We hitched from Nablus yesterday morning to Qalandia checkpoint which separates Ramallah from East Jerusalem, the internationally recognised capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinians from Ramallah and the surrounding villages planned to march to the wall here to demand a withdrawal by Israel from the land it has illegally occupied since 1967.
I positioned myself right on the roundabout with other ISM activists. This meant we had the soldiers on one side and the demonstration walking up from Ramallah on our other side. We hoped this would reduce the level of violence used by the military. When the protesters were 50 meters away, with their signs and songs, the military opened fire.
I ran out into the road and crouched behind a car avoiding the gas canisters and rubber coated steel bullets which were flying through the air. Every time I put my head up to check the position of the now tens of soldiers, it seemed the car was shot at. Eventually I made a run for it out to the next vehicle and crawled alongside a wall to come out right next to the soldiers – too close for them to shoot at me.
As more soldiers began running in from other directions, I decided to run back up the road to join the protesters. The air was full of gas and at one point my friend and I were trapped as a canister landed in front of us and the wind was blowing it toward us and all of our escape routes. We made a quick decision to run through the thick white plume. As I ran with my eyes closing in reaction to the chemicals, I hit my head on a low hanging steel beam and knocked myself out in the gas.
I was rescued almost immediately by the shabab who carried me to a doorway where medics were treating tear gas casualties. It took me a while to explain through my choking that, despite looking like I was suffering mainly from gas (purple face, difficulty breathing etc), it was my head that needed attention. An ambulance took me to a temporary clinic in a school round the corner. Teenage medics fanned me and held ice packs on my head until the cartoon bump had reduced.
As I sat on the mattress on the floor in this hall, I was overcome with sadness and guilt. I have my freedom and yet I am choosing to leave Palestine for a while. These young people had to volunteer their time treating what would be a couple of hundred injuries. The shop keepers had lost business for the day. The young men out in the street feel that they have exhausted all avenues to freedom. They must now stand, unarmed, facing the aggression of the Israeli army.
My guilt turned to anger when I began to read the news reports. Even the Guardian yesterday reported that NAKSA demonstrations at the borders were driven by the Syrian government and Hizbollah. I can’t bear the thought of returning to the UK and having to deal with this nonsense. Do the editors not consider it newsworthy to print the simple truth that the Palestinians living in exile, apartheid Israel or the occupied West Bank simply can’t take much more oppression? That people are prepared to lose their lives to spare their children the same existence?