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Pretty London

January 30th, 2008 · post by anon · Make a comment

Since being deported from Palestine in summer 2005, I’ve been living and working in London. Living in a pretty house in Tower Hamlets overlooking Victoria Park, with foxes, swaying beech trees and a milkman. Working for PLATFORM, an inspiring little artsorganization/campaigngroup/thinktank, running a campaign to stop the Royal Bank of Scotland funding dodgy fossil fuel projects. (http://oyalbankofscotland.com). On the streets with Climate Camp and London Coalition Against Poverty, against the petrol-fuelled juggernaut and Hackney’s outrageous housing practices.

Yet even here, Palestine doesn’t leave you. Last Friday morning at dawn a friend of mine was shot and left to bleed to death by Israeli soldiers in Balata Refugee Camp.

When I read the email sent at 10:23am – the email that said, “I don’t know if you heard. Ahmed Sanaqra was killed yesterday in Balata.” My fist clenched and hit the wall. As grief and deep, deep rage took hold of me, an inner part of me wanted, needed, to do something immediate and direct, to shake everything, to pause ‘normality’ with a scream. Yet the world went on as before, with no break in the emails, shopping, fixing a leaking boiler, meetings. London continues as usual, and on Friday morning a friend was gunned down – because he said “I will not submit”.

Ahmed Sanaqra, nicknamed “Sanquur” by most of Balata, was chatting with three friends in his family’s house early Friday morning. Outside, undercover Israeli gunmen dressed as Palestinians quietly moved through the alley, surrounding his house. Spotting Sanquur through the window, the gunmen opened fire, seriously wounding him. He tried to escape with his friends, but was too injured to keep moving. The Israelis chased him down and fired more bullets into his body, before leaving him to bleed to death.

We ran through the alleys together
When I lived in Balata, my flat overlooked the entrance to the camp, and thus almost every Israeli invasion. Sanquur and his friend Bilal would climb the three stories to my roof to throw bricks and rotten melons onto the armoured Jeeps passing below. The two of them would run right up to the Jeeps’ windows to cover them in paint. When Israeli gunmen tried to shoot those in the open, Sanquur would take shelter in the alley to my flat.

One day I was standing blocking a Jeep from entering the camp, but decided to step back. As I moved towards the closest alleyway, Sanquur came running from around the corner with a bottle of white paint to throw at the Israeli Jeep (not having realised I was in between him and the Jeep). Unable to grip the bottle, he shouted at me to jump, and gave the bottle a downwards tilt. I jumped above the shattering glass, escaping with newly-white boots and Sanquur’s deep apologies. Sanquur can be seen throwing a better-aimed bottle of paint onto a Jeep’s windscreen near the end of this short video. http://www.balatacamp.net/filmcollective/aziza.mpg

Sometimes we ran through the alleys together in the dark, in search of the invading Jeeps. We often ended up sheltering behind the same wall when the soldiers opened fire, and we’d search for stones to throw when supplies invariably ran out. One evening Sanquur pulled me back roughly into an alley; just as a volley of bullets hit the wall where I had been standing, spraying shards of shrapnel and cement at us. A week later, I felt an explosion as I walked down the main Market Street, and saw Ahmed stand up and run with blood streaming down his face. An unexploded bomb had gone off as he bent to look at it. We bundled him into a car bound for the hospital.

Beating the odds of life
Sanquur was 18 when I was deported. In the two and a half years since, he became an armed resistance fighter with widespread support in Balata. Unlike some other fighters, he refused to be bought off or to submit, believing that when the Israeli Army invaded Balata’s streets and alleys, the residents of the camp had reason to defend themselves. He felt that this right to resist could not be signed away in exchange for salaried jobs as police officers.

Nobody from Balata has carried out a suicide attack since the Abu Ayyesh and Abu Saleem boys attacked a settlement in the West Bank in spring 2003. Yet the fighters who refuse to submit and continue firing at invading tanks and Jeeps are systematically hunted down, one by one.

Sanquur survived at least three direct assassination attempts by the Israeli army. In April 2007 his younger brother was killed and Sanquur shot in the hand and stomach, but he got away by running faster than the soldiers. While still in intensive care, the army raided the hospital: Sanquur climbed out of bed and slipped out.

In 2006, the main police station, barely standing after six years of tank fire, was bulldozed on top of him. Sanquur lay silent in the rubble for three days, forced to drink his own piss, while soldiers stepped on him. His escape, despite the odds, allowed an unlikely glimmer of hope to survive in Balata. His survival began to symbolize Balata’s tenacity for continued struggle, “sumud”. Camp residents clutched tight to the belief that, unlike everybody else who has been killed or imprisoned, Sanquur would survive, free.

Carry on fighting
Dreams end. Last Friday, the Israeli Duvdevan unit cornered and executed Sanquur. I haven’t worked out yet how to grieve when my friends are blown apart by rockets or receive a bullet in the head, even though it happens time and time again. Hani Hashash, Disco Skipper, Mohammed Abu Lel.

My rage wants to consume me, but has no target. Hours after reading that Sanquur had been executed, fury made me shake as my bus passed through the City. I don’t want to choke it down, to not feel. Bell hooks (author of Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism) describes rage as “a necessary aspect of resistance struggle”. But what to direct it at? These feelings don’t translate into writing a letter to my MP, nor demonstrating or blocking a road. The continuity in daily life fuels the fury, demanding a rupture, a break in our privilege and comfort of pubs, movies, shops: life and business as usual.

Honestly, I don’t know how to live with my grief and rage. The only answer I have is, if our political struggles are effective and fulfilling, to throw ourselves into them wholeheartedly. Together with our friends who are still alive and feeling, to hold each other up and carry on fighting.

Faced with the multiple occupations and oppression of the UK, the US and Israel, death and murder have been, are and will be felt by many of our movements for liberation and justice. Mostly, when these struggles take place in England, we have the privilege of our friends not being gunned down beside us. Not so in Palestine, Derry and Belfast, Bolivia, Nigeria or Iraq. We will lose more friends. There will be grief, fury and rage with no outlet, but that’s part of struggling for a better world, I guess.

Love & struggle

If “Balata Refugee Camp” means nothing to you, or you don’t understand why Sanquur became a resistance fighter, see http://www.balatacamp.net or watch http://www.archive.org/details/balata

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