At 11:00 this morning, Nasfat called to tell me that Israeli workers were back today with their chainsaws, cutting trees in the village of Marda to make way for the path of the “Ariel loop” of the Annexation Wall, whose easternmost point is 22 kilometers from the Green Line. I rushed to Marda and found villagers waiting. They would go up to their land in a few minutes, they told me. One of the village leaders announced the news through the mosque’s loudspeakers, which could clearly be heard by every villager in Marda and most likely every soldier and police officer in Ariel.
When we started up the hill around 12:30, I was the only person not from Marda. Press were on their way, we were told, as was another international, but the villagers wanted to wait no longer. About 20 adult men and I started up the hill, and we were quickly followed by about 30 boys who ignored their elders’ order to stay below. We made our way towards the cut trees, and shortly before arriving, security guards and soldiers, whom most of us still could not see over the terraces and through the olive trees, began yelling at us not to come any further. When villagers advanced, one of the security guards fired a shot towards the ground directly in front of the crowd. I started to yell in English, telling them to stop, and when I finally got in view of the guards, the one who had shot pointed his gun at me and yelled, “Do not move!” I asked several times, “Can we talk to you?” Each time the response was, “Do not move!”
I surveyed the situation. There were two security guards and two soldiers in front of us, and a lot of kids behind us. I was afraid the kids might lose their patience and begin to throw stones, at which point the authorities most certainly would have lost whatever patience they had and use the only weapons they had with them: guns with live ammunition.
I was happy to hear that the Israeli workers with their chainsaws had left the area quickly upon our arrival, which was the same thing that happened on Thursday when we confronted them.
The standoff continued for a while, but not without its intense moments. Soldiers continued to arrive, and each time people tried to step forward, soldiers and guards threatened us further with shouts, guns pointed, and newly arrived tear gas canisters in hand. I had never been so relieved to see the small orange plastic containers that house the tear gas. Hopefully, I thought, their first choice of weapon now will be the gas and not the bullet.
I calmed down even more when four journalists arrived at the scene although their presence gave the boys more courage, and they began to inch forward and to chant, “Hayalim LaBayta” (“Soldiers, go home” in Hebrew). Soldiers forced them back, telling them they would only speak to a village spokesperson if everyone else stood behind a certain tree about 200 meters away. I insisted on staying near the front with “Ahmed,” though I wasn’t as smart as he was about not sharing his real name with soldiers. I figured they would find out who I was anyway, since the boys kept calling me by name. So when the soldier who was negotiating with Ahmed asked my name, and responded to my inquiry into his name (Amit), I told him, “I’m Hannah.” I’m not sure it changed the situation much, other then that the rest of the afternoon I heard shouts of “Hannah, come here” and “Hannah, go down” rather then, “Hey you, come here,” or “You with the bandanna, go down.” When he threatened to arrest me, I told him, “You can’t arrest me; you’re a soldier, not a policeman.”
We walked back and forth – east and west – a few times, to make sure workers had not returned, and to do our best to count the number of trees that had been cut today (people estimate 300 or 350, bringing the total number in the past few days to over 800). At one point the work had resumed in the west, so we made our way through the terraces as quickly as possible. When Ahmed began to advance towards the man with the chainsaw, the same guard who had shot at us earlier pushed and hit Ahmed on his arm and leg with the butt of his gun. I saw the pushing from a distance, but didn’t arrive in time to take pictures of the beating. I photographed the bruises that had already formed about a half hour later.
Suddenly we heard a loud explosion, followed by its own echo, coming from Marda; several jeeps had arrived inside the village and were throwing sound bombs, presumably as punishment for the impromptu demonstration. They left quickly, as far as we could tell from above, and we stayed on the land.
Farmers were frustrated that no soldier would claim responsibility for the situation or for the other soldiers’ or guards’ behavior, so there was no person to speak or negotiate with. Amit, who seemed to be the one with the most power and was engaging in half-hearted negotiations, kept saying that someone higher would be arriving soon. Finally Gilad, a man from the DCO who speaks fluent Arabic, arrived and began negotiations with the villagers.
By the end, close to 3:00, Gilad had promised that the work would stop for the day and that the army’s lawyer and the village’s lawyer would have a meeting tomorrow morning to decide how to proceed. Ahmed pointed out to Gilad the security guard who had hit him, to which the guard responded by picking up a chainsaw himself (from where, I don’t know) and threatening to chop more trees. We started on our last trip walking west to gather the rest of the crowd, and when we arrived Amit asked me to come forward to speak with him. I refused, and he asked me for my passport. When I refused to show it to him, a policeman stepped out from behind him and said, “Come here.” I started to walk away, through a crowd of Palestinians who were waving me through and saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t let them take you.” The police and soldiers started after me, but only for a few meters. I continued to go down and they didn’t follow. I felt slightly guilty about being part of the first group to go down, but the other international was still up there, and the rest of the group followed a couple minutes later anyway.
About a half hour after we returned to the village, the work resumed. The army had broken its promise, and workers were cutting trees. We saw clearly through binoculars that a line of about 15 soldiers had lined up directly below two workers, and other soldiers were scattered throughout the groves. People talked about going back up again, but decided they didn’t have enough people. They hoped the workers would go home soon (it was after 4), and the farmers decided to save their energies until tomorrow morning, when they will attempt to arrive on their land early enough to stop the destruction before it starts.
Just when we thought the day was over, we found out that an army bulldozer was near the center entrance to Marda, on the main settler highway #505 (the one that we successfully blocked for some time during a demonstration yesterday!). We were afraid they would cut trees as punishment for the nonviolent resistance of the past couple days, but as we watched the bulldozer moving rocks and dirt, we noticed it was only putting up another roadblock at the entrance to the road that is already closed with an army roadblock. We were perplexed, wondering if they would then move on to the only open entrance of Marda. They didn’t. As far as I know, the sole purpose of that bulldozer was to close an already-closed road.
So here we are at the end of the day. 300 more trees cut. Presumably it could have been twice that many had we not gone to the land. Marda is a strong village, with determined people. Tomorrow morning they will go back and try to protect their land.