The Mancunion

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Stories from the West Bank: A Curfew Day in the Camp

Last year the University of Manchester Students’ Union mandated The Mancunion to feature the stories of students at Al-Najah University, which our students’ union is twinned with. Al-Najah is based in Nablus, in the West Bank. The aim of this is to show the everyday experiences of students in the Palestinian territories. Here is an account given by student Sa’ed Abu Ayash.

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Union Feature

Last year the University of Manchester Students’ Union mandated The Mancunion to feature the stories of students at Al-Najah University, which our students’ union is twinned with. Al-Najah is based in Nablus, in the West Bank. The aim of this is to show the everyday experiences of students in the Palestinian territories. Here is an account given by student Sa’ed Abu Ayash.

Sa’ed Abu Ayash

One morning while the rest of the family was sleeping except for my mother, I went to the kitchen to help her make breakfast.  We joked around for a while and my father was woken by my laugh, but before he told me to be quiet we heard gun shots. Then there was silence, and we heard a voice coming from an Israeli loudspeaker announcing a curfew in broken Arabic.

This curfew was during the “Ejtyah” invasion, of the West Bank in 2002 during the second Intifada (2000-2005).  In the Intifada and the years directly following, the Israelis reinvaded the West Bank, killed more than 4,500 Palestinians, and damaged houses, mosques, churches and many other historical buildings.  They also arrested more than 35,000 Palestinians including women and children.  That year I was in the eight grade and missed more than four months of class because of school closures during the invasions.

Soon, another voice called for a lamah— an order for the men in the camp of a certain age to gather in an designated place. The soldiers were looking for several wanted men. Fortunately, the age required, between sixteen and forty, was neither mine nor my father’s.

This was the only lamah that occurred in the second intifada in our camp, but in the first intifada (1987-1993) such lamahs were more common. My father had experienced the lamahs and told us what suffering the men faced, how they were beaten and humiliated.

I wanted to go to the lamah to see what would happen to the men, but I was not old enough. Still, I seized the chance while my mother prayed and my father went back to bed, for there was nothing else to do, because the electricity had been cut by the Israelis. I left my siblings eating breakfast and took my boots as quickly as I could so no one could stop me. On my way to the lamah I saw some friends throwing stones at an Israeli jeep and two tanks. They called me to join them, but I didn’t because I did not consider throwing stones as a kind of patriotism as others did, but instead as a way we could vent our frustration from the oppression and violence we encountered on a daily basis due to the occupation. But I wonder if this would be the terrorism the world talks about.

As I made my way to the school where men were gathered, taking alleys to avoid confrontation with Israelis, I saw a group of women from our neighborhood.  We walked toward each other and they explained that they were going to offer some food and water to the men.  We walked till there was one street separating us from the school. I crossed the street leaving the women behind in an alley, waiting for me to climb the wall of the school, and see what was happening.

The men were sitting on the ground in the schoolyard. I saw a soldier with two stars on each shoulder who was sitting in a classroom with a half closed door. He was sitting on a table in front of a man and was interrogating him. There were three men outside the room in a line surrounded by soldiers and I realized that they were interrogating the men one after another.

I then heard the women calling me because a jeep was coming. “Sa’ed ta’al jeish, jeish”–“Sa’ed come on soldiers, soldiers”. As I ran I heard one of them advising “don’t ever stop even if they shoot.  They don’t shoot at women”. I did not want to take any chances because I had heard of many accidents of shooting women and children.

I made my way through the small alleys and split up with the women. In the camps the houses are very close to each other due to poverty and overpopulation.  I then saw a group of soldiers but they did not notice me. I needed to hide somewhere until they were gone. The alley I was in had two houses.  One of them was the home of a girl who I admired or even loved, but who I had never been able to talk to. I wished that she would be standing in front of her house when I passed by in order to show her how courageous I was, for I was bold enough to go out when there was curfew, but she was inside.  As I climbed over debris littering the alley, I cut my leg badly and started to bleed.  I had no other choice but to knock on her door, where her father let me in because fortunately he wasn’t at the lamah.  Her mother dressed my wounds and I stayed there for the rest of the day and then started home once the curfew had ended.

As I neared the house, I heard my mother weeping. My father was assuring her saying, “Don’t worry if he was killed or injured they would announce it”.

When I entered the house my mother did not know what to do, whether to smile, to cry, or to punish me. I was grounded for over a week, but I didn’t regret it.  In my world the curfews forced us in and the lamahs forced us out.  That day no one decided for me.