On his first day of school, in 1993, Motasem Isieed and his classmates spent only fifteen minutes in the classroom. At some point bombing, shooting and clashes interrupted the lesson. The school was evacuated.
It was nothing strange, for him: “It was happening frequently. Sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month. Living like this was the normality, for me. It was my routine, part of my day.”
Motasem, now 27, grew up in Hebron, the second largest city of the Palestinian State, with a population of around 200.000. Hebron is set approximately in the centre of the West Bank, one of the two territories formally recognized as Palestine – the other one is the Gaza Strip.
Now, Motasem lives in Trento, a little city in Northern Italy. Yet, soon he will have to go back to his country, in a moment in which the tension between Palestinians and Israeli citizens is extremely high. “I am so scared of going back to Palestine,” he explains.
His childhood has been strongly influenced by the evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a never-ending war that started just before the Second World War and that had its latest outburst during last summer. Through various stages, Israel conquered large parts of Palestine, and it is now exerting its authority on territories that are declared as Palestinians by the international authorities.
“My name means protester,” Motasem explains. His parents chose that name because he was born in 1987, the starting year of the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. It involved civil disobedience and economy boycott, but also violent clashes that caused thousands of deaths and convictions in the hundreds of thousands. The First Intifada ended in 1993.
Still, this did not mean peace.
Motasem lived for all his youth surrounded by Israeli soldiers. They even camped on his roof for some weeks, because his building was the highest in the neighborhood and, from there, they were able to patrol the area.
“It was an adventure,” he says with a grin, remembering those days. “You go out and play in the streets with your neighbors, with the kids of your age, but you have to keep your eyes open. The military jeep could come at any second.”
The presence of the Israeli army is also motivated by the peculiar situation of Hebron. Hebron is an important place both for Palestinians and Israelis, because it is part of the history of the two populations’ culture and religion.
This is why, since 1967, Israeli citizens started to colonize the city, trying to gain it back.
The Israelis started entering as tourists, Motasem explains, but eventually some of them managed to remain indefinitely. Year after year, their number increased. According to the website of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, by now there are four settlements in the downtown of Hebron, with 500 Israelis, and a big residential complex – called Kiryat Arba – in the outskirts of the city, with 7.000 settlers. The settlers are protected by a large number of soldiers, about four times the number of colonists, as reported by the Mondoweiss’ website.
The atmosphere is really tense, in the city.
Easy to imagine, who chooses to move into Palestine as a settler often does not have a good attitude toward Palestinians. Moreover, the Israeli government has been accused many times of backing the colonists – that are staying illegally, according to the international law and the International Criminal Court Statute – worsening the tension in the city.
In some zones, Israelis and Palestinians live in strict contact, separated only by iron fences that were built by the Israeli forces to avoid fights and clashes. The streets of the market, in the Old City, are even covered with iron nets, because settlers and soldiers throw objects from above, on the Palestinians.
“They are abnormal,” Motasem says, trying to describe the behavior of these people. “Normal humans won’t do what they are doing. They are attacking even children, even the animals that belong to Palestinians. They have too much hate in them.”
It is extremely dangerous to pass nearby the settlements. This is why Motasem had his first contact with a colonist only when he was 23. He was working for an Ngo in the old part of the city, a job that he found just after having finished his bachelor’s degree in design. “Let’s just say that it wasn’t a pleasant conversation,” he says, smiling.
Enraged by the Israeli oppression, many youths joined the armed resistance during the Second Intifada, started in 2000 – and officially ended in 2005.
One of them was a friend of Motasem. He will spend 60 years in jail. “They said that he tried to kidnap a settler,” he explains, “so they attacked his house. Once his father opened the door they killed him. They also shot his mother and him.” Then, the Israeli authorities gave the guy the usual three days to mourn his father and, after that, they took him to Israel. “I lost him, because I will never see him again.”
At some point, a break was necessary.
“It was too much. I needed to stay away for a while,” Motasem says. So, during the winter of 2013 he applied for the European Voluntary Service and, last April, he ended up being sent to Trento, a little, quite city in the Northern Italy.
“The first week in Trento I was going crazy,” he says. “I remember I thought ‘this is nut, I can’t stand it.’ The calmness was killing me. Going to the city centre, hearing nothing but the sound of water, the people talking.. I hated it so much!”
Yet, after a while he realized that Trento suited him better. But his Visa will expire in January and, though he is searching for a way to stay, he is not positive about it. Of course, he does not want to remain illegally in Italy.
Lately, a thing happened that convinced him – even more – that it would be better not to go back to his country. One month ago the Israeli soldiers arrested his sister’s husband, during the night. He will spend three months in jail in Israel, apparently because he is simply suspected to be a threat for Israel.
“The hardest part, for my sister, is that they took her husband three weeks after she gave birth.”
by Emanuele Del Rosso