Fighting the Wall in Jayyous

The weather was windy and cold on Friday morning. It was a bad day for a protest, I was told. I was in Jayyous, where every Friday since November villagers gathered to demonstrate against the Wall. But no one was sure what would happen on this Friday. Two nights prior, Israeli soldiers entered Jayyous and imposed a curfew. They went house to house and rounded up over a hundred young men. After the soldiers left the next day, more than a dozen villagers remained in custody. Because of the incursion, and the weather, Mohammad was not sure if the weekly Friday protest against the wall would even happen. “The street will decide,” he said.

At first it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen. Then, from the roof of the house where I was staying, a small group of men started to walk up the road towards the gate in the wall. Then another small group. The street had decided, and I followed the protesters to the gate.

It was a strange experience to be there among the stone throwers. To hear the whistle and snap of the sling shots. Their cheers and smiles were surprising to me. No doubt anger and frustration inspired them, but the action was pure joy. They shouted insults. They cheered for Jayyous. They advanced against the soldiers, launched stones into the air, and fled the oncoming army jeeps. Tear gas canisters sailed overhead, trailing pale yellow smoke through the grey sky, but they had little effects in such a windy afternoon. A bad day for tear gas. There were rubber bullets, too, and the boom of sound grenades. Someone said that this battle was much smaller than in previous weeks, but as I stood within range of all of this I didn’t know whether or not to be afraid.

I stayed close to a man I knew, a Canadian who volunteers with the Stop the Wall organization. He didn’t hurl any stones, but I watched as he joined the protesters and heave boulders into a line across the road leading into the village. This was meant to slow the soldiers advance, and for a moment I felt an unexpected impulse to help these men. I didn’t, clinging instead to my safe and responsible – though perhaps cowardly – role as mere observer.

Around one corner, a man invited us into his house. Assuming we were suffering from tear gas, he gave us rags dribbled in cologne from a whiskey-flask and urged us to press the cloth against our faces. We went to his roof and took photos until the soldiers started to target us. A tear gas canister arced towards us, its red ember burning, and narrowly missed the rooftop. We retreated into the salon, where the man put out plastic chairs for us to sit on, prepared tea, and turned on the television to an English-language movie channel. Palestinians hurled rocks at soldiers outside while in the house, Napoleon Dynamite tasted milk for defects.

Back on the street we followed the stone throwers. Some young boys. Others in their thirties. Some wrapped kefiyas around their faces while others shouted bald-faced at the olive uniforms taking positions in greenhouses and on the roofs of private homes. Their slingshots were hardly accurate. I never saw anyone even come close to hitting a soldier or a jeep. But accuracy was not the point. Resistance was. Standing up to the high-tech Israeli war machines with homemade weapons made with twine was the point. Each flung stone was a statement of defiance. ‘We are not going anywhere. And the Wall must come down.’