Tonight, we are in a very festive mood. Sitting on our terrace, in the girls apartment, we are enjoying our week-end, carefree. It’s thursday, because for us, thursday and friday are our week-end days. We’re all chatting and laughing, having a great time.
Then, Georgia receives a message. Apparently, there is a reunion at the « douar », the main roundabout of Nablus, where most of the events of that kind take place. A palestinian prisoner has been released, and the people are going to welcome him there. Curious, we decide to go and take a look.
A few minutes later, we arrive to an interesting scene : the place is totally crowded, the atmosphere is quite happy, although tense. We obviously don’t blend in, our small group of seven western women in a crowd exclusively made up of local men. Around us, a group of curious starts to form. Mahaut and I decide to go and look for cigarets. When we walk away in the streets around, almost empty, we meet many armed, military groups. It’s the Palestinian Authority. Their presence intimidates us a bit.
Shortly after we’ve reunited with the group, everybody starts getting agitated : a row of cars make their entry, the prisoner is coming. Gun shots are fired in the air, a usual practice here. The night before, there was shooting just in front of the guys house, that had freaked me out. Hearing gunshots for real is not the same as on TV. Nevertheless, anyone who’s spent more than a few weeks here seems used to it.
In the euphoria of the moment, we follow the massive crowd movement towards them. We climb above the fences around the center of the roundabout to get closer and try to get a glimpse of something. Unintentionally, we get separated. I’m now alone with Liz, who shares my room. On the other side, we climb above the fence a second time, this time to get back onto the road. A young man is following us, he’s watching over us. As soon as my feet touch the ground, I turn around to look for my friend.
That’s when things change abruptly. I can’t picture the precise moment where the first shot is fired, as if this instant had been used by my body to switch into automatic mode. Who is shooting who, I have no idea. All I know, is that one of these shots sounded like it ended up very close to me, and that it’s only the first of a series of them. Everybody starts running, things have suddenly gotten a lot more serious. Injected with a shot of adrenaline, I run as fast as I can at the same time as the others, without thinking ; I only want to go as far as possible from the gunshots. After a few seconds, a thought runs through my head : « Where is Liz ? ». I turn around : next to me, the man who was watching out for us is there, he’s waving to me. No sign of her. I try to go against the flow of people for a while, without success. I realize then that at this point, I really hope she also ran without looking back and that she got to a safe place. I continue my race until I feel I can start walking again.
I have the time to breath for a second, the imminent danger seems to be gone. My heart is racing in my chest, my brain is still too blurry to understand anything. My guardian silently indicates me to keep going further, he’s walking by my side, tells me everything will be okay. I appreciate his reassuring presence, although the horrible observation that I have no idea where my six friends are in this chaos hits me. I don’t have my telephone and am just hoping that like me, they’re walking towards our apartment.
Around me, people start coughing. The man hides his mouth with his scarf. I start understanding what’s happening when the tear gas starts having its effect on me. My eyes are in pain, my throat is burning. I’m breathing with great difficulty. I remember the section of a document that the association had sent me by email a few weeks earlier, that talked about these kind of situations: « Don’t forget that even if you have the sensation that you can’t breathe, the air is still there. » It’s ironic, I never thought I would have to put that in practice. So, I breathe like I can. My eyes are crying from the pain and my vision is blurry.
I gently take back control of my mind and start thinking about what has just happened. He is still there, because he insists on walking me home. I am very touched by his kindness, and by the solidarity of all the people we come across. A few people on our way whisper some « Welcome to Palestine », very ironic. I understand it, unwillingly : there’s nothing unusual in what just happened, tonight, for these people.
We slowly move away to be able to take off our scarfs from our mouths. I’m still coughing a lot. The thoughts that can suddenly circulate again inside of me overwhelm me, and the intense emotion that I feel makes me want to cry. But I am still in the streets, and I can’t break, out of respect for all these people who grew up in such an atmosphere and who would have good reasons to cry.
Once alone, I fall apart for a second. But I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself : the house is empty, I need to know what happened to the others. I pick up my phone and go through my contact list : I really should have made the effort of saving everybody’s number. Lindsay is not answering. I call Georgia, the only other number that I have. She answers me, to my great relief. Touched, we are happy to hear that the other is okay. Our weak voices inform each other about the situation, she tells me that she’s on her way home. She is also alone.
I go inside the room of the girls who didn’t come, Nadia and Dörti, who’s sleeping. Nadia discovers me in a very emotional state and calls the others right away after I asked her to do so and explained her with difficulty what happened. Thankfully, someone answers and I’m told that everybody is in a safe place. I can finally release the pressure and sit next to her, tears in my eyes.
The never-ending wait finally ends : Liz arrives with a american guy that we met earlier. The other girls will follow soon, and we all hold each other tight. Everybody is okay.
We will only understand what happened a few days later. The Palestinian Authority recently forbid gunshots in the air, because of the danger they represent. A young woman who was on her balcony died that way, recently. Some people haven’t respected that rule, so the police thought that shooting at its own people would be a good idea, towards the ground this time. The bullets were probably blanks, because I don’t think there were any wounded person, that time.
The event is followed by a few agitated nights. Two nights later, we walk next to fires on the streets and bins that are knocked over, after several hours of hearing worrying sounds outside. It is not very nice to fall asleep with the sounds of shooting, in the street. At the moment when I write these lines, I am hearing those sounds.
I don’t want to worry anybody, I am perfectly safe inside the walls of my aparment. I was stupid enough to come close to such a situation, naively thinking that if it took place only between palestinians, it would be pacific, putting myself in danger, like my roommates did.
My daily life is still safe, and I keep learning a lot. I appreciate every second of my stay. But I don’t forget the reality of this place. That evening will have simply been a reminder.