Armed Israelis walk in East Jerusalem, October 2023


Jerusalem Story Team

Blog Post

Mohanad Darwish: “I’ve Never Been Surrounded by This Many Rifles in My Entire Life”

The Israeli government declared “Operation Swords of Iron” on Gaza on October 7, and all inhabitants have been on edge ever since. The entire country has been in war mode. There has been an eerie silence in the empty streets where businesses remain shuttered. Masses of Israelis were drafted to the military, and the entire government geared up to “fight Hamas.” The war is ongoing in Gaza, where the entire civilian infrastructure was hit and more than 10,000 noncombatants have been killed in a month. This excludes those still under the rubble.

In Jerusalem, too, Palestinians feel that they live in a combat zone. Almost every corner of the city has clusters of heavily armed Israeli police ready to check residents, which generally means identifiably Arab residents. The rules have been changed: now Israeli authorities can inspect personal belongings and arrest or seize individuals’ property during the “emergency state of war.”1 The use of social media that may be interpreted as sympathetic with or supportive of Palestinians in Gaza can trigger criminal charges, on the pretext that people expressing such sentiments disrupt the “national morale.”2

The streets of Jerusalem have been filled with an overwhelming military presence. Not only have the heavily armed police officers and military forces tripled in number and the police vehicles increased, but Jewish Israeli civilians, too, have been granted weapons. Already on October 10, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that his ministry purchased 10,000 rifles to be distributed to Israeli civilians—particularly those living near Arabs.3 This was in addition to countless weapons distributed to settlers in hundreds of towns. Jewish Israeli civilians are now massively armed.4

To be a Palestinian in Jerusalem is to be surrounded by hordes of heavily armed settlers and even nonsettler Israeli citizens. It has become common to see people carrying a coffee cup or perhaps even a yoga mat with one hand and a loaded rifle on the other. Common, but still highly bizarre and super frightening—so much so that most Palestinians are too scared to leave their homes: They know that they are the potential targets in this type of setting. If by any chance they are to make what an Israeli considers a suspicious move, speak Arabic, or perhaps even make eye contact with an armed Israeli, their lives might be in serious danger.

In Jerusalem, too, Palestinians feel that they live in a combat zone.

It has become common to see people carrying a coffee cup or perhaps even a yoga mat with one hand and a loaded rifle on the other.

Ongoing Stress in Jerusalem

“I have never been surrounded by this many rifles in my entire life,” said Mohanad Darwish, 23, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. He shared his impressions with Jerusalem Story on November 8 about what it’s like to live as a young Palestinian man in Jerusalem these days. As he spoke, two young Israelis passed by carrying assault rifles. Mohanad did not look in their direction. He stopped talking until they passed.

Mohanad Darwish, Bethlehem University Campus, 2022

Mohanad Darwish at Bethlehem University in 2022


Courtesy of Mohanad Darwish

“Everyone is armed. Seven million people in this country are now enabled to carry actual assault rifles. Who knows if, and if so, which one of them is mentally disturbed, has anger management issues, or is out of control?” Mohanad describes how seeing random people carrying loaded weapons makes him fear for his life. “There’s no guarantee that you won’t get shot at any moment. Palestinians in this city constantly have this on their minds. You’d better be super careful . . . Any Israeli has a weapon and could get you in serious, serious trouble.”

Mohanad is a student of business and media at Bethlehem University. A friendly young man with a great sense of humor and an open spirit, he does not seem a likely subject of any kind of suspicion. But it soon becomes clear that it takes him a lot of energy to sustain an emotionless demeanor: “The defense mechanism is consistent; it never lets up.” In Jerusalem, he explains, he must constantly be on high alert. He is always hyperaware of the heavily militarized environment around him.

Mohanad’s family, too, are always under stress: “When I sleep over in Bethlehem,” he shares, “my parents hardly check on me. But here in Jerusalem, my father calls me at least four times whenever I’m out. One time, my phone shut down; my battery died. When I got back home few hours later, I found that my mother was literally out searching for me in the streets of Jerusalem. She was worried sick that I may have gotten shot.”

