The scene stays with me as sharply vivid as a finely honed blade. For months afterwards I had nightmares about it..
The armored jeep crept down the main thoroughfare threateningly invisible in the dusk, its tires crunching softly on the loose, rocky pavement. Hadn’t been for a few flood lights positioned on the corners of some of the houses, I’d have never known it was there… that is until it began projecting through its loud speaker.
“If you throw stones, we will tear gas you – the children, the men, the elderly, the women. You will all die. We’ve arrested a child, took him from his home and we will butcher him while you watch if you keep throwing stones. Go home, or we will kill you all.”
My whole body froze in stunned silence, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would begin smoking again. I locked eyes with my friend across the room, as if to ask if this was real. He jerked his shoulder in response, ‘this is life,’ he seemed to say.
“Shut up!” a voice split the evening air proceeding a mere heartbeat before a hailstorm of stones rained down upon the jeep. More voices rang out,
“Son of a bitch!”
Suddenly the jeep reversed, retreating the same way it had come. Before I could stop myself a peel of laughter ripped through me. It began at my toes, rapidly tearing through my body like a wild blaze and erupted out of my mouth with all of the power of an opera singer. I laughed myself to tears, drunk on the heady cocktail of fear, shock and admiration. Soon, others joined me in a chorus of fierce human spirit. In that moment I had come to understand a great many things, primarily the absurdity of occupation.
Aida Camp is a refugee camp nestled between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala where nearly 6,000 men, women and children live crammed in on less than a half square mile of land – some never knowing any other home than the fences and walls that surround the place. Aida is not a camp of tents erected as some temporary solution, no it was established in the 50’s and is made of permanent stone housing. Like anywhere else Palestinians live they are not given permits to build so as families grew, houses mysteriously gained new stories in order to accommodate. Two schools and a cultural center are house inside the camp, but do to severe restrictions imposed by IOF there are no health care facilities. Further, access to water is disrupted often by the IOF as a method of control and sewage systems are incredibly poor. Unemployment rates, due to crushing restrictions, are at nearly 43% causing families to live in an enforced and mandatory poverty.
If this wasn’t enough, residents began telling me stories of nearly daily raids. The most alarming was when a friend recounted how he woke up at 2am to an IOF soldier in his bed with two others standing above him, guns drawn. The Israeli military calls these “training exercises.”
I cannot begin to describe the sights and sounds of Aida, but the lasting impression is one of strength, pride and resistance. Like all of the camps, Aida is treated as if it doesn’t exist – tourists have no idea what lies behind the separation wall and the government mandates any tour guides to lie about it. As I said, they have no idea…but they will. They will because I – and you with me – will raise our voices against injustice. We will tell the story of night raids, threats of murder to children, the illegal arrest of minors with out any evidence, the teargassing of kindergartners, the point blank firing of a rubber bullet into a man’s face and stomach…
We will speak out against barbarism because those are OUR brothers and sisters and we are their keeper.