It was the futility of it all that struck me the most.
Shock is a state that I now know.
I don't think cans of tear gas, gases that have no name, stones, guns or rockets could have affected me as much as this event.
It was the first round of gas that constricted my lungs, made my eyes wet and my nose water. Breathing was futile. But I gulped in gallons of traitorous air.
After a few minutes, my eyes cleared and my lungs took their first clean breathe.
I looked around to see a photographer choke on his own spit and then faint. He was carried away on a stretcher.
I saw a Palestinian man carrying his flag, resting at the olive tree. He rested and then sprang back to life, urging people to return to the smoky battle.
I walked back to the village after the protest was over. Over for me. It was a weird feeling of disconnection. I felt disconnected from my voice and from my head. My heart was beating but I couldn't feel it. I didn't stop. I walked. I passed by stores with people buying groceries, men lounging outside shops, cars blaring Arabic music as they passed by.
I was breathing heavy.
I stopped to see a little boy, probably 11-14 years old take a slingshot and swing a rock in the direction of a house. A Palestinian house.
Target practice I imagine.
Is this my cause? Is this my revolution?
Was I attached to it? Very much so.
I become attached to it everyday. Every interaction with a Palestinian, every proposal of marriage by the falafel shop guy, the women in the mosque who promise to set me up with someone, the look older women give me when I finish saying my prayers at the mosque. The free juice I get from the man selling honey juice next to Damascus gate. I had a lovely conversation with him once. About Pakistan and finding him a wife. A second wife, I'm sure.
Or the men on the bus who laugh about Musharraf with me, compare him to Mahmoud Abbas and talk about the potential of a “military” coup in Palestine.
I get attached to it whenever I see the Dome of the Rock or feel the peace in Al-Aqsa.
I am attached. With every smile. With every “hello, how are you” and every handshake and kiss on the cheek.
I am in love.
And today I felt my heart break.
I had hope for Palestine. Hope.
Its a dangerous word.
Ever since I have been here, every hope I had for this country was destroyed. Demolished.
Do I believe that there will be a Palestinian state?
Did I have hope that it would exist?
They extinguished my hopes today. I stood in a state of shock as I watched foreigners with cameras, tourists with point and shoots, Press with their camera sets. Among them I saw Palestinians. I saw flags. I saw hope in their eyes. Palestinian eyes.
And then I watched the game begin.
I can't talk about it. But I write about it today. Tomorrow I plan to push it out of my head. Because if I don't I will remember that the idealist in me has died. And I don't want that. I need to believe. In a cause. In a revolution. That isn't mine. But one that I am attached to and I am in love with.
It was a game. It was a dance.
It was Ben, Crystal and I that started out to the weekly demonstration in Bilin, a place near Ramallah. Every Friday, after Friday prayer, dozens of Internationals came out to Bilin to have a “non violent” protest against the occupation of Palestine. Organized mainly by the International Solidarity Movement and apparently the city council of Bilin. The area around Bilin has been illegally occupied by Israel and there is a military checkpoint near Bilin.
I can't talk about it. I can't write about it. I don't remember the faces of Internationals. I remember cameras raised instead of hands, I remember people prancing on the streets and soldiers sitting with their legs crossed watching the event unfold. It was a sport. It was a game. Commercial free.
I remember faces of boys. Palestinian boys. Hurling stones, smiling as they try selling me bands for Palestine, the boy who sold me falafel and the store that I bought water from.
I remember the old Palestinian woman who sat under a tree near her house, the children playing on the street.
I remember Minaal.
There was a canister of gas that hurled over my head. I looked up and started to run. I stopped as another one flew over my head and I changed directions. I turned to leave the area. I had had enough.
I remember Ben talking to a boy about the gas. I remember forcing myself to remember to take pictures. And I remember the clowns, the flashing of cameras, the tourists turning their camera around to see what shots they got.
Did you see that?
Did you get that shot?
Let me see what you got!
We got to Bilin around 12:30. My cab door was immediately yanked open by a man with big, friendly hands. He shook my hand and after finding out that I was American and Pakistani, he invited me to his place in Ramallah for tea. He was happy I had come to Bilin. The protest would take place in 2 hours.
Welcome to the Revolution.
I met people from all over who had come to free Palestine. Crystal and I went to the place where the protest took place before everyone else, planning to go up to the Israeli soldiers to tell them we were press.
We took no sides.
We believed in reporting both sides.
We were idealists.
We stood at least 100 feet from the Israeli police. After they told us to come no further, we headed back to rest at an olive tree with our guide who had brought us there. He was an Israeli who had participated in the Bilin demonstration 5 times. He came to show his solidarity with the Palestinians. He didn't believe in Israel's actions. He wanted to show the Palestinians that. That he was willing to fight for them.
And he also wanted to practice his Arabic.
