They were wrapped up, marching down to the front, lighting tires on fire, setting the cause alight, they understood the suffering that befell Gaza. I was there to observe the initial fear in the conscripted Israeli soldiers’ eyes. They yelled, “yalla, shabab.” To the front they went as stones were thrown from all angles and the soldiers fell back behind the checkpoint wall. However, soon they reacted with heavy rubber fire, then, came the armored vehicles, followed by live fire almost immediately. Ahead of the university students and behind the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine battalions, I figured the view from paradise, the frame of reference, which these people live in. The check point, literally split in half the home of a colleague, land which still remains in his family’s name. Jeeps and special forces descended upon the Palestinians and the majority were sprayed down by rubber bullets. However, members of the PFLP stood their ground, in black and red, they charged forward. A bullet hit the tree in front of me, the tree was pierced by two neat bullet holes around the height of our heads. Too quick to decide whether to be afraid or not, I followed the protestors towards the divided home. Ramez, a giant amongst the university students, in a moment of sheer heroism, picked up a burning tire and threw it at the special forces, pegging the group with the melting rubber. It was, to this day, one of the most intense scenes I have ever seen.
Everything seemed to swell into a final question of dominance, by then the snipers had entered the village, Ramez escaped barely into the hillside below, far behind the front lines, while the leader of the PFLP student movement stood his ground, peacefully announcing victory in the face of the opposition. It was true, it was victory, the aggravation of the soldiers was observable, then it happened, it was the moment for their boiling point. Bang!…whizzing past, a bullet, had in fact, hit someone, doum doum, it was the leg of the leader, he had been shot, he was down and all scrambled for their fallen comrade, he had tried to walk but he could not. It was the end of all that was the protest, terror had run its course and the soldiers destroyed all the roadblocks, and continued with live fire until everyone retreated at the calls of Allahu Akbar. Down a valley I ran with two members from the exclusive group, al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, as the IDF came upon us, torching the earth. We hid in an abandoned farm house, and the two men never once removed their kafiyahs. “While we cannot reclaim what is lost,” the sweating fighter said, squatting in the shade of an olive orchard, “we can keep fighting for what little we have left.”
The other, removing thorns from his sleeves, bleeding from both elbows, prepared to go back out and cross into Jerusalem, to the sole refugee camp across the wall. So much heartbreak seems to get left behind in the olive orchards of Palestine’s occupied territories.
Just as the general of a division in a modern war does not have to die in front of his soldiers, the guerrilla fighter, who is general of himself, need not die in every battle. He is ready to give his life, but the positive quality of this guerrilla warfare is precisely that each one of the guerrilla fighters is ready to die, not to defend an ideal, but rather to convert it into reality. This is the basis, the essence of guerrilla fighting.
Miraculously, a small band of men, the armed vanguard of the great popular force that supports them, goes beyond the immediate tactical objective, goes on decisively to achieve an ideal, to establish a new society, to break the old molds of the outdated, and to achieve, finally, the social justice for which they fight.
Flying into Guadalajara today one would arrive through the ash and smoke of an enormous pyrocumulus cloud, created neither from the Popocatepetl volcano nor narco-blockades but rather from the Primavera wildfire that has engulfed the city. There are two things that should be considered as the ash begins to fall onto the homes of Providencia, forcing the residents to no longer turn a blind eye to the largest wildfire in years. First, the government is too steeped in campaigning for the upcoming elections to notice the threat that has begun to destroy the largest forest in the region (land potentially to be appropriated for development projects). Then there is the question of facilities. They simply don’t exist. For almost three days the fire has burned with no sign of impediment—a sea of green that has been devastated by uncontrolled flames turning the land into a mottling of purplish grays, as if the muscles of the earth itself lay exposed.
I come from a place on our planet where once a year during the dry season the earth is torched with the arrival of the infamous Santa Ana winds. High temperatures, low humidity and a large quantity of tinder-dry fuel, some of which has not been burnt for decades, allow for fires to quickly explode out of control. These conditions, along with extreme terrain in many undeveloped areas slow access to burn areas, making firefighting incredibly difficult. Southern California has some of the best firefighters in the United States and to their aid, thousands of volunteers from across the country come to their assistance.
Here, however, the Mexican firefighters are not only under equipped and spread too thin, but there are now reports that they have also begun to face armed-resistance from fighters whom are looking to keep the fire burning. It is presumed they have been paid to scorch the land in order to begin development and build new residential areas. There are also plots of land that have traditionally been considered cartel territory. Because deep inside the forest hides a portion of the billion-dollar drug industry that American capital plays on every day—bankrolling on the killing.
While I know that Mexico has not been a model of civic calm since president Calderon took office in 2006, this is one story, if confirmed, that truly saddens me to hear as the fire fighters are unable to advance not only due to the threats of being asphyxiated by smoke or being burned alive but are also being targeted by armed groups.