Moment Outside Conflict

This piece was originally published as paper by essay writing place in Yalla’s First Edition in 2004.

From our makeshift office in the garage of a large house, we have a commanding view of Irsal Street, one of the main streets coming off the central Manara and heading straight toward the Muqa’ta (Arafat’s compound). APC’s (armoured personnel carriers) are stationed right below us, preventing people from going down the street to protest by the Muqa’ta. There are maybe ten or twelve soldiers. Not one can be older than 25. There is some stone-throwing in the Manara and five of the soldiers walk toward it with imposing presence to frighten the young men into submission. It works, not that the resistance was particularly aggressive in the first place.

One of my colleagues and I stand above this scene and watch. There is a group of young children all huddled up near the soldiers. No stonethrowing, no yelling. All is quiet as the sun beats relentlessly down. The kids approach cautiously, perhaps dazzled by the power of guns and machines. The Israelis let them be. Perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of a desire to be seen as something other than an occupier.

The kids make a huge advance which elicits a loud “Khalas!” from one of the soldiers, and the kids slow down their pace. Two soldiers go up to them now and all of a sudden, they are actually talking. Some young men approach and join in. As if they are all human. And it is almost possible for Anita and me to forget what the military uniforms and guns mean and to see only young people talking to each other. The normal here is so extraordinary that it keeps you hostage to its intensity. Ahmad joins us as we watch this scene being played out, this interaction between occupier and occupied, between young soldiers and those who resist them, this moment where—perhaps—everyone has decided to live outside the conflict that has shaped their lives.

The Israeli soldiers, sensing the kids’ desire to approach and touch the APC, decide on a more organized method. They take the kids, two-by-two, and show them the inside of the APC, talking to them all the while, probably explaining certain things. There is nothing we can say. What is this that we are seeing? It goes on and once all the kids have seen the APC a cart with fresh bread comes by and the kids pull the soldiers so that they can buy some. And the soldiers do.

They bring the fresh bread back to their APC, but on the way one of them takes a piece and offers it to a Palestinian child. The little hand reaches out, perhaps out of hunger only, but is quickly stopped by the volley of “No!” that rises up from the crowd. And that is the limit. Talking, yes. For a moment interacting, yes. Seeing soldiers as young men and laughing with them, ok. But taking food from their hands—no. That cannot be done. And all the kids agree on this.

And for a split second, I think I can see sadness on the face of that young Israeli soldier. As if his place in the larger scheme of things has just come back to him violently. As if he understands that he cannot be both occupier and friend in one. He walks back to his comrades.

And that exchange of friendship will have been in vain.

Teargas is shot from further down the road and finally makes its way up to us with the wind. Our eyes well with tears as we make a dash back to the office. Later on in the day, we find out that a young boy has been shot dead. Maybe killed by one of those soldiers. Maybe not.

And those moments outside conflict will have been in vain.

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