In this week’s update I’ll be covering the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) and the protest I attended outside Ofer Military Prison. This year was the 66th anniversary of the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, marking the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 upon the establishment of Israel. According to the United Nations the number today is closer to 5 million refugees. Across Palestine and inside 1948 Israel, demonstrations and events took place commemorating the disaster and calling for the right to return to their homes.
I decided to go the Ofer Military Prison where a demonstration had been called, the same prison holding some of the 100+ Palestinian political detainees on hunger calling for an end to administrative detention mentioned in last week’s update. Demonstrations outside Ofer are known for being some of the most violent, something I would soon find out, a stark contrast to the festival type atmosphere created in Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority.
I arrived first thing in the morning with only a few of the shabab (youth) arriving still carrying their school bags. The entrance to the prison is guarded first by a huge gate manned by armed personal in civilian clothing, followed by a two separate checkpoints with bag scanners and metal detectors requiring ID to be shown at both before being buzzed in. The protest would never reach this far, after seeing the group of 7 or 8 children a few hundred meters from the entrance two armoured vehicles arrived and Israeli border police took position.
It didn’t take long for more and more to arrive, both girls and boys, throwing stones, burning tires, all fully unaware of what would follow. The first two hours or so the loud bang of rubber coated steel bullets rang out, each time everyone ducking for cover or seeking cover behind whatever was nearest. That said, at no point could you suggest the shabab were in any sense scared, on the contrary, the bravery to keep advancing towards the scope of trigger happy border police was unbelievable to witness. The tear gas filled your lungs and aggressively attacked your eyes and nose. Again, the youth threw back what tear gas they could pick up amidst the continual sound of the rubber coated steel bullets exploding from the rifle.
Those loud bangs abruptly changed, instead a fast clap could be heard. The border police had begun to shoot live ammunition. Still some of the youth kept throwing stones, resilient and never showing fear. I stood at the side of a building, pointlessly taking cover after each time the live ammunition was used. As I would soon find out, if you hear the shot you are most likely still alive.
Suddenly, 20 metres or so in front of me a young boy crumpled to the ground. The clap sound rang out immediately after. The screams began echoing along the street, everyone signalling to the two ambulances parked further up the road. One boy picked up the child on the floor, surrounded by others trying to help and ran towards the coming ambulance.
Once the ambulance sped off all eyes turned to the boy who had carried his friend. His clothes soaked in blood from chest to knees. He began violently being sick at the side of the road, the shock taking over his body, paramedics running to hold him from collapsing. Speaking to paramedics a short while after we hear a bullet has gone through his lung and exited his back, it’s unclear if the boy is alive or not. The demonstration continues.
It seems like déjà vu as this continued to happen throughout the day, another body dropping lifelessly towards the concrete. Ambulances screaming away from the scene as the border police sniper continued to pick off protesters. It felt like I had lost count of how many had been shot, the whole tragic and traumatic scene merging into one horrible afternoon.
Getting back to my apartment and already the news has covered the demonstration. Two dead the headline reads. Muhammad Abu Thahr, 15 and Nadim Nuwara, 17, both shot in the chest with live ammunition. Another three youth were hospitalised with bullet wounds, one to the chest and the other two with bullets tearing through their limbs. The images of parents hearing of their child’s death outside the hospital is almost, if not more, chilling to see.