Sheikh Jarrah: Part II
A strong storm had been blowing through Jerusalem for two days. The road towards the Qalandiya checkpoint, to Ramallah, was flooded and so cars crawled along in queues as the rain hammered down. Police stood knee-deep in water as they ushered through the creeping cars.
I was on shift in Sheikh Jarrah that night. The street was devoid of life; the fire that normally burns in the street had been dragged under the gazebo next to the al-Kurd house, which is where I would spend the next sixteen hours. A group of internationals, Israelis and Palestinians huddled under the tarpaulin, choking on the smoke from the fire, huddled against the biting, piercing wind that howled through the gazebo. This was going to be a long night.
At 3am I woke-up the luckless volunteer who had the next shift. Handing over the sodden blanket, I crawled into my ash-covered sleeping bag, sealing myself in as I shivered uncontrollably. I felt guilty from having dragged my comrade from her sleep, from inflicting this upon her; but as I lay on the make-shift bed, my contrition swiftly left me as my eyes found solace in the respite from my task.
As sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder become depressed during winter, I found that meteorological conditions would influence my feelings towards the settlers who inflicted this situation on us all. I had been sat around the fire on a pleasant night when they had thrown fire-crackers at us and could laugh this off. On more charitable nights I would try to engage them in discourse about their reasons for doing this, although become disillusioned when the only argument they can give is their “Biblical right”, or the “dreams that [their] people have had for generations”, for this land.
But during those long, cold, wet hours, my attitude towards them was as bitter as the night.
The Loss of Youth
A few days later, I was back in the neighbourhood. Clouds were still looming overhead but the rain had stopped. A small boy stood crying against a wall. This was the same boy who had been hit by a settler throwing a rock a couple of weeks before. Life takes a hard toll on the children of Sheikh Jarrah; the freedom and opportunities I had whilst growing up would not be afforded to this boy who has been forced out of his house by the government that is occupying his country.
That afternoon, I taught him to ride a bicycle. I jogged alongside him as he rode his brother’s two-wheeler up and down the street; he was laughing in delight the first time I let go. This is the sort of experience that youth should be composed of.
That evening was the weekly community dinner in Sheikh Jarrah. Families arrived with steaming plates of food and the street was filled with a sense of joviality as Palestinians sampled western cooking and we gorged on their local delicacies. Sydney, an ISM volunteer, has established the tradition of these weekly get-togethers, and the atmosphere she had installed in the street was amazing as Palestinians, Israelis and internationals all had a small party.
We had been playing football in the street when the Israeli police showed up. Waving their rifles around, the game was to be quickly disbanded. They first claimed that it constituted an “illegal demonstration”, and later cited that it “wasn’t safe” with the traffic. Virtually the only traffic this cul-de-sac receives is their frequent patrols. One man was arrested as he threw a football, thus ruining another young life. The police tried to arrest another young boy, but we weren’t about to let them ruin another. He was smuggled away.
When I was little, one particular neighbour would often complain when my friend and I would play football in the street; I suppose he feared for his car, or his windows. But he would shoo us off and we would play elsewhere. End of story.
Here, this little distraction from the daily threat of eviction received no complaint from the neighbours. Instead, the Israeli police were waving around loaded rifles and threatening arrest as they violently disbanded the game.
With children growing up in this kind of environment, is it any surprise that they become disaffected and turn to more desperate means of struggle? And Israeli force in the West Bank is relatively “civilised” compared to the stories that come out of Gaza. Israel must be conscious of what they are doing, so are they actively trying to create a further generation of resistance?