Otherwise Occupied

A Palestinian’s Gift to an Israeli Soldier

Artist Khaled Jarrar wants to reach the soldier who forgot something in his house during last Tuesday’s raid on Bir Zeit.

Artist Khaled Jarrar in his studio in Ramallah
Courtesy

To the Israeli soldier who, on Tuesday, December 8 at around 2:30 A.M., participated in the raid on the town of Bir Zeit near Ramallah, you should know that Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar is preparing something for you in return for the tear gas grenade you threw into the stairwell of his apartment building, the grenade he found after he recovered from the burning clouds that spread in the enclosed space of his apartment on the second and top floor, and choked him until he thought he was about to die.

When he was a child during the first intifada, Jarrar learned for the first time what tear gas was when he expressed the opinion of many good people against the foreign regime and threw stones at its representatives.

As a poor 20-year-old who wanted to pay for his art studies, he joined the police in 1997, and after that Yasser Arafat’s presidential guard. Jarrar was among the troops blockaded with Arafat in the Muqata’a in Ramallah in 2002. On March 30 of that year he was wounded from two bullets fired by IDF soldiers. The bullets exploded inside his leg. To this day there are some 20 metal fragments left in his leg: In the winter, when they get cold, it hurts him particularly. Also during physical effort. So it is impossible to say that Jarrar – painter, sculptor and filmmaker – lacks experience in the ways of the occupation and its soldiers.

Nonetheless, he says: “I was afraid to open the door since you didn’t ask me to open and you were trying to get in like a thief, and I was afraid of the M-16 in your hand and afraid you would claim later I tried to stab you. So please tell me who you are so I can bring back your gift to you.” 

A still from video footage taken by the IDF during a raid.
Screenshot / IDF

A few hours after the soldiers raided his neighborhood, Jarrar called me and said, “A soldier forgot something when he was here.” He told me in rapid sentences what happened in that short time that lasted forever, the way he felt it. After that he also described in writing what happened.

He was woken up: “Before I knew it their heavy boots were trying to kick in the door downstairs. The sound of shattered glass broke the silence of the calm night – when up until minutes before, families and students slept in the safety of their beds, quietly dreaming of something better than the scene before me.“

Jarrar immediately called the Palestinian police to find out whether they could intervene or help, but it seems he was just wasting his money and time: “‘You live in Area B,’ the dispatcher said over the phone. ‘We can’t do anything about it.’” Jarrar recorded the call, he noted drily.

“The sound became louder and my anxiety grew more intense when I heard the sound of something small and metallic bounce around the stairwell. Moments later I smelled tear gas and ran to the bathroom, the farthest point in my apartment from the stairwell, and tried to wait it out. I put towels everywhere trying to prevent the gas from infiltrating the cracks, but it was pointless. My throat began to dry and burn and I couldn’t see because of the amount of tears overflowing in my eyes. Maybe they thought they could smoke me out, but what sane person would come out voluntarily to a military mob hungry for brutality?” he wrote.

“It seemed after awhile they had given up trying to break in and moved onto the next innocent target,” he continued. “Although they seemed to leave the building, I could still hear them in the neighborhood – so I sat in the bathroom waiting it out. After an hour or so in that state, I finally heard them leave – or at least leave my neighborhood. I opened the door slowly and the tear gas assaulted me. With a towel around my face, I ran toward the windows and opened them, hoping to air out the suffocating gas.”

Jarrar says he made his way downstairs to check on his neighbor, who was in a similar state. “I walked outside to check on the other neighbors and it seemed the soldiers were looking for Bir Zeit University students. Those they found, they arrested in the freezing cold night. Those they didn’t were given orders: Surrender to the [Shin Bet security service] tomorrow morning at 9:00.”

Jarrar plans on filling the empty tear gas grenade with olive oil produced from the trees in Bir Zeit (which means the “well of oil” in Arabic). “I will send the grenade filled with oil to the soldier as a gift,” wrote Jarrar. “Yes, the soldier who broke the glass and threw the grenade into my home, and who didn’t think for a moment about the people living inside. What would have happened if there were babies, children or adults there? And the fright he would have caused them? The same fear that paralyzed me? I want to send you oil, so maybe it will light up your dark path as a servant of the evil of the occupation.”