Gaza: A Reflection
It has been a few days since the ceasefire agreement between Gaza and Israel. I realize that I never gave an update on how things went in Hebron. Now that I have had a few days to reflect, let me try to describe the situation.
During the day things were normal. Kids went to school and the shops were open. Soon after school let out (around 2 in the afternoon) things would start heating up. Soon some stones would start flying toward the army bases. Boys had slingshots, or just hurled them by hand. There was always a tire or two burning to mark the occasion. Eventually the soldiers would decide they had enough and a small troop of them would march out from behind their gate. The boys would all scatter. Then they slowly made their way back, picking up stones as they walked. This the soldiers could not abide. The soldiers shot tear gas into the crowd of boys (and CPT) scurrying for cover.
Now teargas is an interesting weapon. It is shot out of a gun in a canister that travels like a bullet. The canister can be deadly if it hits someone straight on, so soldiers are supposed to firing them in the air. They don’t always do this, hence the boys scurrying. The teargas itself spread throughout the entire old city. The people in the market a few streets over tried cover their mouths and noses and keep working. Eventually they just closed their shops early, no one wants to go shopping with teargas in the air. Teargas not only makes you cry, it burns your nostrils and the back of your throat making it hard to breath. Ironically smelling an onion helps against the teargas. Some CPTers went out for patrols with pockets full of sliced onions in their pockets.
After a while with the boys, now justified by the teargas to retaliate, would slowly ease their way within throwing distance of the soldiers. The soldiers, fearing the bigger crowd, would bring out the dreaded skunk water. This is carried on a vehicle (a skunkmobile if you will) and sprayed at the demonstrators. And it stinks. Imagine the juice at the bottom of a garbage truck, but weaponized. The stuff stank, and lingered. Luckily no CPTer was sprayed directly by it, but when someone came back to the house after a patrol, we could all smell it. It made dinners a lot less enjoyable.
After dark things would get kicked up a notch. The stone-throwers grew in number and the soldiers would start using rubber coated metal bullets, which can be lethal. Not to mention it was dark, which just makes everything more intense and scary. By around 11:00 at night the boys would get tired and go to bed, after all most of them had school in the morning.
This was the pattern for three or four days. Last Wednesday there was a general strike in solidarity with Gaza. Don’t ask me how not working or going to school helps anyone in Gaza (or throwing stones at army bases for that matter), but they did it. That day the stone throwing and teargas started much earlier, around 11 am. That evening the ceasefire was signed.
The next day things were basically back to normal.
During all this we took pictures, followed up about people who were arrested, stood behind the soldiers, stood behind the boys, ran when the skunkmobile came out, and cried when the teargas was shot. Things in the office were tense for a few days.
It was really frustrating too. The boys were not doing anything capable of serious damage, but the soldiers, in order to prevent the boys from achieving that capability, had to react in ways that were both dangerous and extremely disruptive to Palestinian life. I can’t blame the soldiers for their reactions. Most of them looked like they really did not want to be there.
It was the pointlessness of the whole thing that bothered me most. There was no real goal. Nothing good could be achieved by anything that was happening. The pointlessness seems comparable, on a small scale to what was happening in Gaza. The pointlessness of the Hamas rockets (itself a reaction to violence), and the ineffective but devastating reaction from Israel. Maybe the whole situation is comparable to the all violent conflicts. How pointless and ineffective is it to try to stop violence with more violence?
Pray that people can find alternatives to violence.
We are doing a lot of planning about the Firing Zone, pray that we can do some good.
Pray for peace