We sat with him until we heard people from the press pass by. And behind them came the demonstration. Led by a group of five to six Palestinian men, carrying Palestinian flags, the entire demonstration consisted of probably 70-100 people. I saw cameras. Everyone had a camera in their hands. I saw three people dressed up like clowns. They were protesters. They were clowns. Clowns with cameras.
Press was there.
I weaved my way into the crowd to get audio for our multimedia project. People laughed, talked, protested.
The people chanting were right in the front. They chanted in Arabic. No one in the back of the demonstration spoke Arabic.
I got to the front of the group and we reached a long string of barbed wire that blocked off the road. Every Friday there was barbed wire. And every Friday protesters were not allowed to cross that piece of wire.
And they crossed it every week.
This is a non violent protest, a woman with the movement had told me before.
“Any advice?” I asked.
“Be ready to run.”
“Why? Do they gas people every week?”
Was it non violent? On the Palestinian side, yes.
Except people disobeyed and crossed a line when they were not supposed to.
Is Israel justified in gassing the demonstration?
I would think so. They cross the line. They have cameras. If they want a show, we should give them one.
Aim for the clown.
There, there, the one prancing on the road. Aim for the one in pink.
If I was an IDF soldier I would aim the canister right at the clown's face.
Its a joke. Its a game. Its a farce. Its fake. Its not hope.
Have you come to free Palestine? Have you come to show your solidarity with the people of Bilin? Then why are you degrading them, disrespecting their cause by making a fool out of yourselves and them? Why are you dressing up like clowns and frolicking on the street, urging IDF soldiers to throw more canisters at you?
There was gas everywhere.
They yelled at the soldiers. Yelled in English.
Yeah, Yeah, I want more gas. Give me more gas. I want more gas.
Just because you have gas doesn't mean that you are right.
Its true. They are not right. But they do have gas.
I write this and I forget the “they” I refer to. Is it the Israeli Defense Forces or is it the Internationals that attended the event. I think about trying to make this sound clearer. Make it feel coherent. But I don't think there is a difference between either of them. I no longer know the difference between the “they.” Both are just as bad.
Provoking a soldier to throw canisters of gas at you is just as bad as him throwing the gas at you.
I saw children throwing stones. Palestinian boys. They had slingshots.
The army had guns with rubber bullets.
Yalla ya Ahmad! I heard a Palestinian man yell across to the boys on the field. The boys throwing the stones at soldiers that stood 200-300 feet away.
I saw them swing stones. And I heard rubber bullets.
Fathers urging sons to throw rocks. Stones. Stones versus bullets.
Is this hope or is this madness?
Ahmad hurling stones. Ahmad a boy in his teenage years. He should be at school. He should be talking about girls with his friends, eating falafel and listening to music. He throws stones at soldiers and the media eggs him on. His father encourages him.
My brother's name is also Ahmad.
Did you see that?
Did you get a shot of that?
Hey! Come here! Look at this picture!
Cheese! Ahmad! Yalla!
I walked back to the “base” and waited for people to return. Disconnected. I saw women in shops buying groceries, a car passed by blaring Arabic music.
They all walked back showing each other the pictures they had gotten. A journalist showed me his footage. He heard a soldier tell his comrade to aim the canister at the ambulance.
I have been here 50 to 60 times he said. For 2 years. I do it for the adrenaline rush.
Sho Ismak, I asked a little boy.
Mahmoud was his name.
How old are you, I asked.
Is that your sister, I asked, pointing to the baby with the pretty smile.
Is everyone back, people asked.
Does anyone need a ride to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv???
Oh, it was so hard getting here from Tel Aviv. I hope we don't get into trouble on the way back, they said.
I saw the clowns come back. Licking ice cream cones.
Did you see that? Did you get that shot? Thats a great one!
Okay everyone going to Jerusalem, get into this car!
Ice cream. They all ate ice cream. They got into cars and drove away. I could still taste the gas in my lungs.
Whats her name, I asked Mahmoud as I pointed to his sister.
How old is she?
One and a half.
They left. After 3 hours of protesting. And they will return next week. Cameras charged.
They left. And I watched Minaal smile. And breathe. She breathes. She breathes every Friday.
I can't analyze this. I don't want to. This might not make any sense to any one of you who read this. I will not edit this piece. I will try to forget this as soon as I can. I saw no hope in politics. I saw no hope in conflict. I saw hope in people. People who help. People who I thought, helped. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. I am no longer an idealist when it comes to this cause.
I am a realist.
I hate being one.
She has been breathing that gas every Friday since the day she was born.
Gas that was slammed in her village because of Internationals who came there to protest, for the adrenaline rush, for the pictures, for the story that they would tell all their friends. They leave her every Friday to go back to their lives, their fancy cars, their parties. And they talk about how they almost got hit by a bullet, gassed.
Oh man, it was so cool. I was at the protest and it was bad. Those bloody soldiers. Yeah, Free Palestine man.
She had a pretty smile.