Friday afternoon. I see him dropping to the ground. I am standing some 15 meters away. I am running to check on him. His face is covered with black cloth, a large puddle of blood oozing on the asphalt. I am running back, calling for help, but not verbally. Words do not come out of my mouth. I even forgot the word “paramedic.” I return to him. A few people have arrived, but they have no idea what to do. I just keep shooting with my camera.
photo: Lazar Simeonov
A Palestinian taxi arrives, taking him away. I walk towards the side of the mountain, sit down, my hand over my head, unable to fathom what just happened. People begin arriving to the scene. Ruth¹ comes over, asking me “what happened? Someone died?” and I say “yes.” All I need now is touch, embrace, caress but I am unable to tell her, and she leaves.
I arrive to the checkpoint, and the soldiers are preventing me from passing it. A crowd is gathering and there is a rumor he was transferred to Beilinson hospital in a military ambulance.
Beilinson hospital. The security guard would not let me in. I enter anyway, and another guard runs towards me. A vocal confrontation begins. I feel like I might lose it. Throughout the entire incident, my hands are behind my back. The guard starts pushing me. A police squad car arrives. They tell me I am detained since I assaulted the guard. One of the police officers goes to view the surveillance footage. The rest of the people I arrived with enter the hospital. Shira remains at my side. I feel lonely, and I shiver with anxiety, and not because of the guard. The policeman returns and says I did not assault the guard but vice versa, the guard assaulted me. I file a complaint against the guard. The police officers leave, the guards change, and I am able to enter the hospital. His family is here. There are rumors he is about to undergo surgery and they might save his eye, but his condition is stable. We return home.
The next morning, Eyal calls to let me know that Mustafa Tamimi died, and I am not surprised. It was clear to me he died at the scene, on the asphalt road in Nabi Saleh moments after the shooting.
Around noon Tali comes by. She is asking how I am, and I tell her I am fine, but she tells me that I seem restless, constantly moving around, my hand and legs shaking, and that I am gazing into space, unable to focus on anything. I am taken over by anxiety and anger, but not rationally. This is a physical reaction.
In the evening we went to a demonstration in front of Hakirya military base, to protest the murder of Mustafa Tamimi. The restlessness does not cease here either. I walk around and cannot find myself. Israel Puterman interviews me for a video he is making about the demonstration, and I try to remain calm, to stabilize, not to externalize the storm brewing inside of me.
Sunday, Nabi Saleh. We gather at the spot where Mustafa was shot and killed. The procession of vehicles and the ambulance arrive from Ramallah. The body is taken out and I hide behind the camera and shoot. During the funeral I just walk around, constantly moving. When I sat down, my legs kept shaking nervously. After the funeral people begin to march towards the checkpoint, and thus a spontaneous protest starts. I start running ahead, propelled by adrenaline. The tear gas canisters shriek by me, but I would not move, continue to shoot, as if I am waiting for them to hit me.
In the evening I sit with Alma in Ana Loulou and she is asking me whether I would be interested in getting professional help. I am having difficulties working through everything and ask for her help.
A facebook status I posted today:
”Staring since the morning at the work, can’t start… unmotivated, angry and frustrated”.
I am sitting in my car at 141 Ibn Gvirol street waiting for Tali to return. She went to get some hummus. Suddenly I notice a traffic officer leaving a ticket on my windowpane without even speaking to me. I get out of the car and ask him why had he not just told me to drive away, since the engine is still running, the lights are on and I stopped only for a moment. A vocal confrontation starts. Tali arrives and I feel I am about to lose it again. I run towards the officer, feeling my anger bubbling and that in a moment, I would not be able to restrain myself. Tali’s presence calms me down and the officer does not understand what is the matter with me. “It’s only a ticket, relax.”
Statuses I posted on my Facebook page:
• “And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil’s riding crop…” Leonard Cohen
• After the anger comes the frustration, after that depression… I think I’m losing it.
• Ton of work, zero motivation and this gray day doesn’t help.
Optimism lost. Last seen in Nabi Saleh, early afternoon. It was replaced by cynicism and despair. If you happen to find it, please return it to me. Award promised.
About a month after I asked for Alma’s help, she sends me the email address of Tzvia from Psycoactive. I email Tzvia a request for help: “Hello Tzvia, I was referred to you by Alma for professional help. I witnessed (and also documented) the shooting of a Palestinian protester in Nabi Saleh last month in Nabi Saleh, and ever since, I am overcome with feelings of anger, frustration, despair and lack of motivation.”
