Monday, September 26, 2005

The army is here

As I was stepping into the shower this morning, I heard the crackle of heavy machine gun fire. It was louder than the gunfire that I often hear at night, which usually comes from Palestinian AK-47s, fired off to celebrate weddings, or just for the hell of it, I imagine. This was louder, and closer. After living here for a while, they say, you learn to distinguish between Israeli and Palestinian gunfire. Israeli gunfire is usually louder and faster. This was loud and fast.

But, the water was hot and I decided to step in the shower anyway. By the time I was out, I heard loud whistles and boys yelling in Arabic outside my windows. The Israeli army was in the neighborhood.

Two olive green-colored trucks were parked about four blocks away, clearly visible across a small valley from my house. A group of about 20 school boys, maybe in the fifth or sixth grade, had gathered in the street outside my house. They were wearing their uniforms, dark blue pants and light blue collared shirts, many of them carrying stones in their hands.

Throwing rocks at Israeli tanks is a rite of passage for Palestinian schoolboys. The practice began in the late 1980s, during the first intifada, which was a popular uprising which won Palestinians international sympathy for images of stone throwers confronting heavily armed soldiers and tanks.

The latest intifada, which began in 2000 and by most accounts has ended, was fought by Palestinian militants and suicide bombers, who accomplished the reverse for Palestinians’ image. Boys too young to carry guns, however, still throw rocks.

There’s a UN-adminstered elementary school up the street. These boys apparently had run out of class at the sound of gunfire.

I asked an older boy what happened. He said he didn’t know. Only that “al-jaysh” – or the army – had arrived. There is only one army here.

An Israeli military jeep and an armored vehicle were parked outside an apartment building. I had read that Israel had arrested a few hundred suspected militants two days ago in the West Bank, and imagined they were doing the same.

There was no more gunfire, the army trucks drove away – I couldn’t tell if they had carried away anyone or not – and the boys dropped their stones and walked back to school.

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