RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct. 12 2000 —
Conversation and laughter are second nature to a tightly knit television news team. But as we drove the winding road up through the West Bank, not one word was shared among my friends and I. Israeli soldiers had been brutally killed by a furious Palestinian mob in Ramallah. Israeli choppers had already rocketed the police station where the soldiers had been held. We were nervous, apprehensive and sad.
Especially sad. We had all lived for years in the Middle East. We have Palestinian and Israeli friends. We have been to all the places where thesehorrific, violent acts are being committed -- during better days, when we could share a coffee and wonder why we all couldn't just get along the way we were.
Our flak jackets were in the back of the jeep, someone ominously asked whether anyone had a first aid kit, which amazingly, I had remembered to bring along. Since my posting to the Middle East three years ago, it was the first time that I had to equip myself with such gear.
We drove up to an Israeli army checkpoint. They were turning cars with Palestinian drivers back to where they came from. Behind us, sandbag fortifications secured an abandoned house. I looked up, two Israeli snipers aimed their guns down at where we were, ready for the first sign of an altercation. I hoped that if anything happened, we wouldn't get caught in the middle.
The Israelis let us film them without asking any questions. Then one soldier approached us. We thought he was going to stop us from working. Instead, he had seen our NBC logo, and just wanted to say that he had once lived in New York City, and enjoyed watching WNBC 4.
We drove on into the Palestinian town of Ramallah. This place has become famous for its incredible energy and dazzling night life. But as late afternoon hit, the streets had fallen silent, houses and shops boarded up. Fires blazed from full garbage cans. The few Palestinians who were on the street ignored our yellow Israeli license plates when they looked closer at our faces, and then noticed the "TV" letters that we had taped to every side of our vehicle. When we asked for directions, they happily gave it to us, in good English. Despite the terrible situation, they were incredibly hospitable.
Our destination with a television feedpoint to meet up with some of our colleagues. It was on the roof of a five-story building. As we looked out onto the Ramallah cityscape, two Israeli helicopter gunships approached the center of town, and fired missiles at some pre-determined target. The sinister whine of the rockets being launched was far more frightening than the explosion from the impact. I stood there in utter disbelief, wondering how it had gotten so bad. Two sides that had been discussing peace and co-existence were now wholeheartedly attacking each other.
We decided that it wouldn't be prudent to be caught in the West Bank after nightfall, and ended up returning to our office as an incredible Middle Eastern sunset was ending. The sky reflected an angry red, and quickly gave way to darkness and a full moon. A heavy gloom descended upon us all.
NBC News’ Hanson Hosein is a producer on assignment in the Middle East.