A week later I begin treatment with Ruth² Ben-Asher. I sit in a room, my eyes darting around, unable to focus. A type writer, books on a bookshelf, a gigantic abacus, a ray of light through the window opposite of me, the desk, the ceiling, the floor, huge pillows on the ground, and the bookcase again. Ruth² asks me about places and people meaningful to me – friends, parents, family, home, something or someone to hold onto. Embrace (a book on a shelf), a colourful plastic ball, didge, a glass of water on the table, Ruth’s² hand taking notes, my eyes would not cease wandering around. Ruth² asks me to reconnect with my body, to try and locate the tense spots and those which feel relaxed or comfortable. My anxiety is evident throughout my body. I close my eyes and Ruth² instructs me to pay attention to my head. My eyes would not stop darting even when they are closed. Shoulders, chest, arms, legs, I am completely tense. My back. There are two spots in my upper back, and two in my lower, that feel extremely tense. We reach the stomach. There, in my stomach, I am feeling comfort. I place both my hands on my stomach. Ruth² tells me to linger on this feeling. Then she asks me to try and transfer this feeling to the rest of my body. For a moment, something is released, but the tension is still present throughout my body.
Facebook statuses I posted:
• “Because nothing will be back / it is almost over, will pass in a moment/ if you cannot sleep then turn off the lights / close your eyes like you used to and fly like a bird. Go on alone and go out to see / there is one good within a thousand prayers / do not be afraid for a moment and stand courageous / lift your arms, it is all possible, there will be painless days / it will take years until you wither away / search deep inside because there you will find everything / lift your arms as long as you are able to.” – Hayehudim
• “What do you get up for in the morning, as if you have a reason.” – Assaf Amdursky
• What would you do when emptiness fills up your life and you cannot find a reason to wake up, when you feel that you force yourself out, and constantly stare and search, looking for something to hold onto, a ray of light peering among the dark clouds surrounding you? Have a good evening everyone. I am going back to bed.
• “Through the fish eyed lens of tear stained eyes. i can barely define the shape of this moment in time and far from flying high in clear blue skies. I’m spiralling down to the hole in the ground where I hide” – Pink Floyd
• “Empty spaces – what are we living for?. Abandoned places – I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?” – Queen
Friday. After weeks I could not find my place in the demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, I went to Kufr Qaddum. It is an intense demonstration, about 300 Palestinians marching on the road that used to link the village to the city of Nablus and today the army prohibits Palestinians to travel through it. The soldiers are waiting down the road. The Palestinians sing and dance, and then starts a ritual common in West Bank demonstrations – stone throwing and tear gas fired at protesters. The soldiers begin to advance towards the village and I follow them. The road is between the village’s houses and there is not hiding place. Adrenaline is flowing. The soldiers are aiming directly at the protesters. At a certain moment, I move from among the soldiers to the protesters. Another batch of tear gas canisters flies by, and I continue to shoot with my camera, when I suddenly notice a canister flying in my direction. Instinctively I protect my head with my left arm. The canister hits my hand and drops to the floor next to my leg. I suffocate from the gas, cannot breath and two Palestinians come to aid me. They take to the ambulance, where the medics treat me. My breathing is back to normal and my hand starts throbbing in pain. I tell myself I should not have raised it.
One evening Ruth¹ comes for a sleep over. We lay in bed, embracing, my hand on her stomach, and I fell a wave of warmth, but not sexual. Ever since the violent eviction of Samer and his family I am not able to think or fantasize about sex. A few months prior I found myself in a sexual situation with someone, one of the most beautiful and appealing women I know. We lay naked in bed, she is on top of me, but I can’t. She is trying to help, rubs against me, touches me, goes down on me and nothing happens. She sleeps over, asking we don’t speak about it with anyone, as if she is the one with the problem. I cannot fathom what is wrong with me.
A few weeks later, I found myself in a similar situation with Alma who stayed over. We embrace, my hand on her stomach. I have that feeling of comfort and calm again, and my body is more relaxed now than it had been in previous weeks. The next day, when Alma left, I feared perhaps I was misunderstood, and that the intimacy between us might have been interpreted as something romantic or sexual. I also understood that my longing for embraces and to be touched by Ruth¹ and Alma is a result of experiencing their lack when trauma occurred and that they were both present there at the time.