Jerusalem is a highly intense setting. Mohanad had previously lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and currently resides in al-‘Isawiyya. “In Jerusalem, the Israeli forces are constantly in one’s face, ready to interrogate, investigate, and intimidate.” He describes how something as slight as passing by a soldier could cause serious anxiety: There is always ongoing friction with the soldiers, he notes. Even the slightest occurrence, such as looking too long in a soldier’s eyes or accidentally bumping into one’s arm while walking, could lead to violence.

“There’s no guarantee that you won’t get shot at any moment.”

Mohanad Darwish

Killed in Cold Blood

Palestinians in Jerusalem are beyond therapy. “How would the concept of therapy ever work for Palestinians in Jerusalem?” Mohanad wondered. He reflected on how people would seek therapy after undergoing a traumatic event. “But here, the trauma is consistent. Once you find yourself doing all the work and working on healing from the killing of a loved one, you are suddenly hit with the killing of another. Once you go through one, another one comes, and then another after that.” The trauma is ongoing; it never becomes a thing of the past.

Mohanad admitted he’s been struggling to recover from the tragic, unjust, and sudden deaths around him. In October 2015, just months after he moved to Jerusalem’s al-‘Isawiyya neighborhood, a young member of the community, Fadi Alloun, was shot dead at the age of 19. “Fadi was attacked by Israeli settlers as he was out on a run. When he tried to defend himself, the Israeli police arrived . . . and they simply shot him dead.”

“How would the concept of therapy ever work for Palestinians in Jerusalem?”

Mohanad Darwish

Israeli police fire tear gas on Palestinians in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood, where men barred from entering the al-Aqsa Mosque gathered to pray on October 20, 2023, during Israel's war on Gaza.

Israeli police fire tear gas on Palestinians in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where men gathered to pray after authorities barred most Palestinians under certain ages from entering al-Aqsa Mosque for the second Friday in a row on October 20, 2023, during Israel’s war on Gaza.


Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

Reports show that the Israeli officer shot Fadi at close range at least seven times. His parents mentioned how their son loved running and was wearing a new pair of running shoes on the day he was killed. “That’s how we knew it was him,” his aunt Haya mentioned in an interview, and explained how he was gunned down by a group of settlers and then shot by the Israeli police.5 To this day, there is no evidence that Fadi had any weapon on him; there is no footage provided by the police; and there has been zero accountability by the Israeli authorities for Fadi’s killing.6

Another killing that weighs heavily on Mohanad’s heart was that of Omar Manna, 22, who was killed by Israeli forces at the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem in December 2022. Palestinians knew him as the much-liked taboon-bread maker who was shot dead at the refugee camp. “The Israeli forces were there to arrest his brother,” Mohanad explained, “and they indeed captured him from his home.”

On their way out, young people, including Omar (who was worried sick about his brother being captured, blindfolded, and taken away by the Israeli forces), confronted them. The soldiers shot at least nine bullets at Omar—at his chest, his hands, and his back. He died immediately.7 “The brother, blindfolded and held by the soldiers, immediately realized that they shot Omar dead,” Mohanad sighed as he recalls the bitter details.

“What makes these murders even more awful is that families and friends aren’t even allowed to bury the dead,” Mohanad added. The Israeli authorities usually stall before they finally release the body to the family. Just weeks ago, another young Palestinian, Khaled al-Muhtaseb, was shot dead after an armed clash in Jerusalem, near Salah al-Din Street. After his killing, a large group of Israeli forces stormed into Khaled’s house in Beit Hanina, where they fired gas bombs and rubber bullets at the residents and passersby. They then they proceeded to search the house and arrested family members, while the body of the dead son remains held by Israeli authorities.8

“When Palestinian Jerusalemites Travel Abroad, They Start to Cry”

Mohanad recalled his very first trip outside of the country. “I was 12 years old the first time I ever traveled,” he shared. “I traveled to Sweden where I stayed at my aunt’s house for a month. To this day, I remember how shocked I was to find out, at age 12, how life can be completely different overseas. I could hardly believe that it was OK to walk around freely outdoors. They showed me the supermarket and the lakes around Stockholm, and I was surprised how nobody was worried that I was exploring the city. I was out for over an hour, totally shocked that I wasn’t getting anxious calls like I’d been used to! Today, at 23, I’ve come to understand that I don’t have the types of freedoms I experienced at age 12 during that trip to Sweden.”

