I have a headache today; I’m not the only one. The woman in the apartment building in Silwan, Jerusalem, where I was this morning also has a headache. So does her children. She told me herself.
We all heard the same explosion you see; Israeli authorities attempting to explode a house in Silwan, as a collective punishment. One of the family members (in jail with multiple life sentences) was a part of a ‘terror gang.’
His family wasn’t though. It doesn’t matter. While he is in jail, they are now homeless. Two others and I arrived in Silwan this morning. We thought we were smart. Stopping our taxi on a nearby street, we saw Israeli border police guarding the road. No worries, we said, we’ll walk.
The Israeli border police (IBP) didn’t notice us going up the stairs, but we didn’t realize the home was a good six kilometers away either. Bratty little boys kept telling us which direction to walk, and we did, eventually we were stopped by some more IBP.
Normally I’m not a fighter, but these guys really pissed me off and I have a short fuse at best. “You can’t go through,” they told us, “closed military zone.”
“Show me the military directive making this a closed military zone,” I told them, “otherwise you have no authority to stop us.”
“No no no,” they said, “you can’t go through.”
“You can’t pull a decision like that out of your ass. Let me speak to your superior, or let us through.”
They “spoke” to his superior. One IBP said, “Ok, go through but leave your cameras here.” The other said, “Can’t go through, sorry.”
My friend, a field researcher smiled and told me in Arabic, “Diaa, stuff them. Lets go.” We turned away and went down nearby stairs to get to the next down road.
“Hey hey hey!” they called us back.
“We told you couldn’t go.” They then said something in Hebrew. I told my friend, “A., if we get arrested, I’ll kill you.” He smiled.
We returned. They started again, “Are you disobeying us? Do you know we have the authority to arrest you?”
SHIT. I thought. My other friend, a nice chappy from the UK began discussing the legal technicalities of arrest. I said, “I don’t’ think you have that authority.”
“Oh but I do,” says one of the IBP. “For instance, you just threw your cigarette butt on the road before. That’s littering. I can arrest you for that.”
“Yeah, well you’ll have to arrest all your soldiers, because they were smoking and littering as well.”
He smiled. “Maybe. But I didn’t see them.”
Asshole. A. told me, “Diaa, let’s go.” We went another way, literally another 20 meters and then down another stairwell (as you have guessed, Silwan is full of them, being built on a steep hill). “A.! If we get arrested, I’ll kick your ass!”
“Diaa, this my job. I’m a field worker, shut up.”
“Yes, but you always have the fun jobs when I come along. Do you remember last time?”
I explained to my UK friend, “Last time this happened, we told we weren’t allowed to film. A. gave me the camera, pointed me to a half-constructed house, told me to climb a rickety wooden latter in tight jeans and high heels and film. I ended up crouching beside a window pointing my camera upwards. He watched and smiled.”
A., the field worker told me, “Do you know what they said to me in Hebrew? That I am Israeli, I know the ‘rules,’ and if I make trouble they’ll throw me in prison.”
We then walked down another road. Every now and then, there were more border police. I don’t know why, but I began to sing the song, with my hands shoved in my pockets, “Inzil ya gamil ‘al saha” (Beautiful one, dance in the square). I sing this to my flat mates when we talk about somebody who really sees themselves, somebody who thinks they are top shit. The words go like this:
“Beautiful one, dance in the square
And strut confidently
My eyes are on you
Even though I know
Glances from your eyes are deadly
Why do you see yourself?
You, who keep me awake at nights
I am at your order, beautiful one…”
It felt like the secular version of saying verses from the Qur’an when you feel evil. But it worked, we weren’t stopped. Then I remembered, and began saying verses from the Qur’an, ha, ha, ha.
We finally reached an apartment block with a view of the home, which was going to be exploded, and another home, which was being sealed with concrete. We stood in the balcony for a while filming and asking questions, and then moved to another house. Another eight flights, holding on to metal rods poking out of unfinished concrete work for support.
I was kidding with Mr. UK that we should film the process of just getting to these damned places so nobody thinks we rush in heroically, film, save the good guys and leave. We were bloody jostling press to film the homes.
Eight floors up, no stairs, just concrete slabs still, with wooden ladders laid on the ground to use for balance, and we filmed next to the Reuters, AP and APTN guys. One of them was joking in Arabic, “I wish they’d hurry up. We’ve been here forever.”
We soon left to a closer apartment building, jostling with more cameramen for space, waiting for the big boom. Most of them were Israeli cameramen, but I found a Palestinian guy from Silwan who told me that the boom should happen in 30 minutes or so, “that’s what the house’s owner told me anyway.”
I smoked another cigarette, tossing it into a puddle on the roof thinking, “arrest me damn you.” The place was packed with soldiers, border guards, Special Forces, even an ‘operations tent’ to work out how to blow up the house. I was talking to Mr. UK to keep myself busy, and calm, teaching him words in Arabic he could remember.
We had finished “house explosion in Silwan” and were watching for a while, and then BOOM. It happened. A huge cloud of smoke, a noise that made me instinctively turn away (and my back is killing me right now).
The house was still there. I could hear the Israeli guys laughing, “Batoun! Batoun!” [Concrete!]. The house was made of reinforced concrete. It didn’t even shake. A few minutes later, we heard pneumonic drilling and a large crane thingy began to hack away at the home. A. came up to me and said, “Well the video didn’t work, we know what’s going to happen next, so lets leave.” We did.
I made it down the stairs, when a little girl said in English, “Hello.”
I said in Arabic, “Marhabtayn!” [“Two hellos”]. I chatted to her mother, who told me, “Look, you are a journalist. Write that the kids are in shock, they are shaking.” I laughed a little crazily. “Lady, you and I are shaking as well. But I will.” I then began to feel my head pounding. ‘Don’t think about it,’ I told myself.
We then tried to find a car. Finally we find the ever-present service, and climbed in. the driver had no idea what was going on. A. told him, and his reaction was, “Fuck the Arabs. Let them [the Jews] destroy this whole goddamed area. Good for nothing Arabs.” This was all in Arabic. I didn’t butt in. He kept talking.
“Yes to liberating land and the individual!” he said, mimicking a popular activist slogan, “My mothers c*nt! We’ve never stood together in anything. We are all weak because we don’t stand together. Let them destroy the house.”
Diaa Hadid is public advocacy officer at LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment