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Again I looked, wondering, at these soldiers. Who were aiming at our heads. At such close range. Frontally. And tried to think what they were thinking. And had no answer. Only that something terrible has happened to the collective consciousness whereby aiming at a Palestinianís head is not violence.


 
Aya Kaniuk,
17.3.2010

They threw stones at the sun and the clouds and the soldiers and against the evil and for the good and a thick blanket of teargas was everywhere.
Go away, the sky trembled, go to your homes, go away, go, go, go.
I was among them.
I saw around me the young bodies withdrawing from the teargas and the rubber bullets and again running towards the soldiers and throwing stones, and their joyous youthfulness and the fairness of their cause, and the Israeli army jeeps and soldiers with their helmets and rifles and sights, aiming and shooting or hurling teargas canisters, galloping to and fro in their jeeps ruffling the feathers of their dominance, and stopping again and shooting again, and in my heart I join and say to them go. Go, go, go away, go to your homes, this is not your place, go, go, go.

Want to throw one? A sweet little kid offered me with an empathic, considerate look.
He had this little bucket with some little stones inside.
And I said, no thank you.
Donít you want to? He opened his eyes wide, his look saying, itís okay, youíre welcome, youíre invited.
I said to him: my heart is here, with you, but only my heart.
Okay, he said and smiled. But if you want to, just say the word.
Thank you, I said. Thank you.
And my heart swelled
.

This was at about twelve thirty, when I got to Qalandiya Checkpoint. From afar, from behind the wall, one could already see a thick, black, cloud of smoke and hear the cracks of gunfire.
The checkpoint was close to vehicles and the transit on its way to Ramallah was not allowed to cross. We got off. The driver paid back the passengers who had paid their fare to Ramallah.

Right after crossing the checkpoint I met little Ibrahim Abu Alayish, and Fatso, and the young man who doesnít know when he was born because of the Occupation bureaucracy and he is twenty three or eight and wants so badly to know and doesnít know how to find out. And Ibrahim told me he had been arrested. Which I already knew. And he knew that I knew.
Like a cub, so young and intent to survive, he knows that his arrest impacts me, and I think that in his way asked to be contained. So I stroked his fuzzy head and showed him how important he is to me and hoped he would understand that it is always so, not just when he is arrested.

The event was ongoing. The checkpoint was nearly empty. Some of the venders who were still there looked on since there werenít any prospective clients anyway. The car park, too, always full, was nearly empty. Apparently anyone who could manage, got his car away from there.
Some jeeps stood immediately behind the small roundabout north of the checkpoint. Next to them stood the soldiers. From afar one could detect a clump of moving spots near the main entrance to Qalandiya refugee camp.
I bypassed the soldiers who didnít look at me, and continued walking north.

On the two-street road to Ramallah, one lane was blocked, the other open to traffic. While I walked some cars hurried by on the open side.
Several dozen meters after the first group of jeeps was another group standing on the road just next to the spot where Omar Matar had been murdered. This happened exactly in March, I recalled, March 2003. Children had thrown stones and soldiers chased them and they escaped and a soldier shot a live bullet at Omarís neck while he was running away and he fell unconscious, and a week later he was dead. He was fourteen years old.

Some soldiers stood outside the jeeps and threw teargas canisters at the distant youngsters but clearly they were not hitting them at this range.
I continued northbound, walking close to the camp walls so that the soldiers would not notice me.
At this time some more cars passed me by hurriedly, fearing gunfire.
As I was another several dozen meters away from the soldiers, they noticed me and threw two gas canisters at me, that didnít hit me. They fell pretty close, and thick, acrid, white smoke flooded my senses for a moment, but the wind blew and the gas quickly vanished, and I continued hurriedly towards the youngsters.
On both sides of the street the shops were closed and all the house-doors and windows were shut tight. And it seemed there was not a living soul anywhere.

Meanwhile cars began to accumulate on the open traffic lane. Most of them were transits and cabs coming from Ramallah.
At some point the soldiers began to hurl gas canisters at the cars stuck in line. One could hear the clicks of the canisters hitting the roofs of the cars enveloped by clouds of thick white gas-smoke.

At this point I was already worried, remembering what had happened to Raduanís nephew a few years ago in one of the Occupation Armyís incursions into Ramallah.
The soldiers had gone from house to house, and out of boredom or frustration or whatever other reason, threw gas canisters into the houses they came upon.
Raduanís nephew was then a few months old. The gas flooded the room he was in and he was irreversibly injured. Since then, his brain has remained at the development level of a few-months old baby. He cannot see, cannot speak, his body is deformed and maimed, and he will not remain alive much longer.
At the time, when Raduanís family tried to press charges against the army for what it had done to the baby, because they hoped that this way they would have money for special treatment that might save him, they found out they have no right to lodge a complaint or application after three months from the day of the injury.
Not that anything would give them back the babyís brain.

I look at the soldiers and wonder what motivates them. The taxis in line are not at all connected to their confrontation with the youngsters, after all. They, too, realize that none of the people stuck in those cars threw a single stone at them. They know most of these people are older, even elderly.
And I think that as far as the soldiers are concerned, this really does not make any difference. And it makes no difference because for them, the children of Qalandiya who throw stones in their direction, and any Palestinian as such, are one and the same.
Arabs.
Because for them a Palestinian is not Ďwhoí but Ďwhatí. His one-time existence is not real to them. He is not an individual with a name and a particular identity but rather a representative of a race. An abstract entity. In this sense indeed it makes no difference whatsoever whether the soldier aims his gas canister at a child who just threw stones, or at an eighty-year old man who quite incidentally got stuck in a service cab at that spot, or any Palestinian as such. For they are all Palestinians, and in this sense they are similar and equal and identical.

More and more the soldiers threw gas canisters at the cars and the tight-shut houses. And there was a moment when people began to get out of the cars and ran away in a panic. Obviously most of them did not know where to run. Obviously they were frightened. I heard screaming and crying. And more and more doors opened and people, mostly stumbling, ran away from the cars.
A very old man, staggered out of a cab, his hand on his mouth, was swallowed into some courtyard.
The soldiers, seeing the people running, threw more and more gas canisters in their way.
A young woman coming out of the transit, stumbling and rising, in her arms a tiny little baby girl, both of them crying hysterically, and the mother then began to scream, and her scream etched the heart and the imagination and the grayness that was everywhere.
At first she ran from side to side like a caged animal, to nowhere in particular, direction-less. Then she was swallowed into one of the yards nearby.
At some point the line of cars was opened and they began to hurry on.

I went on up the road, and reached the group of youngsters, most of them from Qalandiya refugee camp, and was swallowed among them.
They were of all ages. Most of them very young Ė seven and eight to eighteen and nineteen years old, at the most. And a handful older.
Some of them I knew, others I didnít.

There was a moment when they all began to descend hurriedly towards the soldiers, some throwing stones in their direction, others only marching together, and immediately the soldiers resumed throwing gas canisters at them and most of them ran back.
Again they re-gather and descend the road, throwing stones towards the soldiers, and again the soldiers throw gas, and the youngsters ran back up the road.

This is a new gas, one boy told me, and I thought I too had noticed it was different than what I knew. More acrid and worse than usual.

And there was a moment when the soldiers stopped hurling gas canisters and started shooting small gas cartridges that whistled past our heads. I looked at them. How they aim their rifles at us and fire.

Gas was everywhere. One boy offered me water and I drank. Another handed me an onion, and I took it.

Most of them are very young, I thought. Babies. And I was sad, because I worried.

And the ritual persisted. The youngsters charge forward towards the soldiers and throw stones towards them, that mostly donít hit anything, mostly aimed at the sky, and the soldiers rain their gas cartridges back, and some youngsters fall on the ground, convulsing, and then get up again, gather small stones from those already scattered everywhere, and throw them and run away, and the soldiers shoot and shoot and shoot.

Some hours went by this way, I think.

Suddenly I see little M., N.ís son. He is eight at the most, Iím thinking. God. His hands are holding some little stones which he tries unsuccessfully to keep around his belly so they wouldnít drop. As he sees me, he runs towards me, his face alight, and I saw him trying to figure out how to shake my hand without all his stones falling, and my heart cringed with fear for him. And I said, M., go home! Go to Mommy, to N. Sheíll be awfully worried. And he pursed his little lips in anger, and his face, and looked away from me, turning his shoulder to me in protest, and left me into the boiling angry joyful youngness of protest yelling against the soldiers and the Occupation and the prevention and the poverty and the humiliation, yelling NO.
And he too with them.

Be careful, Iím told over and over again.

Why didnít you marry, I was asked in the midst of all of this by someone I really donít know. Why? Youíre pretty, he added, smiling shyly. And handing me a tissue.
Thank you, I said.
And just then lots of gas cartridges were shot at us. They fell beside us. And hit the low concrete wall we were leaning against.
I too fell on the ground. The body seemed to want to break out its skin for rescue. Until it was over.
Again I looked, wondering, at these soldiers. Who were aiming at our heads. At such close range. Frontally. And tried to think what they were thinking. And had no answer. Only that something terrible has happened to the collective consciousness whereby aiming at a Palestinianís head is not violence. And I thought that all of this is only a symptom of something for which I have no name.

Then I saw R. and my blood froze. And stopped. For R. had had several inner organs torn and injured and his life had been in grave danger. A few years ago soldiers shot a live bullet in his back at short-range, and the bullet entered and dug in and destroyed and peeled and harmed and R. hardly survived.
Very frail, very weak.
R., I said. What could I say to him. Obviously he is too weak even to lift a stone, never mind throwing it. And clearly anything jeopardizes him. The gas endangers him. And I saw how much he wanted to belong. To be a part of everyone.
And he was handing out onions.
Just then his nice cousin sat down next to me, whom I still remember from the time that R. had been in the hospital. There was a pause in the shooting. And R. sat on my one side and his cousin on the other. And we chatted. And the cousin said to me, tell him to go home, and pointed at his belly, at R.ís dugout belly. And I told him, R., go home. And R. smiled at me, his gaze glazed. We looked at him sadly, I and his cousin.
And then the soldiers began to shoot again.

An older man crossing the street on foot said angrily: If the soldiers would go away it would end. Thatís what they want, they want stones and boom-boom-boom, thatís what they want. They donít want peace. And I said, thatís true. Because it is true. Because itís always like this. The soldiers look for a reason to provoke the children to throw stones. So either they are lucky because thereís a demonstration or an uprising. And if theyíre not lucky that way, they make sure it happens. They ride around provocatively inside the camp in order for stones to be thrown at them, which they are. And then they shoot. Gas, rubber, live.

Today the gas is rough. More and more youngsters drop to the ground in convulsions. Many run far away to get some air.
Someone lit up car tires and black clouds of smoke color the white-gray of the gas.

Not one car still drives along the open side of the road. The areaís empty. Only thousands of little stones and gas canisters lie scattered everywhere.

A gas cartridge whistles next to my head, singing my hair, and a slight odor of burnt hair floods me.
Be careful, one boy who sees it tells me. They donít know who you are. Theyíll shoot you. And he meant that they donít know youíre not Palestinian. They donít realize youíre not free game.
And I thought he was right. And I also thought what superfluous maturity of mind he has at his young age, knowing the nature of man.

It was already a bit past four oíclock. Abu Omar rapidly climbs the road towards the camp. Pushing the handcart from which he sells cakes at A-Ram. We waved. Later he called me again and again to make sure I was alright.

At this point soldiers are taking over a house in the camp, not far from the grocery store. The youngsters run there, throwing stones. Then a scream was heard, dead! Dead! And suddenly, silence. As though someone above had frozen the world. And some moments later two paramedics passed by me carrying a stretcher. On the stretcher lay a boy who looked about thirteen years old. Later I was told he was fourteen and from Ramallah, not from Qalandiya, his name unknown. His body was still. In his neck a hole gaped, bleeding.

I donít know whether he was alive or dead.

A little boy holding a large juice bottle saw it all, and began pouring the juice out on the ground in the shape of a Star of David. After he finished, he stepped on it. His eyes grim. Stepping on it again and again. The body of the boy more or less his age on the stretcher bubbling in his motions.

Then I saw A.ís son, perhaps nine years old. Or ten, rather, of slight build. Running along with everyone else. Excited. Tightening some rag over his face. His brother was shot in the leg with a live bullet in one of the soldiersí incursions into Qalandiya just as he was standing with his father and selling ice-cream. And I wanted to yell at him, but he was already engulfed by the others. And although I should have called his father and told him his little son was here I didnít.
And then I saw F. whose ten and a half year-old brother was shot in the head by a soldier who had chased him.
And H. whose brother was murdered in a demonstration when he was fifteen years old.
And the brother of B. who has been under administrative detention for a year and a half by now and no one knows why or in what condition he is or what he is accused of.
And J. who once used to sell paper slips with Koran verses at the Checkpoint, because his father was disabled and he was the eldest son.
I havenít seen him for some years. He has grown into a good-looking adolescent. We happily shook hands in the midst of all of this, and promised ourselves to talk.

In the meantime the soldiers retreat somewhat and the boys climbed the hill next to the wall. The hill on which several of the campís children have been murdered in the past few years: 14-year old Omar Matar and 13-year old Ahmad Abu Latifa and 15 and a half-year old Fares Gimzawi and all the others.
And suddenly there were dozens of them there. Running on top of the hill. Throwing their little stones that donít reach anywhere, shouting in childish triumph.
And then the gas and stun grenades started raining down from behind the wall. At first the boys were startled and began to run away. But after a moment, in cheerful yells, they returned and began to collect the landing grenades and throwing them back over the wall at the soldiers.

A jeep tried to climb the hill, and the youngsters ran towards it roaring, showering stones, and it retreated, to their cheers, dancing their Ďvictoryí. Some signaling V with their fingers, others waving rags. Again a jeep tries to climb and a stone hits it. We hear it clinking against its roof.
The hit jeep revolves in anger, spitting soil, goes back down to the road and runs full force into a container standing on the road, and clashes with it again, and the youngsters dance on the hill.

Then some of the soldiers begin to climb the hill on foot, their rifles pointed at the ready.
The boys escape back down the hill. Two of the soldiers knelt behind some soil mounds and aimed with their rifle sights. The blood froze in my veins.
New whistles tore the air. Was it rubber or live ammunition, I wondered. Probably rubber.
Some of the soldiers climb the roof of a house bordering on the road.

Teargas clouds flood the alley below the house taken over by the soldiers.
This is just next door to Sami and Fatma Asad. I chose not to phone them, for if theyíre taking shelter, I would just be disrupting. Better not have them answer me. I was just hoping that they, so experienced with gunfire over their heads and into their house, know what to do and how to protect themselves. That they are fine.

Meanwhile the soldiers shot at electricity cables running over the road and a spark went through the wires from one side to the other and back again, and on both sides of the street lights go out.

More and more stones are thrown by the children and the soldiers fire gas cartridges and rubber bullets.
Just donít let anything happen, I plead silently.

Why canít we live together, an especially sweet child asks me, whoís already brought me tissue and onion and water and tissue again and onion yet again. All of us together, he said. Why no? Why donít they want that?

Thereís something nightmarish in the sight of soldiers hiding on roofs and aiming through their rifle sights. And facing them, this joyous collective excited childishness, blind and deaf to danger. With that ageís blessed and dangerous illusion of eternal life.

If only darkness would fall already, I thought.
Only nightfall will put an end to this.

If my wife were not pregnant with my daughter I would be there with them, B. tells me, his voice sadly longing.
And I thought how much I appreciate his sense of responsibility. His restraint. For I so very much understand his longing to be swept into this young, raging, powerful togetherness.
He, who was shot in his thigh with a live bullet at the age of fifteen while he was on his way to the store to buy something for his family. Who was arrested in Jerusalem on his way to the hospital, whose kidneys soldiers had ruined while beating him up in jail, and doctors at the Beer Sheva hospital Ė seeing a boy not yet sixteen years old with serious injury to his kidneys, arriving unconscious from jail, and shackled to his hospital bed Ė did not report nor complain nor protest nor ask how all this could be possible. And who, in spite of his serious condition, released him a month later back to jail, from where he had arrived wounded and seriously injured, and kept silent.

Suddenly I felt I could not breathe again. That all my pipes had locked shut. I ran to the side and knelt down. And was surrounded. I signaled them with my hand to wait. That Iíll be alright in a moment. And it passed. And I received some water. And took it.
And one of them said, they donít like you, do they? And I said, no they donít. And I donít like them either, I added. And smiled at him. Because he looked so concerned and mature inside his young body, most likely about one-third my age.
And I got up and shook myself. And another little one came up to me and whispered, that as I fell my blouse was pushed up a bit, he was concerned for my modesty and I thanked him for telling me.

And some more time went by.

Itís true that the day before, ďRage DayĒ was announced, so soldiers stood at the alert and ready and the youngsters went out into the street. But this is perhaps only because not every day is right for rebellion. Because they have to look for work. Because mothers plead with their sons not to throw stones. Plead with them to stay home. And because there simply isnít enough time to rebel, not everyday, in sight of the walls and fences and edicts and bans and ghettos increasingly closing in on them.
Not all the time.
So sometimes something come up, something symbolic, suffices to remember that which cannot be remembered every single day, also because the price of uprising is much too high. Too heavy. Something that reminds of that which is always true, that this just cannot be. And that they do not accept it.
That it is not fair.
And the occasional ceremoniousness such as Ramadan or ďRage DayĒ or something else is then used to arouse that which should and must rightly be said, always.

Therefore I think that on this Wednesday the youngsters took to the street only partly because of Al Aqsa or the Jewish construction in Jerusalem.
Also, but not especially and only because of them.
They took to the street, I think, to demonstrate and throw their little stones in order to say with all their young and soulful might Ė NO.
No, and go away.
And again, no.
And their stones were aimed especially at Qalandiya Checkpoint.
Which is the essence of it all.
No to the checkpoint.
No to the ugly, dominating checkpoint that sits on their land and prevents their lives and crushes and tramples and shatters their lives from morning to night.

The checkpoint that has taken the lives of so many children and boys.

And that is why this point of rebellion this Wednesday was also a spot of joy.
Their burning, happy youth trembled in joy inside their muscles just now taking shape at this age, in their shriek: No.
And it was a day of rejoicing.
Because out of the ashes of oppression and habit and acquiescence and contraction, the NO rose clearly, strong and erect.
With no compromise or acceptance.
No, they shriek, every one on his own and all together.
No.
And I with them there, feel the right of this NO, its justice - in my body.
In my heart I, too, shriek with them all, no.
Go away. Go. Go home.
Go.

But in my grownup mind I realize that tomorrow or perhaps even tonight, the arrests will follow.
That they will enter the camp at night, bang on the doors with their rifle-butts, or break them in.
And if they donít come tonight, then some coming night. The babies will wet their pants, mothers will shriek and plead not to take their children, and they will take them, usually the youngest, to have them confess of everything theyíll be told to confess having done. Of stones thrown or not. Of other deeds. And theyíll sit for long months in jail where theyíll be questioned about others, did they do this or that, and usually theyíll say whatever their interrogators will want them to say, also about people they donít even know, because usually itís impossible not to. Because there is no choice.
And theyíll come out of jail soon or not, hurt and angry and even more lost. And the message is clear. It is forbidden to refuse. Forbidden to say no. Forbidden to live. Forbidden and forbidden and forbidden. And a new generation will grow up, and throw stones at the occupier.
How could it not?

One could hardly see anything as night fell, and because of the gas.
Body and lung strangely charred.
The face of a young woman emerges from the closed balcony over my head. Come on up, she tells me in a clipped voice.
Please, come, she points to the road gray with gas and the sniping soldiers.
She wants to rescue me.
Thanks, I say. Iíll come another time. Thank you. I think to myself, after all she doesnít know me, and I donít know what to do with the warmth and gratitude that engulf me.
I thank her once more and she vanishes back into the shuttered house.

The sound of glass shattering. Soldiers have shot at a window. And another window.

Suddenly a paramedic leaps out of the dark at the soldiersí gun-barrels, his hands in the air. Donít shoot, he shouts. Thereís someone hurt. Donít shoot.
Then several paramedics arrive and they all run up the alley together. Towards the house whose roof the soldiers have taken over, I think, or the one next door.
Several moments later the paramedics come down the alley with a stretcher bearing an apparently old man, wearing a gown, his legs trembling incessantly. Next to him a woman hurries along, apparently his spouse. She is old, too. Carrying crutches, probably his.
Heís fifty years old, they tell me. Head wound.
The ambulance, lights flashing, turned around and hurried off to Ramallah.

It is nearly night now. The sound of the muezzin blends with the gray that has turned almost black.
Beautiful voice, I thought, sounds like a womanís, although that doesnít make sense.

Then it was fully dark. A quarter past six. The muezzin fell silent.
The soldiers came down from the roof and returned to the checkpoint.
And the youngsters turned around and went back home. And so did I.

Translated by Tal Haran.


hebrew

 
 
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