USi editor Tim Lezard reports from Palestine
Pop! The tear gas canister fizzes through the air and lands next to the children playing outside the office.
As we dash to the window, we see one child, aged about ten, run towards the steaming canister, pick it up and hurl it defiantly back towards the soldier who fired it. The solider, who is 200m away, casually turns around and disappears back behind the safety of the 25ft-high separation barrier or ‘wall’ as it is known.
As he does so, the gas reaches our open window, forcing us backwards into the meeting room, eyes running, throats rasping.
“Tear gas – it happens every day,” shrugs Salah Ajarma, who runs the Lajee Centre in Bethlehem, teaching the residents of the Aida Refugee Camp about human rights, dance, reading and music.
“I am 42 years old and I have lived in the camp all my life. You ask how we feel? We feel we are in a big gaol. We are suffering every single minute.”
More than 5,000 people live in the camp – one of three camps in Bethlehem – after having been made homeless by the Israeli state. Conditions are crowded, with one person for every two square metres.
When they first arrive, refugees live in tents for as long as six years. Toilets are outside, there is no kitchen. Women have taken to sleeping fully clothed because soldiers come into their homes at night.
Life in the camp is no life at all. Workers wake up at 3am to reserve their place in the queue to get through the checkpoint by 7am. They come home in the evening, tired, and sleep instantly. They see their children only at weekends.
As we leave Aida behind, it is impossible not to ask ourselves what society we have created where it’s acceptable to launch tear gas at children, where children are no longer scared of tear gas and where adults do not react to children being teargassed.
It is also impossible not to reflect how, unlike millions of Palestinians, we can walk away. But having witnessed their suffering at first hand, we have chosen not to. We standing solidarity with them.
- USi editor Tim Lezard has recently returned from Palestine, where he was part of a delegation organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. USi is publishing exclusive extracts from his report in advance of its publication on September 14th. The report is funded by ASLEF and TSSA.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.