I travelled to Palestine over the weekend. At Tel Aviv airport I was one of thousands of happy tourists arriving for Easter. Like them, I was waived through customs without much hassle – an easy entry into the country.
But when I reached East Jerusalem the atmosphere was different. As I walked through the streets groups of young people told me about their experiences over the last two weeks.
East Jerusalem has been one of the flash points between Israeli troops and Palestinian people.
Israel is determined to push ahead with its house building programme in this part of the city – and in the process breaking all sorts of international laws and agreements.
Over the last two weeks Palestinian youth have responded to Israeli provocations by hurling stones against Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers.
The Israelis have responded to this “David versus Goliath” struggle by arresting, beating and shooting those who dare to fight back.
Mohammed told me about his 17 year old friend who was throwing stones at the Qalandya checkpoint.
This is a large, solidly-built, monstrosity that processes human traffic as it passes from the West Bank into Israel. The stones are no more than a symbolic act of resistance – they certainly can’t do any damage to the infrastructure of the checkpoint.
Yet Israeli troops chased the young man into some nearby flats. They caught up with him on the third floor and hurled him out of a window.
He fell 10 meters onto the road below, breaking his legs and back and fracturing his skull.
He is still unconscious in Ramallah hospital.
East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine – yet the Palestinians there feel increasingly isolated and hemmed in by the Israeli settlements.
Another Palestinian, Hossan, told me that most Palestinians are sure that the Israelis want to “cleanse” this part of the city of all Palestinians and turn Jerusalem into the capital of Israel.
“Last Friday was very bad”, he said. “They closed off the Old City and didn’t let people in to Al Aqsa mosque to pray. There are normally 35,000 people at the mosque for prayers, but last week there were no more than 3,000. They only let people in over the age of 55.
“Outside of the city they went around making arrests and shoving young people.”
The sense of frustration was summed up by Feraz.
“People talk about the peace process. We have all these world leaders who come to talk peace. But there is no peace process,” he said.
The Israelis tell the world one thing, but they continue to steal our land and our homes. They don’t want peace, they just want to get rid of us.”
His friend Ali added, “And there is nothing for us. No jobs, no homes, nowhere for us to go. What are we to do?”
Against this background there is confusing mix of anger, despair, frustration and hope.
There is frustration that the Palestinian forces are divided between Hamas and Fatah.
There is anger that Fatah in particular seem prepared to give up so much for “peace” that the refugees will be left without the right to return to their homes and land that they have been ethnically cleansed from.
Ali told me, “We have had enough. We have to resist. This is the start of our third Intifada. We have no other choice but to fight.”
It would be premature to announce that a third Intifada has started.
But there is no doubt that increasing numbers of young Palestinians are angry and frustrated at their position and the failings of the political organisations that claim to represent them.
One thing we can announce, however, is that, as these young people from East Jerusalem show, the struggle for nationhood and for Palestinian rights continues.
The flame of Palestinian freedom continues to burn brightly in the hopes and dreams of Palestinian youth.
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