Melville, Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant