I have been in Biddu for three days without internet access as there has been a general strike in Palestine. Three days ago we had a pretty bad day there even by normal standards.
I only came to Biddu to deliver a bag. Two hours later and the shebab had saved me from a probable beating and certain arrest.
I arrived in Biddu as the protests against the murder of Rantissi were taking place. I quickly found the group of international activists among the villagers and they told me that during the demonstration the construction workers had moved into the village and started working on the “wall”. As soon as this demonstration was over the villagers were going to go down to the worksite to protest about the construction. There has been a terrific increase in community led non violent demonstrations in recent months as communities have once again engaged in the true spirit of the intifada. Budrus, a nearby town, has succeeded through protest and petitioning to have the wall moved back to the internationally recognised border. Other villages inspired by this victory have been busily protesting the sections of wall that cut deep into their land. In Biddu they have never had trouble with either soldiers or the nearby settlers. If it wasn’t for the wall being built on their land the intifada might almost have passed them by. If you think what we are doing is illegal it isn’t and the military courts have criticised soldiers for trying to prosecute arrestees. The court declared that protesting against the wall is not a criminal offence. Internationals who have been arrested have only been cautioned not to return to the demonstrations.
At about 2pm I found myself walking down a long road towards the sound of heavy machinery. As we rounded a corner I could see the diggers and the bulldozers flanked by a row of military jeeps. We could also see soldiers up on the roofs of the most distant buildings. These aren’t the IDF though but the Border Police a force much more brutal and with the power to arrest internationals. We were hundreds of meters away from the work site and hadn’t even begun to assemble into any demonstration when I heard the first crack of the tear gas guns. The multi shot canisters landed in front of us behind us and to the side of us so we moved out towards the fields and away from the Border Police. As we choked on the tear gas kids who kid read Hebrew read to us what it said on the containers:
“Not to be used within 50 yards of civilians”
We moved across a field which was difficult terrain and attempted to move again towards the site to re-assemble for the demonstration. Something that looked suspiciously like mounted police came into view and several people stopped to assess the situation. They were indeed mounted soldiers but we thought they might be used for crowd control if there was violence so we continued to move forward. No-one in Palestine has ever seen or heard of soldiers on horses being used in the territories before. The toxic tear gas was starting to take its toll and my eyes were streaming. Minutes later and I saw Palestinians running towards me. Generally if you see Palestinians running it is a good idea to run yourself, these people aren’t easily scared. As I turned to run I saw that the villagers and internationals were being charged by the baton wielding mounted soldiers.
I learned quickly, though perhaps should have already known, that a horse can run much faster than me, especially over roughly ploughed fields. The shebab (the word means youth but is frequently used as term for the young stone throwers) had lit fires on the hill to disperse the gas and I thought that if I ran through the fire the horse wouldn’t follow. As my tear gas filled lungs filled up with acrid smoke from the bush fires I wondered if this was such a good tactic. The horse hadn’t followed me but this may be because it was brighter than me.
Other horses thundered past me and the soldiers brutally lashed out with their batons at the fleeing villagers. I was stood just yards away as one of these mounted robocops smashed a middle aged villager over the head at the same time ramming him to the ground with the horse. I heard the crack and the thud as the blows landed and I heard the old man cry out in pain. My eyes streaming and lungs gasping I was torn between going back to help the man and risking arrest or to keep moving. The man got to his feet somehow with blood gushing from his head and the rider circled round him towards me. I backed away steadily, not running, but I could see another rider coming up beside him and several others to the side of me lashing out and beating the villagers with their big sticks.
I had time to think that it was like a scene out of Planet of the Apes and I would probably have been done for at this time but several of the older shebab who had already run to safety flew back down the hill and started hurling huge rocks at the Savages-sorry-Soldiers on horses. They threw them hard and fast and accurately hitting the rider and the horse making the soldier double up in pain and back up. As they continued to hurl the rocks they shouted at the soldiers “Just fuck off, just fuck off, leave us alone, go away!” In that split second I understood how the stone throwers felt, what motivated them and I wanted more than anything to stand and throw rocks with them against these horrible violent bastards on horses.
Naturally I didn’t throw stones but the badly bleeding Palestinian and I gratefully took our opportunity to leave and ran. By this time there were more border police on foot and they pointed something shiny and black at three of us internationals. “Come here” they shouted to us. Two of us decided against it and kept running. The other international, a Scottish woman, was arrested as was the beaten Palestinian who could run no more.
As they took away the only two people they had managed to catch the rest of us moved ever further up the hill on the other side of the valley where work is being carried out and sat and rested. The horses were gone and the soldiers were busy with the younger stone throwing shebab who somehow managed to stay in the street despite the vast volumes of tear gas they were enveloped in.
We sat for maybe 45 minutes watching the brave young kids fight tear gas, and by now rubber bullets, with stone after stone. Ambulances came and went as some were overcome by the gas and others were shot in the head by rubber bullets. And then it happened.
We were sat high up in the hills almost half a mile away from the soldiers and shebab sitting and chatting about how we can peacefully protest in these conditions when we heard a whooshing noise. None of us could place it at first but we thought it might be a bullet. We dismissed the idea as we couldn’t hear gunfire and what on earth were we doing to deserve being shot at? There are no armed militants in the village let alone the field.
After we heard the whooshing noise a couple more times we get nervous and walked up the hill another field to a big house where several villagers were sat. Five minutes later and the noise came again, closer this time. Now the Palestinians looked nervous. That is definitely bullets but where are they coming from? We can’t hear any shooting. We moved closer to walls and trees and looked around but we were very exposed up here and we had nowhere to go.
I guess it wasn’t until the Palestinian in the field below dropped to the floor that we knew for sure. Clutching his chest 24 year old Diyya Abed Al Kareem fell to the floor. He has been shot in the chest. They were shooting at us. Somewhere amongst those soldiers was a sniper and he was using a silencer. Against villagers and internationals sat in a field long after being violently dispersed somehow they felt they had to shoot someone?
An ambulance was called and Diyya was rushed to Ramallah and then East Jerusalem hospital. A villager came and guided us all off the hill and through side streets to safety. Everyone here in Biddu is getting sick from the tear gas, some people here having been taking it for months. No one has ever witnessed such a high level of violence against peaceful protestors. Lethal force used against a man standing under an olive tree. Live rounds fired over the heads of internationals doing no more than observing. Every day I am in Palestine another aspect of the occupation continues to shock me and the violence against the Palestinians increases.
At 22.00 we heard from the hospital that Diyya had died from his wounds. The bullet had exploded in his lung destroying it and taking his life with it.
There is only one clear aim of the occupation here and that is to violently subjugate any peaceful protest. Normally the protests here are made up of locals, internationals and Israelis. The Israeli group is known as Anarchists Against the Wall but today we didn’t need the Anarchists. We had the Israeli army cause Anarchy for us…
On the bright side I learned a) that I cant run faster than a horse b) Its never ok to run in to a fire and c) horses are much brighter than me.
If you are interested the story continues on www.rafahkid.net