Hebron, “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration. I arrived to Hebron with a few activists from Tarabut the day before and today there were two demonstrations planned. The moment MK Muhammad Barakeh arrives to the demonstration with the Tarabut activists, I understood I was in the wrong place. I found two photographers to replace me and document that protest, and drove to the location of the other demonstration. Hundreds of people marching towards Shuhada street. The army is waiting for them, and the soldiers fire tear gas canisters everywhere. The skunk truck advances towards the protesters and I run ahead. Protesters set fire to tires. The street is filled with smoke and gas, jeeps drive through a side alley, and a Molotov cocktail is hurled at the first jeep. I run to take a photo, and then another Molotov is thrown. I feel the adrenaline revitalizing me.
In the last few months I go out almost every night to drink. Alma works at a bar called Yokheved in Nahalat Binyamin street, and every night she works, I come over and consume considerable amounts of uzo or arak, mostly to escape loneliness. Alma, Halleli, Shira and especially Tali are around me, worried about me, wrapping me with love and warmth. One night I returned from Ana Loulou with Tali and Shira. We were near my house. I asked Tali: “Want to wrestle?” and she responded: “see if you dare.” She put her backpack on the ground in the parking lot in front of my building and punched me a few times. I knocked her down, I am on top of her, and the ground smells like urine. She gets up. A few more punches and kicks and she punches me straight in my nuts and more punches and kicks. I felt my anxiety lifting, tension relaxes. Being touched by her warm body and the energy released through wrestling released my tension.
Tali posted on Facebook: “Thanks Haim for the black and blues.”
A few days later I find myself in a similar situation at the Yokheved, wrestling with Tali, Halleli and Tomer. The three of them against me. Halleli is shooting a video, and once again, punches and kicks. I climb on top of Tomer who drags me on top of a parked car. We all laugh, and once again I experience that release.
Albi café, a “birthday” party to Tarabut. I meet many friends and political allies. People start dancing and I move to the back room. Shira arrives, looking crestfallen. Something in the air shifts. She sits at the corner. Every once in a while people come by and ask how she is, but she is unresponsive. A few minutes later she gets up and leaves. I follow, hugging her, and she cries. I sense heaviness transferred to me.
Wednesday. I meet Tali, Halleli and Alma at the Yokheved. I sit on the bar. They go outside for a smoke and I tell them I would join in a moment. I stare at the board over the bar and feel myself vanish. I have no idea how long has passed. I hear whispers, sensing the presence of people around me, but cannot bring myself to stop staring. Eventually I muster enough energy to return home. I go to bed. It is Friday, 9am. I slept 34 hours. I get up, get organized and leave for another demonstration in Nabi Saleh.
• I look under my feet, cannot find the ground, falling down, searching for something to hold onto, falling. I reach out my hand but it gets nowhere. I go under, sleep and escape, gather a little energy, get up, and go to fill my lungs with the stench of oppression. Adrenaline fills me up and propels me, until next time.
• “Dreaming / Trying to laugh / Falling asleep / Hoping to erase / Vanishes / In a faraway world, going under / Sees the end / Waking up / In a street corner / Mumbles / It’s nearly soon, I am powerless / I have no more / give me power / give me more. Angry / not giving up / giving up / convinced/ offended / like a little girl, imagining / flying away / floating / on a white cloud / to forever / until the end of time.” – Hayehudim
• Darkness all around me / I’m trying to navigate in the dark / I run into walls / I’m looking for the right beam. Only loneliness and depression.
Nabi Saleh. The leg of the soldier to the left is stuck in a barbed wire. I shoot a few photographs and then the other soldier realized I was shooting and told his friend, who yelled at me “get the hell out of here or I shoot you.” He aims his weapon at me. I yell back “so shoot.” He seemed baffled. It appears my response took him by surprise and he gets angry, yelling and cursing me. I turned around and went elsewhere. It upsets him so much he throws a stun grenade at me. I am not sure I did not mean what I said to him.
Message from Tali: What’s going on with you? Your Facebook statuses make me nervous. I cannot seem to communicate with you lately. All I sense from you is anger and aggression, which is why I stepped back. Maybe this is better. I don’t know. Anyway, I want you to know that many people worry about you, myself included. If you would like to talk or just not be alone… I don’t want to bug you, but know that I am here.
