I know I’m writing this, but it’s not my experience. Not alone. We all went through it, the 10,000 marching towards Qalandia on July 25th and the other thousands who couldn’t be personally there but were spiritually. In addition to the thousands that marched towards checkpoints all around the West Bank, from Nablus to Hebron to Bethlehem. Each one of us went through it however they could handle it.
Some were merely by-standers. Some were the ones carrying the rocks. Some were the ones passing around the rocks. Some were the ones passing around water bottles. Some were the flag holders and chanters. Some would use their phones to light the ground when it went dark to make the rocks more visible and easier to pick up. Some were holding the cameras. Some were sending little kids back home. Some were yelling “don’t be scared, keep moving forward”. Some were carrying the wounded. Some WERE the wounded. And some died.
It was a demonstration like no other.
It was called the 48 thousand march to Jerusalem, on the night before the last Friday in Ramadan designated as “International Jerusalem Day”. Why the specific number, 48? Because it refers back to 1948 Nakba, and this being a way to remind the world that the massacre that is happening in Gaza against Palestinians isn’t the first, many have occurred prior to 1948, during 1948, and after 1948.
Yes, the number of protesters didn’t reach 48 thousand, but thousands did show up.
I’ve been to demonstrations before, not many, but none were like this one. It wasn’t just the youth or refugees from refugee camps (who are usually the first to move when any kind of injustice happens). Also it wasn’t just Ramallah. Palestinians from Jerusalem, different parts of the West Bank, and even Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (coming from what is now called Israel) all gathered together at 9 pm in front of al-Am’ari Refugee Camp. Men, women, youth, and children. It was beautiful.
To be honest I wasn’t with them there, at al-Am’ari. I was waiting on our balcony till their march gets closer to our house (it's a 5 minute walking distance from Qalandia Checkpoint) and then I’ll come down to join them. I was sitting, nervously, waiting for them to show up and finally they did. The second I could hear their chants coming closer, my heart missed a beat. It was so loud, so so loud. If this march was in Gaza and they were screaming and chanting this loudly nobody would even hear the rockets falling.
I went alone, I didn’t call any of my friends or family members. I knew I didn’t need to. Not this time. This time no body needed the support, motivation or convincing of anybody to go, our muscles were moving involuntarily towards the march, towards Qalandia, towards Jerusalem, with our hearts beating only for Gaza. So I wasn’t alone, I found my family and friends there. And technically, none of us were strangers to each other anymore, we were all united.
The purpose of this demonstration was clear, to get together to pray for Gaza and afterwards move towards Jerusalem, the same Jerusalem millions of Palestinians are denied entry to, because they have the “wrong” ID color.
But it didn’t work out that way.
The minute the protesters reached the checkpoint the Israeli Occupation Army started firing live bullets. After some time here, you’ll start recognizing live ammunition from rubber bullets pretty easily.
Things got messy.
Things got messy.
This demonstration had children, old men and women, they can’t be there any longer and so the demonstrators started acting very quickly. These “easy targets” should be moved to safety right away. So they started bringing them to the back, some actually refused. An old man said, “All my grandchildren are upfront, let me be with them.” One kid, no older than 11 or 12, was practically begging to stay and his older brother yelled at him whole-heartedly telling him to go back home to the camp and right away. Some parents even took their kids’ hands, put them way in the back with some safe company and went back upfront.
A lot of these scenes occurred over and over again, one of the most touching to me was this one father. He never let go of his daughter’s hand, they were way in the back and made their way slowly till they’ve reached the front –the most dangerous place to be- and whenever a sound bomb was sent their way, or a hail of bullets, he wouldn’t leave his daughter’s hand. It was beautiful. Painful yes, frightening yes, but something about it made the pain and fear fade away more and more. Together, they were safe.
I won’t lie to you, I’m not against a third Intifada, being silent while so many atrocities and oppression is taking place by our occupiers shouldn’t be even an option. But, I’m against pointless bloodshed. I’m against going out saying we are here for martyrdom. I’m against little kids throwing themselves in the front lines of combat. I’m against chaos, and this is exactly what happened last night. It was the opposite all of that mentioned just now.
