[This is taken from a blog I wrote from the Wesk Bank, Palestine in 2013]
What did you used to do on the way to your primary school? I was of the generation that swapped Star Wars cards from bubble gum packs, checked out who had got a new pair of Clark’s Commandos that week, or marvelled at the lucky sods who had parents indulgent enough to buy them a digital watches.
This Sunday I was in Hebron on the school run with a load of primary school kids and some other international volunteers. We were on a long road that had about five schools on it, so there were plenty of youngsters. They were mainly male, (schools in Palestine are gender segregated), but some girls too. They all bowled up to the school gates, grabbing some free bread from a nearby cart, and larked around like kids do. It is not unusual for males in Palestine to be physically affectionate in ways that they are not in the West, so some young boys were walking arm-in-arm.
However, the main difference between what I was watching and what I was used to growing up was the four or five soldiers and a jeep at the checkpoint at the top of the street. Some of the little kids threw pebbles at them but they tended to miss.
Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, one of the soldiers ran down the hill and threw a teargas canister into the crowd of kids. It went off with a bang. Then another launched another missile with more teargas in it that sailed just a few feet past my head. There was confusion, and we all ran away to avoid the clouds of smoke. I could feel the teargas in my eyes and lungs, and ran with a bunch of children through the gates of the nearest school.
The kids were anxious to get out the way, but many of them saw this as a kind of game. One of them, a boy of about eight, came up to me a sprayed my hand with perfume to alleviate the effects of the gas. I thanked him. Some of them seemed to laugh at me as I tried sniffing the perfume. I told them I was Mr Bean and they found it hilarious. I couldn’t believe I was thousands of miles away from home with a bunch of school kids trying to make light of the fact that we’d all just been teargased. The truth was, however, they were taking it all lot better than I was.
“I see this as a game of cat and mouse,” said one of the teachers as things calmed down a bit. “This is what happens every day. It is a way of disrupting the education of our young people, and a constant reminder to us all of the occupation.”
After the kids were safely in school, a bunch of us wandered back up to the flat where we were staying. On the way, we passed the soldiers. D, a fellow volunteer from Swansea, gave voice to the mass of thoughts swarming in our heads. “Have you no shame?” she asked them. “Do you not have children of your own? What would you feel like if people did this to them?” They muttered back at her. “Fuckers,” she said.
Right then, we were surrounded by the five of them, machine guns in hand. They demanded to look at our ID. What good that was supposed to do, I have no idea. They then asked us all the usual questions: where were we from? What were we doing? And so on. We gave them cursory replies. One of the soldiers said to D: “You watch yourself.”
So from getting their jollies tear-gassing kids of a morning, they were now threatening a granny from Swansea. How big and hard of them. We continued our journey back to the flat, but after another two hundred yards the soldiers caught us up. Breathless, one of them told D she was under arrest. Sammy, one of the other volunteers, started filming on his phone. “You have no powers of arrest,” he said to them. “Only the police can do that.”
Fair play, the fuckers had guns. But he was right. They started to argue, but D stood her ground. After a few minutes the cops showed up and took her away. We were all quite anxious, but they let her go four hours later, giving her three hours to “leave town and not come back.”
So yes, folks, you read that right. A bunch of crazed thugs regularly gas a street full of primary school pupils on their way to school, and a woman who gave them a piece of her mind gets run out of town. This is quite clearly extremely fucked up.