Ray Hanania’s Column
Ramallah, Palestine — The hot sun beats down on a hillside field the size of a baseball diamond where a Palestinian man in a light shirt and baggy old pants tugs on the leather straps that navigates his horse and plow through the dry brown dirt and large rocks.
About 20 yards away at an intersection that connects two Palestinian towns, a thousand Palestinians have gathered to peacefully call on Israel to end a three month siege that has imprisoned more than 600,000 civilians in 33 nearby villages and towns.
The protesters are weary of the blockade which has frozen them from their jobs, prevented families from reuniting and forced them to ration food and water to stay alive. In the hills above, the Israelis have positioned a camouflaged tank with its large cannon pointing directly at the protest leaders. About 5 heavily armed Israeli soldiers position themselves behind armored personnel carriers and jeeps, watching as the protesters approach the dirt mounds.
They walk slowly but defiantly with their heads up in the air waving Palestinian flags and banners that decry the new Israeli form of “collective punishment.” Using heavy construction plows, the Israelis have dug deep moats through any of the roads, piling the crumbled rock, dirt and pavement into high mounds that blockade cars and traffic.
It is a cruel form of punishment in a land where cruelty has been ratcheted up to new precedents in this on-going Palestinian Israel battle.
When they reach the mounds, a yellow truck with a large plow slowly drives up to begin pushing the dirt back into the trenches that cut the roads in half.
Not all of the Palestinians standing behind the plows that desperately try to restore the roads to makeshift use are protesters. Many are just civilians who are forced to walk the five miles between the two towns.
One old woman wearing a worn, colorfully embroidered Palestinian dress balances a large and heavy burlap wrapped sack of vegetables precariously on her head. Her left arm swings nonchalantly while her right hand holds the bundle in place. She is followed by two young children drawn to the site of the crowds and colorful flags waving in the air above.
It is a bizarre scene, right out of the movie, Apocalypse Now. A boy waving one of the flags has a small black cellular phone tight against his right ear. Everyone has a cell phone, including the priests and Imams who join in the protest, the leaders at the head of the protest, and even the Israeli soldiers who watch from above. TV camera crews loiter nearby, waiting for “something” to happen. Many of the people there have come to protest. Others have come to watch.
No one is shouting. No one is throwing rocks. No one is doing anything, accept staring as the plows attempt to restore the road.
And that is when you hear the sounds of several deep pops!
A thin trail of white smoke forms an arch of a cloudy rainbow that shoots out from the muzzle of an Israeli soldier’s mortar. The canister bounces on the ground among the crowd and then pops again, bursting into a large cloud of tear gas burning the eyes of the civilians who duck for cover.
The civilians scatter, but they quickly reform near the road blocks and moats as the wind carries the deadly cloud away.
Two more deep pops and the eye follows the trail of smoke from the guns above landing in the center of the protesters, who scatter again.
No one has thrown a rock. No one has fired a weapon at the Israelis.
Leaders of the protesters argue loudly with several young men who have perched themselves along the hillside’s rocky ridge, and scream at the soldiers to stop.
When one young man bends down to pick up a stone, the symbol of the Palestinian David in his fight against the Israeli Goliath, a new crackling sound replaces the tear gas.
And before a stone can even catapulted in the air in the direction of the soldiers, the Israelis in their bullet proof vests, wearing thick helmets have pulled the triggers on the guns that have been sighting the entire time.
Many of the soldiers who fire are lining against the cinder block walls of a Palestinian home whose occupants were removed at gun point and occupied by the soldiers many months earlier.
Palestinian ambulances, teetering on the edge of breakdown, race down the road from Ramallah through the scattering crowd in a bizarre scene. Sirens wailing. Red lights flashing, the white ambulance trucks with the Red Crescent painted on their sides have an easy time finding victims who randomly drop all around.
A 27 year old man who stood on a ridge more than 100 yards away from the Israel soldiers, drops dead like a lifeless doll. Carrying bright orange gurneys, medical personnel rush to the man’s side and lift him onto their stretchers and race back to the cars. His name is Abdul Qadir Mohammad Ibrahim. But that is all anyone knows.
Several others are rushed out on the shoulders of friends, blood gushing from the sides of their heads and shoulders. Steel ball bearings as thick as almonds and covered with plastic litter the ground. These “plastic bullets” are not plastic at all, and take their toll indiscriminately against men, women and even some children in the crowds.
It happens very quickly.
The ambulances drive in and out repeatedly. The Israeli armored carriers and jeeps with their thick wire mesh across their windows and their blue lights spinning, rush in to secure the road.
The protesters have run back along the roads and even through the field where the farmer tries to pull his horse and plow out of danger’s way.
Rock throwers, immortalized in the Biblical battle but cleverly demonized by an Israeli propaganda campaign, did not start this battle.
The Israeli soldiers did.
There was no reason to fire with live ammunition. The Palestinians just wanted to open the roads that have put them in an economic choke hold. But the local news reports that day and those later broadcast around the world show three stone throwers in their report.
According to veterans of the first “Intifadah,” or the Palestinian rebellion, this Intifadah is worse than before. The suffering is greater. The Israeli cruelty is more perverse.
When it is all over, and the civilians have returned to their homes, Israeli bulldozers return to dig out the deep trenches again, crushing the vegetables that have spilled from their burlap bag onto the useless road.
And it isn’t long before the farmer whose leather skin is tanned a deep brown from the hot sun, returns to his field with his own plow. The scene will be repeated again at this intersection. There is very little else he can do.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to MMN. His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)