Saturday 31 May 2014

Catastrophe 15-05-2014 (Part 2)

For Israeli citizens, serving in the military is a compulsory part of their citizenship. When young men and women reach the age of 18, the military draught is their next step. Every time I've arrived at a checkpoint or security gate and been confronted by an Israeli soldier, the first thing I've noticed is how very young they are. Some are polite, some defensive and others angry and looking for excuses. Some will be very assertive and disrespectful until you present your freedom in the form of your international passport, then they will soften. Then a new dimension is present in their reality because the foreigners are the eyes and ears for the international community. Some soldiers don't care, some soldiers care too much.

If an Israeli citizen refuses to serve in the military they face a prison sentence. They face going to the same place as the people they end up arresting as field soldiers in Palestine. So do they end up feeling like it's them or me? Do they make the same decisions any of us would make in that situation? If my freedom is threatened, am I happy to take the freedom of others? The fact of the matter seems to be that the Palestinians are being denied their freedom. The Israelis have to serve in the army and in the process hand over their freedom, somewhat willingly, for the term of their service. Nobody's free and everyone's looking for someone to blame.

It took around 15 minutes from the demonstration climax to the point the soldiers arrived. This was inevitably going to be a clash. The boys with their faces covered had been hammering away at the wall and it had actually surprised us that the soldiers hadn't come sooner. However, on this day, all the soldiers in different areas of Palestine would've been busy standing against Palestinians fighting for their cause. Before we dispersed, one of the boys we were with was still behind. I insisted, perhaps redundantly, that we go back to get him. I now know he would've been just fine without us as most of these boys are. When we began running from the soldiers, it was up a hill which curved around past the local University. I found myself stuck behind 3 boys, no older than 13, also running. My friend was around 5 metres ahead of me, he had turned around to tell me to run faster, clearly I had trouble keeping up with the tall crowd. One look over my shoulder showed the army jeep 3 metres behind me. Shit. I didn't see a person, not a man, nor a woman. Just a machine. This 7 ft tall jeep, whose windshield I wouldn't have even been able to reach, was looming behind me. And suddenly my legs felt even heavier, but I couldn't stop moving. I wanted to move faster but couldn't bring myself to pass the young boys ahead of me... better me than them. A thought I'm not used to having. We weaved between some cars parked parallel to each other; another look over my shoulder and the jeep was stuck. Suddenly my legs were my freedom. This big, army green, disgusting box-work of a vehicle was, in that moment, its own worst enemy.

We kept moving, constantly looking over our shoulders in case the jeep had slipped through. Sometimes we'd run just to pump the adrenaline again, plus there was too many side streets, there's no way of knowing who or what is coming up or down. Luckily we were running in the right direction, I made it home and my friends came with me. There was no question that we would all stay put until the streets were clear of soldiers. We decided to wait until we got word from our other friend, who was stuck in a shop after she had been caught in the tear gas, about whether we could leave. We went up to the roof of our building to investigate what we thought was gunfire, but turned out to be kids letting off fireworks in a barrel. But there was no mistaking the sound of teargas canisters being fired in the distance. Once we were told that the clash point was clear of soldiers we hit the streets again.

We were relatively pleased with the day's outcome... no serious injuries and it sounded like the boys gave the soldiers a run for their money. Increasingly, the more I see Israeli soldiers interact with young Palestinian men, the more I see similarities between youth who, perhaps in another situation would be friendly, but at this time both must fulfil their duties to their nations. This is the nature of battle. I've seen men have an unemotional understanding and respect for each other, but also have respect for the knowledge that both would kill the other without hesitation if the opportunity presents itself. This is the nature of war.

Then everything changed for me. We got word that 2 young men had been shot and killed in Ramallah, the nation's mock capital. There was a demonstration and as usual stones were thrown by the Palestinian boys at soldiers who are buried under their armour. A stone would do little damage to them, yet they defend themselves with weapons. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Live rounds of ammunition. In this case a sniper was set at a distance and targeted 2 young boys who, at the time of their shooting, were doing nothing but walking. There is footage of this caught on CCTV. There is no disputing what happened. They weren't killed because they posed an immediate threat. They were killed because they could be and, like many other killings in the past, nobody will be held accountable. One of the boys was 17 and the other 15.

I dedicate this piece to Nadeem Nuwara and Muhammad Abu Thaher. I dedicate this piece to the 5.3 million refugees now living in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the remaining areas of Palestine. May we all find our freedom.

Sunday 25 May 2014

"Video footage indicates killed Palestinian youths posed no threat" - The Guardian May 2014

It's great to see some coverage in the UK media after the killing of two Palestinian boys who posed no threat to soldiers whatsoever. I hope this is added to the long list of war crimes that Israel might one day be held to account for. I was in Ramallah at the time this happened and saw the anger and state of mourning that spread across the city when the news hit.

To watch the footage of the boys being killed, click this link to the Guardian article. The boys are just walking across the street when they receive fatal wounds from live rounds.

People here complain that the UK media is not fair in its reporting of the occupation. I think there is some truth in that but the reality is, with hard evidence, there will be journalists who are more than happy to publish the story. 

