Last night at least two Palestinians were killed and 200 wounded in the West Bank during a ‘Solidarity March’ against Israel’s campaign in Gaza.
Elaine Bradley, an Irish human rights activist working in Palestine, was among the marchers.
Last night I acquired the dubious skill of being able to distinguish between live fire and a rubber bullet when being shot at. Thank you Israel for that lesson. Thank you too for teaching me that I should not assume that if I am part of a peaceful protest that includes families, children – that I will be safe.
Together with a friend I joined 20,000 people on the outskirts of Ramallah to take part in the ’48 march in solidarity with the people of Gaza and to protest the actions of Israel there. The aim was to march to Jerusalem – 3 miles from the notorious Qalandia checkpoint.
Everyone was united under the Palestinian flag, an unusual occurrence in a place with many factions that don’t see eye-to-eye. Whole families had turned out – one woman with her baby in a sling walked beside us for a while.
There was an electric atmosphere verging on festive with music blaring from lorries. The crowd sang along and occasionally broke into chants. We walked a couple of miles down the wide street towards the checkpoint in a massive throng. It was immensely powerful and uplifting despite these dark days for Palestine.
Before we got within sight of Qalandia checkpoint clouds of teargas were visible hanging in a vaporous blanket and the loud report of the tear gas cannisters was startling. I had been warned by a friend to bring an onion – apparently it counteracts teargas effects. People in the crowd around me who had been wearing their kuffiyehs (Palestinian scarves) around their necks, started to swaddle their faces with them. I had always thought that was because people didn’t want to be recognized by the IOF, now I know different.
News of what was happening ahead travelled through the crowd like an auditory Mexican wave. The IOF had blocked the checkpoint, had heavy security there and were not going to let us through. No surprise really.
What was a surprise was how quickly things descended into mayhem. As we rounded a corner Qalandia was ablaze before us. Great flames were leaping into the air where some had set fire to tyres. At this point the crowd sorted itself into groups- young men who were no strangers to these confrontations surged forwards, families, elderly people hung back. We were somewhere in between.
Suddenly a noise, hard to describe – a sound between a ping and a whizz, flashed close by. I stood like an eejit for a split second, not comprehending until I saw every one around me had hunkered down. “They are firing on us with live bullets” said my friend as I dropped down. More firing. No one panicked but turned back and ran in a crouched position, as did I. My friend and I moved back 20 yards and stood to the side of the street beside a shop.
The soundtrack to the night had dramatically changed from music and chanting to ambulance sirens, the bang of teargas cannisters and shots. From the Palestinian crowd fireworks were launched, that together with the Israeli flares gave the whole scene a surreal beauty reminiscent of a scene in Apocalypse Now.
I used my iPhone to video what was happening at what I thought was a safe distance until beside, me several feet away there was a loud metallic bang. A rubber tipped bullet had hit the metal shop. At this point my friend took my hand and said “Come- we need to get out of here. It is not safe”.
As we retreated fleets of ambulances were trying to make their way through the crowd to pick up the wounded. The word spread that someone had been shot in the head. One martyr, three martyrs? So many ambulances – was it 20 or 50? Hard to tell.
I made it safely home but didn’t sleep. The ambulance sirens continued well into the morning of this day. I check the Internet – 2 dead, over 200 wounded. The IOF are saying that they were fired on by Palestinians. Really? So how many IOF soldiers were shot?
An Amnesty International Report of earlier this year entitled Trigger-Happy: Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank states “Israeli forces have repeatedly violated their obligations under international human rights law by using excessive force to stifle dissent and freedom of expression.” This sums it up.
The international community has abandoned Palestine and the Palestinians – it’s normalisation or nothing! I am deeply ashamed of our own government’s position – both at EU level, and in their abstaining from the vote at the UN for an investigation into war crimes in Gaza.
But the Palestinian people show time and again that they will not back down in the face of the monstrous injustices inflicted on them. Having been brought up in the traditions of freedom and democracy, I am proud to have been part of last night’s march, to stand in solidarity with a people who are seeking nothing more than justice and liberation.
Previously: ‘The Mask Is Off And People Know’
Pic Julia Mcfarlane