On Friday 09.02.07,
After Muslim midday prayers on Friday, continued Israeli excavation work sparked a riot. Troops moved in, firing plastic bullets and tear gas at stone throwing youths, even storming and tear gassing protestors in the Dome of the Rock complex itself where, apparently, at a loss to find rubble ammunition in the austere grounds protestors took to throwing anything at hand, including shoes. On Sunday entrance to the old city itself was restricted by the IDF; only residents, Israeli Arabs above the age of 45, and, evidently, internationals were allowed in. Many of the old city’s narrow backstreets were strewn with stones from Friday’s clashes and alleyways leading to extremist Israeli settlements were heavily guarded by IDF soldiers.
On the same day as the
There had been problems in the city the day before, also due to the excavation work beneath the Dome of the Rock, so tensions were expected to flare again after Friday’s Muslim prayers. In typical fashion, IDF soldiers waited tauntingly, idly draped across concrete roadblocks, M-16 nozzles directed vaguely down adjacent streets. It seemed like a bit of a show really, with a multitude of press, internationals, peace activists, and locals onlooking, evidently awaiting the inevitable; an unwittingly macabre bunch. The first incident we witnessed involved four young Israeli soldiers half-intent on getting even with a youth throwing pebbles from about 100m away. These stones rolled to a standstill at soldiers’ feet – hardly a threat. However, in an operation that resembled something out of Hollywood, these Raybanned soldiers went in, guns raised in terminator style poses, ducking and diving in and out of doorways, backs hard-up against walls, conscious austerity aimed at a multitude of poised cameras an open betrayal of ambitions to military cool. When they suddenly broke off the chase, it was as if they had forgotten what they set out to do, so lost were they in the process of themselves. While they were absorbed, the stone throwing youth had escaped, and all they could do was back up in the direction of the roadblock, slowly nodding, left and right, checking each other pull snapshot poses.
Later, in the market area, abandoned fruit and veg stalls fuelled a one sided food fight. Youths took to hurling oranges, apples and tomatoes, only to get tear gas and rubber bullets in return. Another Palestinian attack from the rooftops was medievally inspired; what seemed to be a wheelbarrow, or the like, full of stones emptied over the edge into a narrow soldier patrolled alley below. Soldiers, lucky to escape unscathed and largely saved by over hanging shop canopies, were quick to pop sound bombs and tear gas canisters onto the roofs. The sound bombs are loud, reverberating throughout the streets, up and down alleyways with solid sound waves. They can easily damage ear drums in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even when you know they are coming, they really jar you to the core.
During all this, weathered workmen continued road works down the central reservation of the adjacent street. One resting on a spade, woollen hat pushed to the back of his head, the other wading backwards through and levelling freshly poured concrete, casually pausing to flick away fallen ash from the fag drooping at the corner of his mouth. They did in fact smile at us as if to intimate the apparent comic nature of continuing work under the circumstances, but you can't escape the fact that they must see this sort of thing frequently. Thinking about it in terms of this, their smiles meant something completely different.
As we sheltered, out of soldiers’ field of fire, beneath overhead shopping parade canopies, also protecting us from short falling stones from the rooftops, soldiers and youths continued projectile exchanges, while unfazed children scampered about, the entrepreneurs among them trying to sell us token, souvenir spent rubber bullets collected from the street, another even boasting a tear gas grenade and proudly posing for photographs with a head wrapped keffiyah obscuring his features.
A brief burst of stones from the rooftops above us saw Israeli soldiers retaliate, this time returning stone projectiles in mocking condescension, dispelling any misplaced notion of an organised military operation. Events certainly portrayed the escapade as nothing more than a gangland streetfight, and did little to attest to professional conduct from an army whose command claim the occupation to be an administrative necessity in maintaining state security.
Infact, the IDF are a ragtag bunch. There does not seem to be any pervading ethic concerning rules of engagement, more individual snapping points, personal prejudices and unit vendettas. Some soldiers will fly into rages when challenged; others are more diplomatic, making it known that they can’t express true held views whilst in uniform. The image of a self-conscious, slightly paranoid, perhaps even post modern occupation is inescapable. Oversized khakis and clumpy boots impede gangly teenagers aspiring to institutionalised military cool; the cool being an image that you cant help but feel is the adhesive factor holding operations together. What else in a ground-level self-doubting occupation? Officers donned in Raybans or mirrored shades, exhaling toasted tobacco smoke in self-conceived ‘unparody’ of Vietnam platoon GI’s provide the role model, the hardened, aloof and indomitable hero to imitate whose buried ethics provide a simple framework for a conscript’s better self to hide behind. These are the collective heroes that sanctify occupation, the icons of self-denial that conscripts hold aloft in obscuring their own, disturbing and disconsonant views.
On that day in
Down otherwise deserted streets, tables and chairs borrowed from market stalls were piled up into crude roadblocks, tyres burnt in true Intifada style while mobs of youths darted from street to street retreating from the intermittent pops and bangs of further sound and tear gas grenades. In the city centre a loosely associated contingent of about hundred youths, attempting stealth behind the acrid smoke of burning tyres, rained stones toward four soldiers, stupidly pulled in and cut off, awaiting further military assistance. When it came the soldiers left veiled in clouds of tear gas, leaving the Palestinian mob elated at their small but significant victory. Crowds swarmed and cheered. Today they had seen the soldiers off.
Thanks to Laura for this video from the day...