“What do you think, are we sleeping?”, he asked. I replied, obliquely, that there were some pockets of resistance but nothing is unified over the West Bank. It was a short ride so I didn’t find out his opinion.
I am sure if you do not step outside the Ramallah city boundaries, it is easy to think that the West Bank is calm and peaceful. No army incursions, no violent clashes between teenage boys and soldiers, no resistance to the occupation apart from smallish demonstrations like the one marking Obama’s visit .
In Hastingsas a small bunch of activists we are used to the majority of people not engaging in our peace issues. Are the inhabitants in the Ramallah suburb where I am staying of a similar mindset tin spite of everything that has happened from the Nakba onwards? The people people around seem to have good jobs – most of the cars are smarter than mine (not too difficult I hear some of you say). Trees line the pavements, flowers are carefully tended, 10 minutes away there are bars which could be in London or Paris. So in Ramallah it is easy to think you are in a pop-up European city that has sprung up from nowhere. Is this the face of ‘normalisation’ ? Well, Ramallah is only 22 kilometres away from Bethlehem, where in Aida Camp there is a different story to be told.
Last year I was inspired by the cultural resistance in the Aida Refugee Camp, found in the Al Arowwad and Lajee youth centres. But for some of of the young people this is not enough. They vent their frustrations by focusing on the watch tower and the Wall that invades their space.
The day of my visit the camp was calm, but this is not always so as the following events show.
Last Monday, April 8, Mohammed Al-Azza, a Palestinian cameraman was shot in the face. Monday, Israeli soldiers entered Aida Refugee Camp through a gate in the separation wall dividing Rachel’s Tomb from Bethlehem. There were no clashes at the time, and their presence in the camp was not provoked. He was merely photographing the soldiers from the second-floor balcony of the Lajee Center, where he has long volunteered in the media unit. He was eager to use the centre’s new camera, a Canon 600D with a 50-250mm zoom lens.*
The back story – making a hole in the wall
This January, several youths decided to take action against the Wall. They chose a spot near the guard tower from which the army frequently fire and which was already weakened by the continuous burning of tyres. They drilled a hole using a electric hand drill, and after two nights the hole was large enough for them to pass through. On January 15 two did.
Salah Ajarma, the director of the Lajee Centre said the idea to make a hole in the wall came from an activist identified only as “Ali Wall,” who began a campaign against the barrier in Aida camp shortly after its completion in 2006. His dream was to make a hole and go to the other side to play in the field.
(The Palestine Monitor spoke with several witnesses to the drilling and saw a video of the youths drilling the hole. Photos taken after the drilling was done show a hole several feet high and perhaps a foot wide, large enough for children to pass through.)
“The purpose of the hole was not to launch attacks on Israel or otherwise endanger the Zionist state’s security”, Ajarma said. “The hole was drilled by the camp’s residents out of a simple and universal desire for freedom”.
“They don’t want the wall close to them, they don’t want the towers, they don’t want to see the Israeli army in the camp… That’s how they feel. Like if we open a hole, [there’s the belief that] we can reach every space, we can reach Jerusalem, or we can go to have a picnic or to have barbecue on the other side of the Wall. Because that’s what children want. They don’t want walls, they don’t want towers, they don’t want bullets. They want a free area and free space for them”.
The killing of Saleh
Frequent army incursions occurred after the drilling of the hole and, on January 18, 16 year old Saleh Elamareen, who eyewitnesses say was merely standing near the Lajee Centre, was shot in the head. He subsequently died in hospital.
Aida camp is witnessing a brutal crackdown on its young residents. The youth are the beacons of change in every society as they represent the future. When Israel arrests youth on unknown charges they are robbing them them of education, the right to a family life and of Palestine’s right to their future.”
So Palestine continues to be perplexing and tragic, hopeful and doomed and denied any political solution for the freedom and justice it deserves.
* I was not there to witness what happened last week the italicised extracts come from the Palestine Chronicle.