Stepping into a newly opened restaurant in Ibdaa Cultural Center's top floor, one would forget for a moment that it is in a refugee camp. It is a 'real' restaurant decorated with traditional Palestinian design and articrafts. The spirit of Dheisheh is also visible in the decoration. All the tables are named after Palestinian towns depopulated in 1948, and walls are painted with images depicting the history of Palestinian
refugees. The "Mata'am (restaurant, in Arabic)" has become a new and perhaps the only place in the camp where the community can gather to enjoy reasonably-priced meals in nice ambiance. Every day and night, the place is full of familiar faces – small children eating hamburgers bought with their whole week of pocket money savings, a group of teenage girls chatting away over ice-cream, a whole family on a special dine-out, men enjoying argileh in the corner, and young people working busily in the kitchen and among the tables.
Last night was another full house at the restaurant. Through music and conversation the rattling sound of shooting and shelling could be heard from outside. People's talks were all about the 'situation,' and particularly about the assassination attempt on Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of the uprising. Earlier in the afternoon, three missiles were fired into a residential area, blowing up a car and injuring Barghouti's bodyguard. The shooting we were hearing was no doubt by Tanzeem in response to the incident. Driving around earlier in the evening, I had also heard shooting taking place in many locations in Bethlehem area, including Beit Jala and Bethlehem. Dheisheh is usually not within the range of gun battles, and while some people were by the windows trying to get the view of the shooting in Beit Jala and Gilo, most were at tables enjoying dinner.
Suddenly, enormous explosive sounds burst one after another right outside. It was so loud and close all of us got off the seats. No one knew where the shell was shot from and how many more would come, but it certainly hit somewhere nearby, and we knew we must leave the restaurant. A family dining by the window said they saw it fly by, barely 10 meter off the Ibdaa building. My friend Maisa, a young pregnant woman in her due month, started to cry from fear and shock, while her husband gently tried to calm her down. We all rushed downstairs and gathered in front of the building. People knew from their previous experiences that the shell must have been from Efrat, a large settlement that is continuously expanding and encroaching behind Dheisheh.
Through information gathered by cell phone calls, we found out that the shell hit an empty garage just outside of the camp and nobody was hurt. The gun battle seemed to have ceased, and people started to return to the Mata'am to continue their evening. When a news program on Al-Jazeera (an equivalent of CNN in the Arab world) reported the shelling and the name Dheisheh was mentioned, the crowd cheered, as if to shake off the terror with humor and to celebrate no human casualties.
Today, guided by 16-year-old Motesem we walked through the camp to the top of the hill. In front of us was Efrat settlement, whose ever-expanding border has always taken me a back each time I return to Dheisheh. The newly constructed part of Efrat was now only one hill away from the camp. Against the background of large housing units under construction, there stood a concrete wall in front of us, with two huge halls of about 40cm in diameter. We learned that one of the tank shells landed on this hill, terrorizing an old woman who lives nearby.
Mata'am is lively again tonight. Everyone's topic of the day is on 2 more assassinations in Tulkarem and on the anticipated large scale military attack in response to the attack on IDF soldiers in Tel Aviv. A quiet night with gunshots or shelling outside, but I can't help but thinking where tank shell may hit in Dheisheh next time. "Shirabe," my friend Ibrahim leans over, his eyes tinted with exhaustion and sadness, the color that occasionally sparks through constant jokes and laughter that Palestinian are so skilled at. "Do you think a day will come that we will be able to talk about something other than our problems, conflict, refugees, like many other peoples in the world?"