He ran towards us with a black piece of cloth wrapped around his mouth and nose, I could see his red eyes were about to pop out. He handed my mom something, and pushed a smelly “thing” in my face; it smelled like onion, but I couldn’t tell for sure.
I was only 4 years old when I experienced tear gas for the first time. I was confused–my blurry eyes didn’t help, nor did my runny nose. I was worried about choking. I looked up at my Mom, saw nothing but a blurry figure of her; I later on found out she was smelling an onion too. I wanted to speak to her, say to her, “mom, help me, I can’t breathe….”
My heart rate goes up, I can feel it; I feel the beat in my eyes, my head is about to explode. My mom’s arms are around me now, she pulls me up and starts running. Someone stops us and I feel the exchange of my tiny body from mom’s arms to someone else’s arms. I remember disliking the exchange but had no energy to speak up.
I later regain my sight. I wonder what it is, this cool place with no smelly stuff. A group of people are all sitting on the floor smelling onions too. Why onions?? My little brain wonders if it’s some sort of onion festival.
We were walking toward the main taxi station in Nablus city, my hand holding tight to my mom’s when we saw some “Shabab” running around, screaming: “Run… Run, they are coming this way!” My mom’s steps started getting faster and faster. Less than thirty seconds later, she stops to look down at me; my eyes lose it, I feel sick and the onion comes in.
That was my first experience of gas canisters and the “amazing feeling of it”. Twenty years later, here I am in Nabi Saleh, Bilin and Qalandia checkpoint, hand in hand with fellow friends. The feeling is different. Although tear gas does not feel any better, now it’s different–my feeling of it is different.
Having met a group of young Palestinians who share my thoughts, my beliefs on the non-violent struggle, and seeing them dedicated to the cause of freedom and justice for our beloved Palestine, invokes in me an exotic positive feeling in mind and soul.
My semi-weekly participation at weekly demonstrations, being there with my friends on the front line, gives me hope. Hope for freedom. I now feel it more than ever; I now believe it’s possible more than ever.
The rage and furious demand of freedom in the eyes of those around me, those sharing the love of the land and people–whomever they are, wherever they come and whatever passports and nationalities they hold–makes the smell of tear gas acceptable, pleasant and enjoyable.
Two weeks ago, while holding an interview with a local activists from Nabi Saleh, the crew was gassed. I looked around and there he was; little “Spider Man” of Nabi Saleh village, the adorable Samer–not older than four–looks at me petrified and runs home, where someone hands him a small onion to breathe on.
That’s when the flashbacks of my little trip to Nablus during the First Intifada had hit me. “Spider Man” of Nabi Saleh probably views us at the Nabi Saleh demonstration just as I viewed the “Shabab” running toward me and my mom back then.
Do I accept for this little boy to live the same way I have lived? No, of course not. He is probably having a worse childhood than mine. Having to get used to the smell of constant tear gas thrown at his house every week, having to smell the “Skunk” truck and run home hiding from the humiliation smell of it every week. This is not even close to my childhood memories.
I do not want little “Spider Man” to live the years of my youth. I want him free, I want him to have a normal teenage life in a free country where human rights and justice are present in each and every aspect of his life. I do not want him to believe the smell of tear gas is normal, nor the smell of onions.
I believe that with the current wave of activism work in Palestine, the increasingly number of activists who believe in the cause and the non-violent resistance will turn the dream of freedom into reality. I was never before so inspired to believe in the change coming our way as I am now.
The spirit of and belief in freedom that I see in the eyes of those around me gives me a taste of freedom, not on the ground but rather in my heart and soul. Waking up early enough on a Friday morning to be able to reach places like Nabi Saleh gives my soul a tremendous amount of hope. And I see it coming, little Mr. “Spider Man”. Do not worry–I smell freedom and you will live it.