My colleague Mustafa and I prayed with Palestinians as Israeli bullets whizzed past over our heads.
When I looked over my friend Mustafa Abdulkerim Kurkcu’s shoulder over the sandy plains of Malaka, it all became clear to me, crystal clear.
The Palestinian people, the hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees in Gaza had chosen the long walk to freedom on May 14 2018, the Nakba Day. They marched, they sang, they ate, they drank, they flew kites and all they dreamed of was to get home; to visit Al Aqsa, Jerusalem, and to their land which had been stolen.
On the other side of the border, a euphemism for an internationally illegal fence, others had chosen blood, oppression and death. Hiding underneath canopies, laughing as they maimed thousands of young Palestinians and sometimes even shooting them in the head. The kites were received by drones, the stones by bullets, and those who tried to cross the wired fence, well, their fate was known.
Girl or boy, man or woman, it didn't matter. And it didn't even matter if you were standing by the fence or not. Take, for example, 21-year-old Habooba, an up-and-coming football talent in Gaza. He stood 800 metres away from the fence with his back turned taking a selfie video. He was targeted with explosive bullets and his two knees were now gone just like that, his career ended, his dreams dealt the apartheid blow.
Millions had marched for weeks, they had been massacred, they had been victims of what looked like open hunting season. Yet the world stood by, the journalists shocked, still bound by neutrality and some sort of tit-for-tat narrative that is only now being broken. Are we neutral or are we truthful, I asked myself? But it didn't really need too much pondering. The truth that our eyes witnessed was one that humanity ought to be ashamed of. We let occupational forces crush a peaceful protest, maim people just like the Belgian colonialists maimed the people of the Congo. But just like other colonial crimes of the past, this one went unpunished.
To pressure Gazans to stop the march for "peace" to be restored is to arbitrate peace between the wolf and the sheep. As Malcolm X once said, “You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
But I am not one to preach about peace and freedom. I grew up on an island with a dolce vita lifestyle, waving the privilege of my red passport, issued in the safety and security of the European side of the Mediterranean.
But there's one lesson to be learnt from all of this at least. When Mustafa and I approached the frontline we looked at each other under the sounds of bullets like it could very well be the last time.
The time had come to go beyond the smoke. I raised two fingers in the air just in case the Israelis did not see all the press tags, helmets and vests. Mustafa’s hand was attached to my shoulder for safe passage. Then I was surprised to find two children in a ditch in front of the wire. When I approached to help, they shouted “leave what are you doing here? You think this is a movie, all of you come here to take your photos then leave us to die”.
Mustafa and I knew what time it was, and we apologised and went back to where the crowds were standing. The crowds shouted “We will return. We will return” then made a call to run onto the wire to bring back those trapped and injured.
The day was coming to an end. We had witnessed injustice and mass murder. But we are not Rambo or the Avengers, and we did not become a story either. We survived. I looked at Mustafa who I had lost more than 3 times that day amidst all the poisonous tear gas and havoc presiding over Gaza's largest protest centre.
It was time to leave but Mustafa did not want to go. He said let’s pray with them. I told him "brother we're gonna die like that.” He said it's alright, even if we do, we need to pray with them. And just like that, he led a prayer with tens of Palestinians behind him. I said, “Mustafa read a small verse, this is hectic!”
He smiled and started reading from the longest verse in the Quran, and he went on and on. As I was kneeling I couldn't help but notice the serenity and calmness not only of my partner but of everyone behind him.
At peace, grateful, full of hope and faith. The world may not have stood by the Palestinian people, the Hague may not have taken Israel’s leaders to trial, and impunity continues but the people of Gaza are still resilient and if they don't return their children will.