It makes me wonder if the Palestinian Authority should consider setting up CCTV everywhere to collect the hard evidence that would help give journalists across the world the confidence to publish stories about the systematic and sustained abuse of human rights and international law in occupied Palestine.

It might also come in handy in the Israeli military court cases which often entail fabricated or embellished justifications for arrests and convictions of Palestinians. I say this from the many conversations I have had with Palestinians I have met who have been in prison or have family members in prison and have received ludicrous sentences on no evidence.

In the meantime, we just need to keep filming and documenting everything as it happens and pumping it out across any platform we can for the world to see in the hope that one day we see an end to these gross injustices. 

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Catastrophe 15-05-2014 (Part 1)

The soldiers came again today. But today was different. This was the day of Nakba; the day to mark the eviction of Palestinians from their homes. So people march. They walk in solidarity to show their defiance against the ethnic cleansing of the land. They walk to honour all those who have lost their homes and lost their lives to a struggle which has spanned itself over decades. They walk because sometimes, that's all you can do. But today was different. Today I walked with the people of Abu Dis.

The March began outside the local supermarket. We all gathered and waited for the walking to begin. As I looked around I noticed that the majority of the crowd was young. Boys on the verge of becoming men surrounded us, buzzing with excitement when being handed flags to carry or t-shirts to wear. In this moment, I felt truly moved to see so many young people passionate about what they believe in, especially when I'm so used to seeing the apathy of young people in the west. I got the feeling that going back to England may end up being quite a frustrating readjustment. I saw some familiar faces and some familiar faces saw me. I decided not to go out of my way to say hello, some of these men looked as though they were mentally preparing for battle. I took note and attempted to prepare myself too... just in case.

Two large speaker cabs were mounted to the back of the pick-up truck. Flags streamed from both sides of the vehicle as patriotic music pumped itself into the streets and surrounding neighbourhoods. Everybody knows what day it is. Everybody hears the guy with the microphone, also in the the back of the pick-up, talking about this day. Nakba, literally translates as catastrophe or calamity. The day of remembrance for those displaced from their homes and land. The state of Israel had declared independence and thousands of people found themselves now to be refugees. Many people found homes, many people lost homes and the balance of life continues.

We marched through the streets of Abu Dis together. I walked amongst the crowd of Palestinians, all taller than me, unable to see past the bodies but able to hear and feel everything that was happening. I felt alive. I felt relevant. It occurred to me that this may be the most beautiful thing about people. When many have a common goal, the flow of natural presence through consciousness becomes a much easier state to achieve. When rows of people all engage in prayer towards a higher power simultaneously, it's almost as if the physical world doesn't exist. An older lady sitting on the side of the street in the shade watched us walk and showed her solidarity by holding up a peace sign; even she looked ready to fight.

For people in Abu Dis, clashes with soldiers have become a regular and rather normal occurrence. It was only one day prior to this that the street, just outside the community centre we're based at, was the centre of a clash. Soldiers had been posted locally to oversee repairs and maintenance on the separation wall which runs through Jerusalem and through Abu Dis. The repairs were to fill a hole made by locals who are separated from their families and their land. It had been a particularly uneasy week and on this day, the day before Nakba, we were sat at the centre of it. Young boys threw stones, some small, some large, and aimed at the soldiers who are some 50 meters away. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the boys but their persistence is admirable.

We went to see what was happening. We went and stood beside the boys and did as they did. We ducked when we needed to duck as tear gas canisters flew past us, and we dispersed when we needed to as the boys ran in different directions. I saw one boy walk towards me, tears streaming, finding it difficult to breathe. I found myself instinctively walking towards him and then it hit me. The smell. The burn. My throat felt like it was closing and my nostrils stung from breathing. My eyes began to close as I felt the sensation of piercing pressure behind them. As I opened my eyes the tears fell and I found myself walking away from the gas before I even realised it. I began coughing and the weight of my tongue became heavy in my mouth as I felt like it was blocking my airway. And, strangely enough, for the people here and now for me, this just felt like another day.

We marched until we reached the separation wall near the local university. We proceeded to watch young men, with their faces covered by their kuffiyehs, hack away at this monstrous wall. The wall itself is made of sections, some 20ft high, and runs straight through Jerusalem. Seeing 5 young men, with 3 sledge hammers and a metal pole, taking turns bashing at it, was clearly a symbol. They sometimes have some success in making holes but they don’t have the equipment, let alone the ability, to dismantle this reminder of oppression.

“The soldiers will come soon, when they come we’ll leave.” My friend warned me and I trusted his advice. We carried on watching as young men climbed the wall, put up flags and threw over burning tires. Then another familiar face popped up. “Aisha, you shouldn’t be here. We tell the women to stay back because the soldiers will come and they have no mercy” I fully believed him as he had twice been targeted by soldiers and injured by rubber bullets. However, he was also blocking my view and I have always had trouble with people telling me what to do. His warning also happened to hit the nail on the head. People began to disperse and I asked what was happening; “The boys are walking towards the soldiers, we should go”. Okay, I assumed we were walking in the opposite direction. Then I saw people running towards us. Then I saw the army jeep. “We should run… the soldiers are here. Run.”