Police gather in the capital’s Isawiya neighborhood to prevent riots in the flash-point area..
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
During the summer I worked as a swimming instructor at a pool in west Jerusalem. While I was working there I used to have conversations with an Israeli who was working as a water polo instructor. We weren’t friends, we were just two people who are very curious to know about each other’s reality. We didn’t share the same political point of view but we wanted to talk with no limits and no judgment, and especially with no fear. I knew she was an Israeli Jew and she knew I was a Palestinian living in Shuafat.
One day I asked her if she would come to my house in Shuafat if I invited her. Not that I was really willing to invite her, it was just out of curiosity to see her reaction.
She answered with a sense of humor and said: “why not, if they will not try to kill me.”
By they she meant Palestinian Arabs living in Shuafat. I gave her an ironic look and told her not to worry about this, because there are more Israeli soldiers and police in Shuafat than the actual Palestinians living there.
This was a joke, but this joke is part of my everyday life and reality.
When you walk in the streets of Shuafat and Beit Hanina you will be surprised by the amount of Israeli soldiers and police in the neighborhood lately. Usually the police are supposed to make you feel safe and protected, but not for Palestinians. When we see a police car or some soldiers gathered we feel worried and scared. We feel anger and hatred, which I imagine is very normal to feel when you are a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, because we know they are there to make our lives harder.
And it’s not only soldiers and policemen. I’m sick of the sounds of helicopters humming around in the skies of Jerusalem and Shuafat. Even our skies have been occupied; the only place where I used to look and see freedom. What are they looking for? Who are they observing, and what for? I know it is very silly to ask these questions, because I already know the answers. They are here to control our lives and make us feel that we are not free and we cannot do whatever we want. They want to give us the feeling that this is not our comfort zone, not our territory, they want to warn us and keep an eye on us in case we even think of doing something.
This morning when I was going to work, I saw three Israeli soldiers sitting down on a wall near the street where I take the bus.
I really felt like heading toward them to ask them one question: What are you doing here? I wanted to see what would be their reaction and what would they answer. But I have decided to skip that part and just go to work.
It is starting to really annoy me seeing Israeli soldiers just hanging around and chilling near my house. I think it creates more tension and does not create a safe environment. And I think seeing this amount of security around Shuafat actually motivates Palestinians to do something.
It keeps our eyes open to the fact that we are still living under occupation and we have no freedom.
Those soldiers should not be that comfortable about being in Palestinian neighborhoods, and it shouldn’t become something normal and acceptable for Palestinians to see them there.
Many questions hover in my mind during the day, and I can’t find the sense in the answers.
What is even hard for me to understand is why Palestinians are becoming so silent about everything. Are we afraid of protesting? Are we feeling hopeless? Are we aware of what is happening? Maybe we want to change things but we don’t know how or we don’t know if it is even possible to change anything.
I believe in freedom, justice and equality for everyone. I believe in my rights to feel safe and free in my own neighborhood.
I believe in my right to go for a walk or to the store and not see guns and soldiers. I believe in the rights of Palestinian children to play outside without seeing soldiers or fearing them.
I can’t think of one solution, because I believe that it’s not the only problem in this city or this country, there are many problems and they are all connected, and if we can’t solve the problem from its origin, which is the occupation, we won’t be able to solve any other problem which is a result of the occupation.
What I know and I am sure of, is that more weapons and violence and control over our lives are not the way to keep things calm and safe. Oppression is never the solution, and for sure it’s not going to last for a long time.
If Palestinians in Shuafat are throwing stones at the Israeli light rail while it’s passing through, it is for a reason. That reason is very clear: the light rail is considered to be illegal by international law, and allowing it to pass through normalizes the illegal situation in that area.
So I think it is totally understandable and normal that Palestinians resist its presence.
What Israel should do is understand the reason and try to solve it. What is definitely not a solution is forcing the Palestinians to accept it by putting more and more Israeli soldiers and police in Shuafat to make sure that nothing happens. In my opinion this does not solve the problem, it just creates more problems. The solution is justice for Palestinians and breaking international law isn’t justice.
I don’t want to live in fear, and seeing soldiers with guns creates fear; I don’t want to feel like I’m living in an open prison, and I don’t want to leave or move from my house. Hopefully you will understand my message, whether you are a Palestinian who feel the same as I do, or an Israeli who fears my presence and believes that it is important to spread police and soldiers in Palestinian neighborhoods, or whether you are just a foreigner living somewhere in a safe environment and the only time you saw guns and weapons was in a museum or on the TV.
I know some might think that it is very silly from me to be complaining about this. I am aware that there are other bigger problems, and for sure more serious things are going on in Palestine, and in other parts of the world, but that does not make my problem invisible, and that doesn’t make me feel better about my problem. People should complain when their rights are being taken. I will not let them take my freedom away.
The author is a resident of Shuafat.