Gaza’s Stone Throwers

Frustrated Palestinian youth, exposed to years of Israeli law enforcement brutality, have decided to fight back however they can. SAMI ABU SALEM

By Sami Abu Salem

Young Palestinians, mainly teenagers, head to Beit Hanoun (Erez) border checkpoint north of Gaza every Friday to confront Israeli soldiers.

At least 500 meters separate Palestinian groups from the advanced Israeli security line. As the groups grow larger and move closer to the checkpoint, chaos prevails.

Palestinians hurl stones at Israeli soldiers, waving their country’s flag high and burning the Israeli one, as sounds of alarm sirens fill the air. Ambulances start evacuating casualties shot by the heavily armed Israelis. Screams are echoed and pillars of black smoke rise from burning tires, which now block the road.

One young man with his face shielded by a traditional Palestinian black-and white checkered Kofiya (traditional scarf) loads his slingshot as he tells Newsweek Middle East that he has come to the borders of Gaza for “national duty.”

The young man refuses to give his name, as he aids other stone casters who came from across the Gaza Strip to tell their occupier that they’ll never surrender.

“Fighting the Israeli occupation is our sacred right. They are killing our brothers in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” the 25-year old masked Palestinian said.

The young man, who claims he has a degree in mathematics, bitterly adds that he has no future under an occupation which has, for the past decade, placed the Gaza Strip under an ongoing siege.

“I am jobless, the [Israeli] occupation closed all windows of life, no work, no money, no travel, no normal life so far. It has been eight years of siege and the future does not extend beyond today,” he said as he hurled another stone.

Israel had imposed a tight siege on Gaza following the capture of an Israeli soldier in 2006. The siege was never lifted despite the fact that the soldier was later released in a prisoners’ swap between Hamas and Israel in 2011.

With every wave of stones thrown, the young men slowly advance, in an attempt to give their rocks a better chance of reaching the soldiers, who open yet another round of fire at the unarmed Palestinians. Live, as well as rubber-coated bullets ooze across and the Palestinians take cover behind concrete barriers and sand piles, as others lay flat on the ground.

Two boys get injured and fall on the dusty road. Their comrades rush over and carry them towards the ambulances. At the checkpoint, no one is safe. Not even the medical team, but no one leaves their own behind.

Another masked Palestinian, takes aim and shoots stones with his rubber slingshot. He explains as he loads his slingshot, once more, that he participates in such clashes “to remind the Israelis” that Gaza remains part of Palestine.

“Israel must know we are one people, be it in Gaza or the West Bank … the world must hear us too. If we stay silent nobody will pay attention,” he added as his stone makes way towards an Israeli soldier.

The second masked man, flaunting an athletic body, says he is a “footballer” and that he has lost numerous chances of participating in championships abroad because of the Israeli siege.

An old man, Fuad Abu Farha, who made his way through the columns of black smoke moves in a hurry, looking left and right to check on the boys.

Abu Farha, 60, said somebody informed him that his 18- year old son, has come here to participate in clashes.

“I am so scared that he may get killed,” Abu Farha, dressed in a brown gallabia (a long traditional Arab costume), he explained as he continued to look for his son.

The wave of unrest, and brutal clashes, which have swept East Jerusalem since late September, have found an echo across the occupied Palestinian territories including the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians protested in Jerusalem’s Old City against Jewish settlers’ attempts at praying inside Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place for Muslims across the world.

Between October 1 and November 2, 2015, 74 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and 2,270 others wounded according to Palestinian medical sources.

“The Israeli Occupation Forces killed 56 citizens in the West Bank, 17 in the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported on its website.

Israeli ambulance service, Magin David Adom (MDA), claims Israelis were killed during the same period. In a statement sent to Newsweek Middle East, MDA said 11 Israelis were killed, 145 injured, including 18 who were in critical condition, between October 1 and November 2, 2015.

Akram Atallah, a political analyst, told Newsweek Middle East that it “is mainly despair and anger” constituting the real flame that leads Palestinian youth towards such deadly clashes.

Israel destroyed all possibilities for any real solution and “the dreams of statehood have long been evaporated over the past eight years,” said Atallah.

“Gaza’s youth have lost their dreams. They have nothing to do, they believe there is nothing on the ground they deserve to live for,” he added.

Psychiatrist Fadel Ashour agreed with Attallah that young Gazans suffer from “frustration, deprivation and psychological pressure.”

“This generation suffers from unemployment. Their movement is shackled as they are banned from traveling despite their good knowledge of other countries thanks to schools,” he said.

An educated generation full of national aspirations that suffers from psychological pressure “is an enough reason for them to initiate attempts to change the status; and to emphasize their national ties with what is going on elsewhere in their occupied country,” said Ashoor.

Following the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that “Gaza can become the Singapore of the Middle East.” Palestinians did expect an economic growth which never materialized.

In a report issued in May 2015, the World Bank warned that the unemployment rate in Gaza tops the ranks globally.

“Unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 percent. Even more alarming is the situation of youth unemployment which soared to more than 60 percent by the end of 2014,” the World Bank said in its report.

Back to the clashes zone, new groups of young Palestinians arrived at the Erez border crossing, some on a motorized tricycle, others walking. They quickly jumped and moved towards the dangerous area.

Meanwhile, Israeli army was shooting tens of tear gas canisters at the stone throwers. Many fell on their knees after inhaling the toxic fumes, while others dispersed quickly before returning.

Fadi Abdelhadi, 23, wiped his red nose with tissues, as tears filled his congested eyes and fatigue drew lines across his face. Deciding to leave, he said he was “tired because of gas … I will go back to my work.” Abdelhadi sells falafel (traditional food) in Jabalia refugees’ camp north of Gaza.

The falafel vendor told Newsweek Middle East he never had the chance to visit Al Aqsa Mosque nor the West Bank, despite being part of his own country, he said with a clear choke in his throat. “I tried several times but they [the Israelis] refuse to let us out.” Media coverage of Israeli occupation’s “crimes” against Palestinians in the West Bank, remain the main reason behind Gazans going into “a state of anger,” explained Mohammed Hijazi, a Palestinian political analyst.

Those young men are full of energy but have nowhere to release it. “There are rarely any sports clubs, the cultural activities are frozen, and there is no freedom of movement and no chance of leaving the Strip,” Hijazi pointed out.

Abdelmajid Whaidi, 19, was one of thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza, who couldn’t take any more of the injustice imposed by the Israeli occupation against Palestinians. He was shot dead among 17 others during last month’s confrontation at Shijaiya Crossing (The Israelis call it Nahal Ozz) east of Gaza.

Inayat Whaidi, 40, Abdelmajid’s mother said her son had no political interests. But, according to her, he was angered when he saw the Israeli soldiers “execute” a Palestinian girl named Hadil Al Hashlamoun on September 22 in Hebron.

Israeli sources claimed Al Hashlamoun attempted to stab an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint inside Hebron. Palestinian sources claim otherwise saying that the girl refused to be searched by a male Israeli officer. Speaking to Newsweek Middle East, Whaidi’s mother said her son was interested in technology.

“He was an Information Technology university student. He used to fix mobiles and computer software,” the sobbing mother said while holding a new smart phone her son had bought just a day before he was killed.

Whaidi’s dream, according to his mother, was to travel to New Zealand after graduation to pursue higher studies. “His uncle in New Zealand promised to help him in post graduate studies.”

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