Like all Palestinian refugee camps, Qalandia camp is an overcrowded ghetto where the hardship of being a refugee becomes just another reality of life; where the promise for a better future lies deep beneath the ruins of past and present conflict.
Anybody traveling into Ramallah from the south will pass through Qalandia refugee camp. I take that route daily, in the morning and in the afternoon. The seemingly endless bumpy road through the camp does not exceed one kilometer, yet it never fails to leave miles of thought in my mind; sometimes anger, sometimes sadness, and sometimes even a sense of selfish thankfulness for what I have.
Today, it left a feeling of painful guilt in my mind.
As I waited in a long line of traffic through Qalandia, I noticed a crowd of children on my right, some of them had slingshots, and others just had stones. The boys appeared to be excited about something, the kind of excitement little children have when something is about to happen. This is probably the same feeling I often had when I was a child myself, playing football or hide-and-seek, or even watching my favorite cartoon on television. What were these children doing?
On my left, at the top of a small hill overlooking the main road, I saw about a dozen Israeli soldiers, full gear, camouflaged; some even had their tear gas rifles ready. But one soldier caught my attention more than the others; he was a ‘sharpshooter’, a sniper. I must have been one of the few people who took notice of his presence. He lay on the ground, at the edge of a rock, ready to shoot, like a skilful predator disguised in the shadow of its prey. He was close enough to hit any desired target; he was close enough to kill somebody. What did this sniper have in mind?
The line of traffic between the soldiers and the children started moving again. The site of the excited children soon became another vague image in my rear view mirror, and then it disappeared.
I wondered what would happen later on in Qalandia. I wondered if any of these boys would get hurt. And I wondered if any of these boys will eventually get hurt. Did the sniper hit his target? Did the predator strike its prey?
Qalandia has witnessed some of the worst clashes over the past five months. There were times when the clashes were so fierce that I had to take the alternative road to Ramallah, through the camp itself. That would be another journey into guilt and thankfulness at the same time.
The narrow roads in Qalandia, the visible poverty, and the site of bare-footed children would haunt the by-passer like a bad dream. But then again, the traffic always seems to find its way out of Qalandia.
It is 9:30 in the evening, a news report just confirmed that a 15-year old boy was shot dead in Qalandia today. I guess the sniper hit his target.
Perhaps the line of traffic must finally make a stop in Qalandia, and stand between the prey and the predator, in the narrow roads of the camp, with the bare-footed Awlad Al-Mukhayyam.