Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The words of khulud khamis, a Palestinian writer and feminist activist from Haifa

On Saturday evening, 19 July, 2014, some dozen Haifa feminist activists gathered in the Haifa Women’s Coalition house to prepare signs for the protest march scheduled to take place at 21:30 in Carmel Center, Haifa. The atmosphere was positive, there was a sense that we are doing something, raising our voice, refusing to be silenced. We took photographs of ourselves with the signs and with the word ENOUGH written on our palms in Arabic (خلص), Hebrew (די), and English. At around 21:00 we headed towards Carmel Center, to join the march, organized by the Hadash Arab-Jewish party.
As soon as we arrived, we were completely taken aback by the scene. At least 2,000 extreme right-wing protesters were gathered at the point from which our march was to begin. We were moved to a different nearby location. We were few. Some accounts say we were several hundreds, but I don’t think there was more than 250 of us. Maybe even 200.
We could not march. The extreme right-wing protesters kept coming in, and were spread over on the other side of the main street, mainly chanting “death to Arabs” and “death to leftists.” I felt fear rise in my throat. I began taking pictures. At one point, I realized that when the protest is over, it will be very dangerous to disperse. I searched for our international intern and made sure that she doesn’t leave alone. Then I asked three of my friends – separately – if I can join them in their car and if they can drive me home. Three, because I wanted to make sure that if I lose sight of any of them, I have alternatives.
Throughout the protest, we held signs saying immediate cease fire, war is not my language, Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies. The protest came to an end when the last of the protestors who came out of Haifa got on the bus and left. Or so we thought. This was just the beginning. At this point, we remained about 50 protestors – mainly from Haifa, who came on foot or by car. Our intention was to disperse and go home.
That’s all we wanted, to go home. Peacefully. Throughout the whole of what happened next, all we wanted was to get home.
The police began dispersing as well. But the extreme right-wing protestors didn’t show any signs of dispersing. On the contrary, they just kept multiplying. Not only that, we soon realized that they were spread in groups in all the alleys surrounding us, behind bushes at the entrances to buildings, everywhere. Ambushing protestors trying to leave. My friends and I (at this point we were 6 or 7) tried to leave through the back yard of one of the buildings, and soon were chased back by angry protestors who were ambushing us with the aim of attacking us physically.
Back with the group of 50 protestors, we found ourselves moving slowly down the street, with no clear plan of what or how. At one point, my 5 friends somehow succeeded to break away and leave. Later I learned that two of them were beaten, one ended up in the hospital for concussion.
I remained with the 50 last protestors, and we came to a corner and stopped there. The scene in front of us was terrifying. In my estimation, there were about 1,500 of them. Surrounding us, approaching us, chanting death to Arabs. I looked at the street, and saw maybe 15 regular, unarmed policemen where half an hour before where hundreds of policemen, some on horseback.
We shrank back. A young teenage girl began crying behind me. An older woman said let’s go into one of the apartments. I screamed at one of the policemen: get us a bus! Then at one of the organizers the same thing. It was so easy at this point to just call a bus and get the hell out of there. We found ourselves posting statuses on Facebook that we are surrounded, we began calling 100 (police hotline). At this point, stones began flying at us. Large. One of them hit my friend in the side of her head. We were now crouching, our hands over our heads. I could smell the fear among us.
To me, this seemed to go on forever. It went on maybe for an hour. Later I learned that from my friends who saw our calls for help on Facebook that many of them called 100. The police, realizing it’s getting worse, at this point brought in the water cannon and armed police. Still, the water cannon didn’t help disperse the angry crowd.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the police decided to start moving us alongside the sidewalk. We begin walking, chased by the angry mob. As we walk, they pop up from everywhere: from alleys, entrances to houses. Stones keep flying in our direction. We keep moving through the alleyways. I have a feeling the police has no plan, no idea of what to do with us. We walk for about one kilometre. We stop at a roundabout. Now the police officers are arguing about what to do with us. I try again: “bring us a bus!” About 15-20 minutes later, a bus drives past, one of the night lines. The police stops the bus, gets the passengers off, and we get on.
We start moving. To me, it seemed we were driving in circles, as the angry mob was still chasing us in their cars. To me, it seemed that the ride was taking forever. We didn’t know where the bus is taking us. Finally, we arrive at Maxim restaurant by the beach. The place is full of police, and the water cannon. We get off the bus, and there seems to be no extremists in sight. It seems that everything is behind us. We get on another bus that’s waiting there. We have no idea where this bus will take us. Yet there’s a feeling of relief. We all get on the bus, and the bus starts pulling away.
All of a sudden, and out of nowhere, rocks fly at the bus. Moments of terror. The side windows are broken and there is glass everywhere. We scream at the driver to keep driving, as the police has finally left us and we are on our own.
The bus arrives at the German Colony, an Arab neighbourhood. We disembark. At last, a feeling of some sort of safety. Still, I find myself looking around me. Some of us, who live nearby, disperse. The rest, about 25 or so, head to the headquarters of the Hadash party. I’m shaking. Three of my friends come and pick me up in their car.
During all this, about ten women friends of mine stayed close to their phones and Facebook, calling, sending messages, asking what can we do, how can we help, calling the police. They wanted to come and pick us up, but there was no way. There were literally thousands of these extremists spread out all over the Carmel Center.
My friends drive me home, and during the drive, we keep watching cars passing us by, making sure we are not followed. When we reach my neighbourhood, a Jewish one, we stay in the car for several minutes to make sure nobody is around. Then, my friend walks me home. In the safety of my home, suddenly, I fell exposed, unsafe. The cat’s movement causes me to jump. An hour later, a friend calls to bring me something. I walk outside to meet her, and she puts her finger to her mouth, indicating we should not speak in Arabic. We stand in the street, speaking Hebrew.
I sit at my computer and write a short description of my experience, and as I write, I realize that what went on there was a pogrom. I realize that it could have ended not with people injured, but with people dead. I shiver as I recall the eyes full of murder. People who actually wanted me dead. For being an Arab. Not for any other reason.
This is my personal account of what happened on Saturday night. I’ve heard similar experiences from other activists who were with us. For me, it is becoming scary just to walk down the street or ride the bus. I have explicitly told my daughter not to talk in Arabic in public spaces. I myself am afraid to answer calls from Arab friends while on the bus for fear of being attacked.
This is Haifa 2014.  

khulud khamis
Haifa 22 July, 2014

khulud is a Palestinian writer and feminist activist from Haifa

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