Lying in a dark space, surrounded by walls. Only despair and loneliness keep me company. I hear the sounds of people trying to get through cracks in the walls, but their hands are too large to go through. I cannot move, I cannot reach out to them, and they do not understand. They interpret it as something personal against them. Others give up and stop trying.
Message from Tali: In response to your new status – I am not disappearing or giving up. I am giving you space. The door is always open.
It’s good to know that the door is open but there are situations that the way to reach it (in a situation of disconnection and without any motivation) is impossible. Now (when I’m feeling better) I can say that a company (just by being here) would help (even when it seems I was not responding and disconnected).
Jerusalem Day. Today tens of thousands of Zionists are expected to march through Damascus gate in what they call “the flags march.” Outside Damascus gate a crowd of a few dozens of Palestinians is gathering, chanting against the march. Large police forces gather around as well. Riot police and border patrol units begin to shove and violently arrest protesters, and also attempt to prevent photographers from documenting their brutality and arrests. A border patrol officer is trying to arrest a ten year old boy, and one female activist is blocking him with her body. The child manages to escape. Horse-mounted police gallop into the crowd of protesters, injuring a few of them. The police lacks any restraint and acts violently. At a certain point I notice tens of thousands of people marching through Damascus gate singing, and hurling racial slurs at Palestinians and leftists.
I ask Anne from Activestills whether she would like to go through the gate and photograph what is taking place in that march. We walk through the alleys of the Muslim quarter among hundreds of Zionist protesters, most of whom are teens. I notice Halleli and a few other activists. Anne continues towards the Wailing Wall while I decide to remain there. A few minutes later a teenager asks me whether I was a leftist. I ask him “why? Do you have any problem with that?” it feels like a herd of bulls is running towards me and I wave a red cloth. The response was immediate. In a split second, the atmosphere changes and becomes highly tense. The activists begin to leave the crowd into side alleys. I remain, mesmerised by the amount of sheer hatred of these teens. Halleli and Elisheva notice I am there and join me. They did not want to leave me there all by myself. I begin to shoot a video, documenting the marchers shouting “death to Arabs,” “death to leftists.” They start pushing us and we understand where this is going. But I do not wish to leave, this situation appeals to me, as if waiting for something to happen. A group of teens surround us. They begin to shout, spit and curse. A few of them break the flags’ poles and hurl them at us. Two Border Patrol officers block the crowd with their bodies.
“Numbness – Since people who suffer PTSD attempt to avoid feeling that induce distress, they tend to develop numbness, lack of motivation, lack of initiative, disinterest in routine activities and depression. Numbness is created through a change in consciousness which exhibits in apathy, distance and disassociation.” Wikipedia
Ana Loulou. I lost count of how many glasses of uzo I consumed. I am dancing close to Leehee, and her proximity feels good. We return to my place, sitting on the couch, drinking more alcohol. At one point I am lying on the couch, she is on top of me, attempting to take the lead. But I shut my eyes. I already know I can’t. She kisses me, and I fall asleep. Later that night I wake up and we go to sleep in the bed.
The next night Leehee returns. We lie in bed, kissing. I touch and caress her body. At some point I stop and tell her that although I really want to, I am unable to… I am embarrassed and she tells me it’s ok, she understands what I am going through and that she would let me continue in my own pace. Her understanding and acceptance of my situation impress me. I was certain she would get up and leave, but instead she wrapped me with warmth and made me feel safe.
Unfortunately, I did not know Mustafa Tamimi, but that moment will probably stay with me for the rest of my life.
Today, two years after the death of Mustafa Tamimi, I no longer ask myself “whatever for?” It’s not that I found the answer, it’s just that the question does not come up anymore. I have not transformed into a happy or more optimistic person, but I am able to function daily and still look for meaning in my life. Three months ago, I broke up with Leehee, who, for a certain period of time was my rock, provided me with stability and helped me overcome physical and emotional barriers. Most of my friends disappeared from my life, and even when I am in social functions, demonstrations and other events, I still carry a sense of loneliness. I hope this loneliness will vanish when I have a new love in my life.
Writing about post-trauma was a journey through events, reliving them. I invite anyone who experience post-trauma to write, tell and share their story. Don’t keep it inside. I can also say that a good therapist can be very helpful. My gratitude to Ruth Ben-Asher, and all my friends who supported me and were there for me – Tali, Leehee, Alma, Halleli, Ruth, Shira, Na’ama, Eva and Noa.
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