For the first time ever in a demonstration, people weren’t out there to die. Yes I admit it, sometimes it seems like we –as Palestinians- have a death wish. Which nobody should judge, we’re talking about millions of Palestinians with nothing more to lose, but not last night. No chants of “We die, so Palestine lives” were chanted, no kids were allowed to be in the front lines, and we weren’t out there to die, on the contrary. Last night was one hell of a cry saying, “We are here to stay. We are here because we love life, and we are not backing down”.
Still, some kids made their way to the front, hundreds were injured with live bullets that we couldn’t even hear where they came from. And yes, some have died. But no one can or should or even dare to say it’s because Palestinians take their lives to be so trifle or insignificant. If anybody did, it’s because they’re ignorant or blind, which at times I was.
Just because we were out there burning tires, setting fireworks up, and throwing rockets as a response for live ammunition and bombs, doesn’t mean we’re suicidal. There’s this famous saying that I resent so much which states, “To exist is to resist”. Well no, it’s not enough. We’ve “existed” for a very long time and it didn’t get us anywhere. The only time we breathed life was when we took action.
That's why it's a crime on its own to say that Gazans don't have any desire to live, since "all they do is" refuse temporary cease-fires. Gazans are probably the ones who strive for life the most, after being deprived from it on daily basis for the past 8 years of three wars and life under siege. They refuse these either too short cease-fires or too-permanent pauses because they know they won't end the siege. The only terms on which Gazans would agree to let this stop, is when they make sure the siege will be lifted and their freedom will be granted. So they shall never live under fire and death ever again. That's a deep desire to live, not die.
Again, yesterday was something of a phenomenon.
The more they shot bullets the more we moved forward. Who ever got scared would have someone to calm him\her down. If you got tired or thirsty, someone would hand you a bottle of water right away. When you couldn’t even see the ground –at times- to pick up a rock, a mother would come with her phone to light the path for you, while calmly saying to you “Here habibty, God bless you”. If you couldn’t find any more rocks, someone would have more rocks ready for you. And people stuck together. Even when a lot were injured, you’d still have someone to take care of you and work hard on not letting you lose your soul just yet. And most importantly, when someone would get too carried away, someone will calmly remind them, “We’re not here to die, we’re here to pass through, we’re here to cross the checkpoint”.
And for the first time, this was the closer I’ve gotten to Israeli bullets. Two young men were hit by live ammunition right next to me, and one was shot on the roof with a sniper’s bullet right above me. People came rushing to them, carrying them to get them to the paramedics, and they were screaming in pain. The sound of their wailing still hasn’t left my mind.
But still, in amidst of the bullets hail and sound bombs never have I felt safer. The smell of tear-gas canisters never smelled more heavenly, because I wasn’t out there alone, and this wasn’t about me. The second this notion sinks in, nothing else matters and nothing else could stand in the way. I could finally understand why these guys hurling at the IOF with rocks always seem so fearless, it’s because they are.
It’s true. Yesterday we didn’t bring back the lost lives in Gaza. We didn’t cross the checkpoint and we didn’t “free Palestine”… but, the spirit that people were marching down the checkpoint with was like no other. This is not an Intifada, not yet. A third Intifada will arise eventually, and it won’t be bloodshed because we’re out there with nothing to lose. It’ll be bloodshed ONLY because of the bullets of scared 20-something soldiers who were much more afraid of the Palestinians with the rocks, than these Palestinians were of their bullets.
If you’ll ask the humble me, Israel is witnessing a new generation of Palestinians. Yes, ever since we were subjects to Zionist and Israeli occupation, we were fearless. But it always felt that we were fighting back to prove something to the world. That we’re humans, we’re victims, we’re under occupation, “come precious world and save us” … and we were always waiting for a response back, something to stop this oppression, but not this time. This time it’s for us. We’re done waiting for an audience, and we’re done waiting for a silent International Community that instead of condemning the Colonization and Occupation by Israel of Palestine and stopping the war crimes, are doing nothing but lingering it time after time after time.
As Rafeef Ziadah has perfectly put it, “and let me just tell you, there’s nothing your UN Resolutions have ever done about this.” So when people here start taking matters on their own, please just do the same as you always do, spare us your “condemnation reports”, stand on the sidelines, and let us finish our business of fulfilling our Freedom. We don’t need any laws or statements to make our fight for freedom legitimate, we already know that, it’s time you realize this as well. You either join this march for freedom, or withdraw from this arena all together.
And yesterday, was only the first step.
"At Qalandia Checkpoint "
"The aftermath the next morning"