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.”

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