October 29, 1987 was a day I still remember as if it was yesterday. That day changed my life, opened my eyes, and strengthened my devotion to my country.
It was in the early afternoon when a demonstration started at Bethlehem University. I was a freshman there at the time. The later morning classes were suspended by the student council and several of my fellow students went out to demonstrate against the Israeli occupation. I still remember wondering, in my 16-year old mind, why they were doing this. I could not understand then, but I would definitely come understand by the end of that day. I remember looking at the classmates I had known for the past few months and thinking "I had no idea they were political activists organizing demonstrations." I didn't know that I would very soon join these young men and women in their quest for freedom and justice.
The gates of the university were closed and since my university was surrounded by tall walls and fences, no one was able to get out or go in.The Israeli soldiers who came to stop the demonstration did not enter the university, but did everything they could to stop the young men and women, inside the walls, from throwing rocks. They did this by firing tear gas bombs over and over. Bullets were fired as well when the students would attempt to climb the wall.
While waiting inside with other fellow students, we just smelled the tear gas and waited in fear...
I remember them bringing in injured students. I remember the site of blood as it covered our science department floors. Then he was brought in...Isaac Abu Sroor who had been shot in the head. The students told us Isaac had climbed on the roof of the university in order to hang a Palestinian flag. He was shot attempting to raise this flag high. At the time, Israeli soldiers prevented us, the Palestinians, from raising our flag. It was a crime to raise it high. In Isaac's case, it was a crime worthy of death...
I still can't erase Isaac's image from my memory. As he lay there with a bullet hole in his head. For two hours, he just lay there...the reason, the soldiers outside the walls would not allow us to take him to a hospital. I don't know if Isaac was alive or dead when they finally wheeled him away as we watched.
As the students sang "It is ok if we die as long as we root death from among us..." something stirred my heart. Mixed emotions flooded my soul. Those were feelings of anger and hate towards the Israeli soldiers and feelings of unity and determination to do something.
My university, Bethlehem University, was closed after that incident by an Israeli military order. I could not go to classes anymore so I participated in every demonstration in my town after that event.
During these demonstrations I saw many of my people get shot, arrested or beaten by the Israeli soldiers.
As I watched the video below I remembered the days of the uprising and remembered Anton (mentioned in the video) who was attending Bethlehem University at the same time I was. He was a classmate of my cousin Jane who was also majoring in business at the time. I remembered my cousin Jalal and his attempts to establish a way to be independent from Israel by helping the Palestinians produce their own milk. You would think that having cows should be a legal right of any human beings. But, not the Palestinians. Even such simple basic things were forbidden at the time.
Click here to watch the movie about the Beit Sahour Cows
As I watched this video tears filled my eyes because I could again feel those emotions and could again remember every martyr. I remembered the day Anton was killed. I had three exams the day that followed and I remember praying and asking Heavenly Father that somehow we will have no classes the next day so I will have time to study. That day, Anton was killed and classes at Bethlehem University were cancelled for the next 3 days. I could not help but feel guilty for his death.
Right after Anton was shot, curfew was imposed on us by the Israeli soldiers, yet we went out to the streets and demonstrated and asked for justice. The soldiers came and used tear gas on us. After being on so many demonstrations, my body developed immunity to the gas and it did not affect me as much as it affected others. One of the young men in the demonstration fell to the ground (from the effect of the tear gas) and started shaking. I located the tear gas bomb and kicked it away from the young man. There was not much else to do until someone came to the rescue with onions in his hand.
We walked in the dark towards Anton's house. His family were in denial and could not believe Anton was gone. I sat there shedding tears as his family showed us pictures of him and told us about his unfulfilled dreams.
I have been to the homes of many grieving mothers...
I saw the shattered glass of Salam's house after an Israeli settler fired bullets at his house killing him in front of his mother. I saw bloody remains of two ladies from my town whose bodies were blown to pieces when an Israeli helicopter threw a missile close to where they were standing. I was in a taxi in which the martyr 14-year old Mo'ayad was transferred to the hospital. He was shot with his school bag still on his back.
Palestinians still die. A few months ago, one of my mother's friends was shot by an Israeli soldier. And, just the other day, another young man was killed in Beit Ummar...
Click for Story on Beit Ummar Martyr
There are some small demonstrations still going on in Palestine although many of my people have given up hope of ever attaining freedom. They lost hope of ever having human rights and being treated like humans.
I can't help but wonder if all these martyrs died in vain. Will there ever be a day when their efforts would be rewarded?
I did stop and wonder sometimes if it would be better if they did nothing. They know they would die or get arrested if they demonstrate, so why do they do it?
Then I remember how I felt that day in 1987 when I saw Isaac's body in front of me and something within me said "I must do everything to make sure his blood has not been shed in vain. I must speak out and let my voice be heard to stop the injustices being performed against my people. If Isaac died honoring the Palestinian flag, I want to make sure that flag remains high and that a Palestinian state be established that would guarantee freedom to all Palestinians."
Deep down, that is the aspiration of us all...liberty and justice to all... Each of us humans should strive to establish a world where everyone is free and has the basic human rights. Where racism vanishes and we treat each other as brothers and sisters. My prayer is that we all will stand with the oppressed and pray for those that suffer all around the world. May we do all that we can to bring freedom and peace to all nations.