|Photo by Silvia Boarini|
As I approached Qalandiya checkpoint, the anticipation and uncertainty overwhelmed me. I distinguished familiar houses and shops in which we sought refuge from the Israeli forces on the protests of 15 May and 5 June. At one particular point, as we drew nearer to the checkpoint, I recognized a distinct smell. I immediately turned to my friend and asked if she also smelled the toxic tear gas. She looked at me and nodded in agreement.
But it turned out that our imagination had just gotten ahead of the both of us.
Being the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, our spirits were high: our goal was to reach Jerusalem on the launch of the Olive Revolution. This seemed impossible, as we were all well aware of the excessive restrictions that prevent Palestinians from entering the city due to the Apartheid policies imposed and the transformation of the city as a result of Judaization. Yet this did not stop us from our attempt to enter our sacred city that has been stolen from us.
While we gathered in preparation for the protest, the imam called out and the worshippers gathered to pray. Soon after the prayer concluded, the protesters chanted and demanded their freedom, justice, and an end to the Israeli occupation. We stood there for nearly thirty minutes with the deployed Israeli soldiers who barricaded us.
Many of them were in their late teens, carrying oversize weapons. As I stood there chanting loudly with fellow activists, I couldn’t help but feel pity towards the soldiers. They stood and merely watched us chant, waiting for an order to act. Some had smirks on their faces and one took pictures of the protesters.
Yet their desire to instigate fear did not move us. We stood firmly, demanding the rights that all humans are entitled to: the basic rights that the Palestinians have been deprived of for over 60 years; the rights that we have been demanding and will continue to demand until they are restored.
As we were face to face with the Israeli soldiers, I noticed two of them who were whispering and plotting their next move. I made sure to relay the message to those near me; they were already aware and hurriedly prepared to wrap their scarves around their faces.
In a matter of seconds, people started shoving and pushing trying to get away from the toxic gas and sound bombs that were thrown our way. As I shouted for those near me not to panic and to stay calm, I realized maybe they had the right idea, considering a canister was thrown in my direction and the gas soon engulfed me.
Within a matter of seconds after inhaling the gas, the effects overwhelmed me. I blindly stumbled through the insane traffic trying to catch my breath and find a sense of direction, which was quite difficult. All I remember were horns beeping and me trying to open my eyes to guide me to safety.
Soon after we regained composure and realized the protest was over, we unenthusiastically decided to head home. However, ended up at the barrier where we were earlier. We did not want to leave. Several of us began chanting “Free Free Palestine!” As Palestinian worshippers returning from Jerusalem passed by, we chanted and called for them to join us, unfortunately to no avail. Before leaving, a courageous and spirited individual stood and boldly told the Israeli soldiers that we will not give up and that our struggle will continue.
I am proud to say, that yesterday we determinedly stood up for what we aspire to achieve. What we are calling for are the rights of all Palestinians. Unfortunately these ‘rights’ have been tailored to suit the Israeli-created identities of a ‘West Banker’, ‘Gazan’, ‘Jerusalemite’, ‘Palestinian living in the occupied land of 1948’, and refugee. These terminologies have only served as obstacles which divide us and lead us off the path of our struggle. What puzzles me and many others is that while we call for the collective rights of all Palestinians, only a selected few participate.
An image that has been engraved in my mind is that of a mother and young boy trying to pass the barrier to enter Jerusalem. The mother effortlessly attempted to persuade the child who appeared to be seven or eight to pass the barricade and not be afraid of the Israeli forces. As she was pulling him by the arm, I couldn’t help but notice that he was helplessly crying as he dragged his feet in an attempt not to pass the barricade. The fear that was in his eyes served as a solid reminder of the impact that occupation has on the lives of many. I only hope one day he will grow up to be one of the many, not few, who strive for the rights all Palestinians.