Yesterday at dusk, I shared a picnic blanket with dear friends, on a country hill, near a beautiful orchard, sipping tea in porcelain cups, mixed with tears and tear gas.
In front of us, we watched how thousands of demonstrators marched, as they do each Friday for over four months now, trying to reach the fence that separates us from them, the fence that seals the 2 million inhabitants of Gaza into the largest open-air prison on earth. We heard continuous shooting, and blasts, and saw the plumes of white tear gas weave into the pillar of black smoke from the burning tires. We heard the sirens of an ambulance, then another, and another, more and more. Six Israelis, quietly sitting near an orchard and a dirt road, we sipped our tea solemnly as we watched our own army shooting the trapped demonstrators.
Unlike the soldiers, we were invited to be there. We were invited by the Palestinian organizers to share tea with them, to signify our solidarity and our joint hope for a day without fences and killing, a day when all the refugees could return home, to Palestine. After four months of the Great March of Return, with over 1750 injured and 180 killed, about 70,000 showed up again to face the soldiers, and all we were asked to do is come for tea.
We sipped some tea. We called our hosts by phone, hearing their voices through the shouts and the blasts. Suddenly, we heard the crowd roar and cheer – the demonstrators have taken down a tear gas drone. We cheered with them, just as the wind shifted and we were engulfed in tear gas not meant for us.
Only 6 of us on that hill, where there should have been thousands. Media crews standing just next to us have ignored us completely. We raised high flags, hoping to be seen by the demonstrators. On the phone, they said they could see us, and for a moment, this ludicrous tea party felt absolutely right.
Within 3 minutes, the soldiers arrived. They did not mind the tea, but the flags they found disruptive. We were accompanied out, driving through the fields under a mesmerizing, spectacular sunset.
Two hundred and ten demonstrators were injured that day near that fence, including 15 children, 45 of them by live gunfire. Two teens from the city of Rafah were killed by Israeli snipers: Belal Mustafa Khafaja, 17, and Ahmad Masbah Abu Tuyur, only 16, who succumbed to his wounds today.
May their memory be a blessing.
Learn how to work for the end of the Gaza blockade and support people in Gaza at Gaza Unlocked.
All photos except one are by Haim Schwarczenberg. Watch the video below.