1 June 2012

The approach of Naqba Day, the Day of the Catastrophe, brought a sense of trepidation to the Al-Khalil Christian Peacemaker Team. This day commemorating the displacement of Palestinians following the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 is often marked by demonstrations and violence on both sides. While patrolling the evening before, we had observed Israeli soldiers conducting drills, moving portable barricades and simulating the rescue of fallen comrades. This stoked our anxious anticipation of the day to come.

As morning dawned on Naqba Day, additional military presence was evident throughout the Old City. Soldiers at their checkpoints checked every schoolchild’s bag. Having heard of a march planned in the city’s Palestinian-controlled sector, we proceeded as a group to the planned route. Various political parties, clearly separated and defined by their distinctive flags, participated in the  Palestinians commemorating the Nakba in Aida refugee camp, where they, like hundreds of thousands of others in camps all over the region, wait until they are finally allowed back to the land they were expelled from in 1948.march. When part of the Hamas Party group broke away and moved toward the Israeli-controlled zone in the Old City, we became concerned that heightened tensions could lead to violence.

To our relief, the main group began to march in the opposite direction toward tents commemorating the prisoners’ hunger strike, which had just ended the evening before. The smaller Hamas group then followed the previous group to the tent. We split our group, with half following the rally proceeding toward the tents, and the rest toward the Old City.

Upon reaching the plaza in front of the Ibrahimi Mosque, the latter group observed a large contingent of soldiers jogging briskly. After hurrying to follow them, they discovered it was only a drill. The CPTers following the march reported all quiet and headed for the Old City. They stopped by Bab il Baledeyya on the way, since incidents had occurred there the year before. All was quiet so all returned to the apartment.

About 3:30 p.m., we heard the familiar sound of percussion grenades in the area of Bab il Baledeyya. Team members who went to investigate discovered that Palestinian police had dispersed several youths who had thrown rocks and burned a tire. While troubling, this was minor compared to reports of larger violence in other areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem. The rest of the day and evening passed without incident.

One has to ponder why things were so calm, on a day traditionally known to be a flashpoint between these two entities. Could it be because the hunger strike had been resolved the previous evening, with the prisoners being granted most of their demands? Or might it have been because a settler eviction scheduled for Naqba Day had been postponed? Had one of the two prisoners on hunger strike for over seventy days died, I shudder to think of what the day could have brought. I spent time in fervent prayer for all involved the night before, and I am so very grateful for answered prayers. One can only hope for every day of our mission here in Al-Khalil to be as calm as Naqba Day.

The author is a member of CPT Al-Khalil.