by Majed Abusalama
Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israel and Palestine is an absolute farce that has left me imagining a third Intifada, more curfews, military assaults and detentions. I can feel the sadness of my grandparents, who were uprooted from their home during the Nakba in 1948, and the disappointment of my parents who grew up as part of the revolutionary generation in Jabalia refugee camp during Israel’s occupation of the remaining 22 percent of our lands.
Palestinians will – and must – resist and fight back and there will be more loss of life and more of what we witnessed every Friday at Gaza’s Great March of Return protests.
I know only too well the response to even peaceful protest. The Israeli occupation’s brutal repression of any kind of resistance is a reality I grew up with.
Six years ago, on January 17, 2014, I went to plant olive trees as part of a peaceful protest against the imprisonment of two million people in the ghetto that is Gaza. Instead, I had a bullet planted in my leg.
This happened at the eastern “buffer zone” where some of the Great March of Return protests took place. The buffer zone is a no-go zone that extends along the northern and eastern portion of Israel’s heavily fortified fence with Gaza, its creation meant the loss of about 30 percent of Gaza’s most fertile agricultural land.
During the second Intifada (2000-2005), scores of citrus and olive trees had been bulldozed and uprooted from the landscape of Gaza to make way for this buffer zone, in the process targetting farmers who simply wanted to cultivate their land.
For Palestinians in Gaza, the vulnerability and precariousness of life are starkly apparent on a daily basis. Living in constant fear has left the inhabitants scarred by multi-generational layers of trauma. Losing our natural resources because of the conflict has led only to more hardship as we can no longer farm our land.
This is why I and the protest group I co-founded in 2013, the Intifada Youth Coalition, decided to stage a symbolic but peaceful protest by the fence surrounding the buffer zone – by planting new olive trees.
The Intifada Youth Coalition is made up of young people from various refugee camps, grassroots groups and parties. We would get together to hold demonstrations at the buffer zone every other Friday and sailed alongside others to protest against the naval blockades on our coastline as a Palestinian-led flotilla.
The day I was shot
After a long week of preparing to plant the trees, the day arrived.
I had sent out a notification about our protest, outlining our peaceful intentions, to embassies, consulates, press and human rights organisations in the Palestinian territories, Brussels, Geneva and New York, hoping that they would relay our vision and message to the world. We also hoped the publicity would encourage restraint by soldiers guarding the no-go zone. We were, after all, exercising our right to protest under international and human rights law; we just wanted to plant some trees.
It was a sunny Friday and the sky was blue, albeit filled with drones. My mother, Halima, woke me up and called me to breakfast with my family. She prayed that this breakfast would not be my last. My father, Ismail, who was a freedom fighter in his youth, was unusually silent. He has always been good at suppressing his feelings but I could tell he was scared for me. They could not stop me from going, however, so they opted to show trust and support for the statement my friends and I wanted to make. After all, my parents themselves spent their youth protesting in Gaza. Both led non-violent demonstrations in the Jabalia and other refugee camps, where I grew up, during the first Intifada (1987-1991).
When I reached the fence that morning, I could see, in the distance, on the other side where my grandparents once lived and cultivated the land in peace, an Israeli soldier standing on a high point. Just as I finished planting an olive tree, we were surrounded by tear gas and the soldier shot directly at me. I could barely breathe or see and I stayed down to try to keep out of range of the bullets landing close by. A bullet grazed my hand. There were a few seconds of silence when I tried to run, and that was when another seared through my leg.
My friends heard my screams and the sound of the bullet and started calling: “Majed, Majed. People, Majed is shot, Majed is shot!” I wonder now if the soldier heard those cries and how he felt if he did.
I examined my leg and could see the bullet had passed straight through, creating a hole big enough for me to put my finger in it and see the finger from the other side. I could only crawl slowly. I ripped my jeans and tried to tie the material above the entrance wound to stop the blood until my friends could reach me and carry me quickly through the cloud of tear gas and rain of bullets.
My friends struggled to lift me, so more arrived to help until we reached a safe distance. I knew there was a risk that I might not be able to walk again, but the thought that weighed heaviest on my mind in those moments was how my mother would react. I hoped that my parents were not watching the local news and that they would not find out what had happened to me until after I knew the extent of my injury.
But, of course, the news reached them almost immediately.
Yaser Murtaja, a photojournalist and a good friend who was tragically killed by Israeli security forces during protests a year later, was with us. He was carrying his camera, his only weapon, and managed to document every second. He took the photo that accompanies this article.
My friends managed to take me in a tuk-tuk to a car, which transported me to the hospital. It was a 10-minute journey but it felt so much longer. The pain was excruciating and I kept passing out.
At the hospital, I could see my father’s relief when the doctors told him I should be able to walk again in three months. I spoke to my mother, who had fainted when she heard that I had been shot, on the phone. “It means you are alive and will be home soon,” she told me.
‘What would you say to the soldier who shot you?’
The bullet wound has left me with lifelong complications. A small piece remains embedded in my badly scarred leg and causes muscle spasms. Last year, I was unable to walk for several days until doctors in Germany, where I am now based, decided to carry out two operations on my knee. I was in hospital for seven days, made easier by the care of my friends in Berlin.
These days I spend my time between Zurich and Berlin, working with refugees and organisations including the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“What would you say to the soldier who shot you?” I have asked several friends, to get them to imagine being in my shoes. This question has stayed with me and I have often felt the urge to communicate with this anonymous soldier, to show how his actions affected me.
I want to ask: “How can it be so easy to pull a trigger aiming at another human body? Is it like playing a video game? Why did you shoot me when I was clearly a civilian who posed no danger? What does it take to dehumanise me – and therefore yourself – in order to do so?”
I want to know: Does that soldier think of my parents? Has he ever wanted to know who I am and whether I lived or died? Was he shooting to kill?
The moment a bullet pierced my leg was one of the most traumatising of my life. I know I am “lucky” to have survived, given the number of protesters who have lost their lives in Gaza. But emotions still overwhelm me whenever I recall that moment.
*Along with two Israeli fellow members of the BDS movement, Majed Abusalama is currently on trial in Germany on charges of trespass over the disruption of a talk by Aliza Lavie, an Israeli member of the Knesset, at Humboldt University in 2017.
Source: Al Jazeera