Children of Qalandiya: Occupation Starts Here
Ali Hasan Khalifa, another martyr, another victim. (Tamar Fleishman)
The West Bank – I wanted to write about Mahmud, the thirteen year old boy that ever since his return from Ofer prison is the first of the children who hurry to greet me on my arrival.
Perhaps this is because finally someone has taken an interest in his fate.
It isn’t often that someone expresses interest and concern for the children of Qalandiya. More than often people make demands of them, reject them and abuse them.
These children are destined to servitude.
I no longer regard Mahmud as just another child in the bunch, he is an individual, he is noticed, his photograph is taken, he smiles, he waits for that specific day in the week when he receives his photos, and when I ask him about the leg that was injured when he was beaten, he tilts his head with timidity, which is uncommon among him and his friends, and then smiles and replies: “no, it doesn’t hurt any more…”and with a hint of embarrassment he agrees to tell some of his prison stories.
Mahmud said that there were eight people sharing his cell, people of all ages, that the youngest was a boy of ten from Jalazone refugee camp who was serving three months, he said that he himself, Mahmud, wasn’t beaten in prison, he was just taken in for interrogation, that he denied having anything to do with the stones that were thrown and that the investigators demanded that he give them names. On his release he received his clothes back, “they didn’t take the money”, and the profit he made at work on the day he was arrested, had remained in his pockets and was enough to cover the ride back home.
Some hours later, between midnight and dawn, twenty two year old Moatassem Adwan and twenty three year old Ali Kalifa from Qalandiya refugee camp, were shot to death.
And I knew that it was all connected, like links in an elongating chain of horror. I knew that I must also write about all that occurred on that night, for together with knowledge and familiarity comes a duty to tell the story and give voice to the living children and to the children that had been shot.
I knew that I must write about the fifteen year old boy, that when coming to arrest him an entire unit of soldiers raided the allies of the refugee camp on the early morning of the first day of the Ramadan. After having knocked the door open, the soldiers searched the house, making a mess and raising havoc. Having not been able to find the boy they took his cousin as hostage.
About the father who did not praise his lord for having saved his son, but instead like Abraham, the father of the two nations, he took his beloved by the hand on the next morning and went with him so that the exchange could be preformed. He handed in his son to those seeking him.
About the mother who watched the two holding one another, walking away, walking and disappearing, heading towards her destruction.
About the failed plan of those invaders who hurried to pull the trigger as soon as they saw two young men in front them.
I must write about my encounter with Ali Kalifa, the same Ali Kalifa who had a rifle’s bullet penetrate his back, it pierced his body from one side and then exited from the other.
About having taken a photo of Ali Kalifa not long before that bitter day, as it is, children of all ages wish to have their picture taken so that they have a memento of their portrait.
About how this might just have been the last photo to ever commemorate the living Ali. H’, a friend of Ali, told me that this photo had been placed at his parents grieving shade.
About my encounter with this young man who would look you straight in the eyes over a light conversation, about how he would imagine himself living in a reality that is unattainable for someone from a refugee camp. It is just as well since those imaginations and dreams were his haven and comfort.
And that this is the story of the children whose backs and napes are exposed and unprotected, for they, the children of Qalandiya are an allegory to the story of the occupation.
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)
As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence.