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Run

- by Hannah Redekop, Canada -

Who knew that a soccer ball had so much power? A few dozen patches, some thread, and compressed air suddenly opened the doors of Hebron’s Old Town neighbourhood to me. I followed the kids through cobblestoned alleyways and up cool stone stairwells into Palestinian homes, where I was immediately welcomed as one of the family.

Our dust-covered pant legs and scuffed shoes translated more than my broken Arabic ever could. I learned the three words I needed to know, the three words her son recited every day
with a contagious grin that eased the worry lines that have dug deep into the body of a mother of teenage boys in Palestine: Football. Tomorrow. Seven o’clock.

Today I bring a new ball.

The first one was torn on the razor wire. The second one, after an ambitious play, sailed over the fence and into the settlement. Out of bounds. Apartheid flag. This ball is punctured by the soldiers. The air in my chest escapes, slowly.

The boys bounce back quicker than I. They live out a resilience I will never grasp. We collect two, five, then ten shekels to buy a new ball, new breath. Life goes on. We play a three-touch game in the Old Town square, directly across from the military base. Some people comment that we should find a different place to play, that we shouldn’t provoke the soldiers. But there is nowhere else to play. The Ibrahimi Boys School playground has been paved over to accommodate settler traffic on segregated Shuhada Street. The boys would have to cross the heavily guarded Mosque checkpoint to get there. We weigh the risks. Nowhere is safe.

The boys are constantly on high alert. We play until a chain rattles and a lock clicks open. Before I attribute the noise to the army patrol, the boys have disappeared. It’s as if an alarm bell went off. Run. For survival. To stay and play would mean risking arrest. Their teenage bodies have become the battleground to uphold an apartheid system. The soldiers don’t need a reason or proof of a crime to drag the kids off by their necks; they’ll fabricate the charge later in military court. These boys are held in prison for years for throwing a stone. For resisting occupation. For existing.

They took five boys in the last four weeks. Kidnapped. Abducted. Arrested, for existing.

M was forcibly taken while we were buying soda on our way to watch the Champion’s League Football final. Ambushed by soldiers patrolling the neighbourhood. By soldiers who are taught to suspect every movement, every action, that even going to the corner store could result in a year in jail. They slammed his head up against the wall, and strangled him while he screamed for air. Then they shoved him into a Military jeep and threatened him with death unless he turned his brother in.
N avoided the occupation forces for a month, in order to finish high school. He slept in several different places so that the soldiers wouldn’t find him when they bust down the door of his family’s home at three in the morning. They found him one day and chased him across the rooftops when he fell and broke his arm. They took him without medical care.

O and E were in their bedroom putting on a suit on the day of their sister’s wedding. Soldiers kicked in the door and with their Kalashnikovs pointed at the brothers, they zip tied their hands, blindfolded them and took them off to an Israeli prison, illegal under international law. Their mother has to apply for permission to enter Israel in order to visit her sons.

And you ask why they throw stones.

They’re kids.
Who just want to play soccer.

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