Mohanad described how the minor details of life that are taken for granted and “as we know them here in Jerusalem” are astonishingly disparate in other countries. “A horse, let alone a police officer, looks entirely different abroad. It turns out horses are sweet! They happen to be gentle animals that we want to pet and take photos with. But here in Jerusalem, seeing a horse is closer to a horror scene that inflicts much fear. We’ve become accustomed to seeing them as aggressive animals because they carry mounted, armed police, ready to attack us.”

Police officers check the IDs of Palestinian youth close to Bab al-Zahira in East Jerusalem, November 11, 2023.

Police officers checking the IDs of young Palestinian youth close to Bab al-Zahira in Jerusalem, November 11, 2023


Jerusalem Story Team

It is no wonder, Mohanad observed, that “when Palestinian Jerusalemites travel abroad, they start to cry.” He recalled that once he traveled abroad, “I realized how much of our integrity is snatched from us. This can instill a deep sense of anger, fear, resentment, and hatred among those of us living in Jerusalem—much of which we cannot share with anyone. We are constantly scared for our lives, yet we do not ever share that we are actually afraid.”

“When Palestinian Jerusalemites travel abroad, they start to cry.”

Mohanad Darwish

The Shared Understanding among Jerusalem’s Kindred Spirits

When asked whether a Palestinian is better off outside of Jerusalem, Mohanad admitted that “We joke about leaving this place all the time, but we don’t actually mean it. This place is part of who we are. This is the life we know. We are the owners of this land.” Despite the threatening reality, there is a strong sense of connection here, he adds. “I know this sounds like a cliché, but sitting down and having a sip of hot tea by the stairs of Bab al-Amud [Damascus Gate] has a serene effect. It is the kind of place where one does not need to communicate, because essentially, we all get it: We are in this together.”

Mohanad explained that there is a solid sense of resistance in knowing that while the streets of Jerusalem have been filled with the scent of blood, yet the serenity nevertheless persists. Despite the oppressive systems and loaded weapons, he explains, one still feels the genuine protection shared by awlad al-balad: the kindred spirits, the community of al-Quds [Palestinian Jerusalem].

This sense of community is what makes him feel safe in al-‘Isawiyya. What is scary, in his opinion, is not the “troubled neighborhood,” but rather being surrounded by angry settlers who are determined to remove all “others” from the area.

“This place is part of who we are.”

Mohanad Darwish

“This Feeling of Being Scared Accompanies One at All Times”

Mohanad compared the “shared understanding” among Palestinian Jerusalemites as being similar to the sense of fear a young woman might have when walking back home at night. “Some people would not understand that type of fear if they are not women. It might never even cross their minds, because they do not experience it themselves,” he explains. “But we get it, and therefore do not need to describe it to one another.” This feeling of being scared, he adds, accompanies one at all times; when going to school, to work, and anywhere else. Going back and forth between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, he personally experiences the daily harassment of being stopped, searched, interrogated, and subjected to humiliation—all of which are dependent on the “mood of the soldier.”

And the behavior of the heavily armed soldier, no matter how aggressive, is always permissible, Mohanad explains. “Legally speaking, they have the right to treat us in whichever way they please. They even have the right to shoot and kill us, if they see fit.”



Nadim Nashif, “Palestinian Narrative and Digital Rights Shifts in Times of Crisis” [in Arabic], YouTube, October 19, 2023.


Jeremy Sharon, “Ben Gvir Says 10,000 Assault Rifles Purchased for Civilian Security Teams,” Times of Israel, October 10, 2023


Sharon, “10,000 Assault Rifles.”


Diana Buttu, “Interview with Family of Fadi Alloun, Palestinian Teen Killed on Camera,” IMEU (Institute for Middle East Understanding), October 23, 2015.

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