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Week of Palestinian nonviolent resistance met with violence

On Wednesday, June 1, Israeli workers with chainsaws began to cut Marda’s trees, and in a five day period, they had cut more than 800 trees. Monday, June 6, bulldozers arrived to begin uprooting the cut trees, and they have been working every day since. After years of occupation, land theft, random arrests, and army invasions, this latest offence has caused Marda villagers to say, “Enough!” Ariel already has a fence surrounding it, they note. Why does it need another? And why on our land? Ariel has already stolen most of our land; why take even more?

Determined not to sit quietly while their land is destroyed, Marda farmers, in cooperation with the Popular Committee against the Wall and the entire Salfit region, and Israeli and international groups, decided to reclaim their right to be on their land and on their roads.

Saturday, June 4, 2005
The march from Marda to Kifl Hares was supposed to be proactive, preventative. Little did Marda know when they scheduled the demo two weeks in advance to coincide with the anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank that their land would begin to be destroyed so soon. Little did they know that their march from Marda to Kifl Hares, along the main settler highway (which had been used by Palestinians for decades before Israel’s occupation), would be more than symbolic. That they would be marching not only for the impending land destruction, but for the hundreds of trees whose crop had been cut from them just two days before.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the center of Marda to begin their march to Kifl Hares, which would end directly next to the entrance of Ariel settlement. More than 50 soldiers met demonstrators at the entrance of Marda before they left the village, telling the crowd it could not proceed beyond a white ribbon the army had placed across the road. The front line marched directly through the ribbon with arms linked, and came face to face with a line of soldiers, also with arms linked. Soldiers were armed with guns and batons, demonstrators with flags and signs, proclaiming, “Build trust, not walls,” and “Uproot settlers, not trees.”

As villagers and supporters continued to move forward, soldiers lunged at the crowd, beating several people, including one Israeli who had to be taken to a hospital. After Palestinian village leaders and officials including Mustafa Barghouti and Kadura Fares spoke with the army commander, the army finally allowed the crowd to walk through the olive groves and across the main road to get to a new road that Israel is building on Palestinian land. Villagers slowly made their way across, happy to see that the army had closed the road completely, to both Palestinian travelers and Israeli settlers. One boy who stayed in the road longer than soldiers wanted was grabbed and taken to a jeep, only to be taken back by three Palestinian leaders just minutes later. Demonstrators successfully made their way to Kifl Hares, followed the whole way by soldiers who continued only to let one lane of traffic pass on the settler highway. The demonstration was a huge success: Villagers completed their intended walk, closed the settler highway for some time, and made a statement to the settlers and soldiers of Ariel that their land could not be quietly stolen from them.

Sunday, June 5, 2005
Sunday morning, villagers saw Israeli workers with their chainsaws once again, cutting trees near the top of the hill as they had been the previous week. Again, farmers would not let this destruction happen without trying to stop it. About 20 adult men and one IWPS woman started up the hill, and 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. “Do not move!” they screamed. “Can we talk to you?” people asked. Each time the response was, “Do not move!”

Despite the fear inspired by the private guards and army, Israeli workers had left the area quickly upon the group’s arrival, a major victory for the farmers, who had also stopped the work with a quiet confrontation the previous week.

The standoff continued for a while, with occasional pushing and shoving on the army’s part and chanting on the young men’s part (“hayalim labayta” – “soldiers, go home”). One man was hit on the arm and leg with the butt of a guard’s gun.

Soldiers briefly entered the village, throwing sound bombs and leaving quickly. The villagers stayed above, surveying the damage to their land. 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 until Gilad from the DCO arrived. After brief negotiations, Gilad promised that the work would stop for the day and that the army’s lawyer and the village’s lawyer would have a meeting the next morning to decide how to proceed.

About a half hour after we returned to the village, the work resumed. The army had broken its promise.

Monday, June 6, 2005
At 7:30 Monday morning, farmers gathered in hopes of walking to their land to sit and stop the cutting of their olive trees. 10 farmers, 8 internationals and Israelis, and approximately 40 young men and boys walked up the hill towards the settlement of Ariel where 100-200 soldiers were spread out across the land, concentrating in two different locations on the hillside.

No Wall work was happening at first, but the farmers quickly noticed that a bulldozer had begun to uproot trees near the top of the hill east of where we were standing. The group walked towards the olive trees and was immediately met by tear gas. Soldiers fired approximately 200 canisters of tear gas in the next two hours, hitting two Palestinians directly. One farmer was taken to Rafidiya hospital and two Red Crescent ambulances treated 20 Palestinians.

At 11:00, 3 army and police jeeps entered the village and began to throw sound bombs. Palestinian boys threw stones, hitting a jeep, and four border police entered a Palestinian home, presumably looking for the stone throwers. Many cameras filmed this and the police left quickly without arresting any one.

The uprooting of olive trees continued unobstructed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005
At 5:30 Wednesday morning, curfew was imposed on Marda, and the entire area of Marda, Iskaka, and Salfit was declared a closed military zone. The army and border police repeatedly entered the village from 5.30 am, throwing sound bombs and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the air. Three internationals attempted to enter Marda at 6:45 am, but were stopped by soldiers and border police and threatened with arrest. Later, 5 Israelis and 2 internationals were able to enter the village and were also ordered to leave and threatened with arrest.

One young Palestinian man had his identity card taken but it was later returned to someone else in the village. Just before midday occupation forces arrested a 25 year old Palestinian. After many hours of confusion and concern, his family discovered that he had been taken to Qedumim. He is still being held.

Approximately 20 Palestinians were injured, among them a Red Crescent ambulance worker.

Friday, June 10, 2005
As villagers in Marda tried to make their way to their fields to pray the Friday midday prayers on their land, accompanied by media, internationals, and Israeli peace activists, tear gas clouded the skies. Four bulldozers that had been uprooting Marda’s trees stopped working as soon as the villagers began their march.

Mere minutes into the ascent upwards and only a few hundred meters up the slope, Israeli soldiers began firing tear gas and sound bombs at the villagers. While a number of soldiers fired from the hill, other military vehicles made their way into the village. Tear gas and sound bombs turned into rubber bullets, and the rubber bullets into live ammunition, reportedly fired directly at children. Soldiers shot tear gas towards the mosque and into a sewing factory where dozens of women were working. Four were taken to the hospital for gas inhalation.

Three Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, one in the stomach, one in the leg, and one in the arm. One Palestinian’s thumb was broken when a tear gas canister hit his hand. Others were treated for tear gas inhalation. One international was detained for several hours and taken to Ariel police station, but was later released.

The DCO later claimed that the Israeli army fired only one rubber bullet and no live ammunition, and that a Palestinian had been shooting a Kalachnikov rifle. Villagers and Israelis collected the bullets and casings, however, and they were clearly from M16s, the rifles that the military uses.

Israeli soldiers threatened to return later that night.

Saturday, June 11, 2005
It is now Saturday, Shabbat, the day that most Israelis do not work. This apparently includes the chainsaw and bulldozer operators who have been coming daily from Ariel to destroy Marda’s land. It is a quiet day. The Israeli holiday of Shavuot begins tonight and will last for two days, hopefully ensuring that the work in Marda will not resume during this time. Shavuot commemorates Moses’ ascent to Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Will the villagers of Marda be able to ascend their own mountain and receive anything other than tear gas and bullets?

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