He wakes up early. Everything is dark. He is awoken by horse hooves clattering against the paving sandstones. He knows what that means. He has become familiar with the sound. It is repeated more often. A few years ago it may have happened once a month. Now often.
It is like a snare that slowly tightens. It has become harder to breath, to sleep, to laugh.
So much has happened lately. Last time Gaza was bombed, he was still a child. He used to look at the news, especially BBC and Aljazeera. Around the clock he would run around with his friends and play war, he had a small plastic gun that he could load with firecrackers.
A few years have passed. Gaza has been bombed again. The raids have gone on for 51 days. Ground troops have invaded and the most sophisticated automatic birds are flying over this concentration camp throughout the day. Down there, trapped by the Israeli Navy, Israeli Air Force and Israeli ground troops, surrounded by high walls, he can see people trying to hide, seek shelter in UN schools. There is no shelter. Nothing helps. Nobody helps. Everything has been transformed into a target. Hospitals, clinics and UN-buildings. The world condemns, even the President of the United States is concerned but sends more weapons, bullets and equipment to the Israeli military.
Now he doesn’t play war anymore. Now he doesn’t have to, now he can’t, now he is instead considering joining the war. What often occupies his thoughts these days is how to take responsibility. How to protect his younger siblings, grandfather and grandmother, relatives, friends.
The horse hooves have broken the silence, awaken him. He carefully looks through the window. His room is on the top floor. They have lived here for generations. The house lies on the top of the hill facing facing the valley. He lives in Silwan.
It is a good place. They can see far away. A little higher up to the right he sees the wall surrounding the old city. The house lies close to the center of events. He would often feel proud to live here, but more often now, that pride is coupled with fear, despair and hopelessness.
Today, only three horses pass by but many more soldiers. This time, the soldiers halt very close. He hears shouts and screams. A door is forced down. He knows which door it is, which house it is. He has often played around that house. His best friend lives there, as old as himself. They were born the same year, 17 years ago. Two families that celebrated weddings together, who grieved together when a loved one passed away.
He sees how his friend is forced outside. He sees how he gets to go inside again, how he carries out furniture, books, laundry racks, toys. A soldier stands by the door with a semi lifted automatic weapon. Below the stairs are three additional soldiers. Fifteen meters from the house, below his window, another eighty soldiers create a circle around the house.
All roads have been blocked. Now, nobody can get to the house. Whoever is there will stay there.
He sees how his friend’s mother comes out with a grandchild on her arm. How the father carries out the red carpet, the carpet which always lay in the little ”big” room.
He doesn’t know what to do. If he should stay by the window or if he should go down to his friend. He doesn’t know what to say, he doesn’t know where the friend will go. He doesn’t know why they are being forced away.
All he knows is that the house will soon be razed to the ground. He knows that everything will be over in a few hours. Maybe he’ll wait till then. His friend will need help to clean up under the shattered walls. Look for memories, books, paintings, table cloths, toys, letters. All that they didn’t have time to save before the machines came and shattered the house.
He looks at the place where a house was torn down in the beginning of last year. He sees that a new house has been built. Sees an Israeli flag. A modern, awful building. The ones who lived there before had long tried to build a second floor. In vain. Now it was different. Someone had taken over. All papers had been arranged quickly and their move had been completed within a year.
He doesn’t want to think about everything happening in Silwan, the killing in Gaza, the wall of humiliation being built around Bethlehem, that his uncle in Abu Dis, only a kilometer away, no longer can come and celebrate weddings. He does not want to think about the future, about the next day, about the next hour. He just wants to disappear, wants to do something.
He is seventeen. He has experienced most things, been through more than most. He is filled with fear, anger. Is often sad but never cries. Very rarely does he ever see anyone cry. He sometimes hears his mother crying silently. Never when it is light, but sometimes he can wake to the sounds of sadness in the room next door. When he wakes up a moment later, the sounds are gone. If he hasn’t been woken by horse hooves, his mother wakes him.
His mother doesn’t laugh, but shows no signs of sadness either. She has already planned the day. Arranged breakfast, set the dough. Mom speaks about what his siblings will do, what his father will do.
This is the time of the day when he feels most at ease. For a short moment, everything feels normal, like he is in control of his life. Everything is shut outside. In here, before he steps out on the streets, he is filled with calm.
But today, he is going to see his friend. He will not have time to go to school. Everyone understands, everyone knows, everyone supports, knowing that tomorrow it could be their own house.
They all tighten their fists in their pockets. A collective decision has been made a long time ago – we’re staying.
Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.