by Marcy Newman
There is a Palestinian rap group called DAM who has a popular song entitled “Meen Erhabe?” or “Who’s the Terrorist?” That song played over and over again in my mind yesterday as I participated in a nonviolent demonstration against the Apartheid Wall and illegal Israeli settlement expansion, in the form of Kifliyat Safer settlement, in the Palestinian village of Bil’in located outside of Ramallah. Organizers created masks of Condoleeza Rice and George Bush and placed orange strips of cloth around their eyes to symbolize the failure of the U.S. to acknowledge that Gaza disengagement equals West Bank settlement expansion; the front of the demonstration carried a banner with precisely that slogan.
Yesterday was the fifty-fourth non-violent demonstration in Bil’in. It was my second time joining in solidarity with the people there resisting the erection of the Annexation Wall on their land.
We gathered in front of the mosque and marched from the center of Bil’in down to the area where the Annexation Wall is being built. People chanted, sang, and eventually made speeches once we got to the site for the non-violent protest. We were, of course, met by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), who were in full riot gear and surrounding us on all sides. They placed barbed wire on the street as a marker for where they wished for us to stop. After about twenty minutes the IDF began to shoot tear gas grenades into the distance, where most of the Palestinians stood. In the front where Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals linked arms while seated on the ground, the IDF soldiers began to kick, spank, and beat the non-violent demonstrators with their clubs. They used their clubs to de-link people’s arms and carry people off to detention in an unfinished home at the side of the road.
I was filming much of this and found myself outraged at the uncalled for violence at the hands of the Israeli soldiers. I began yelling at one of them because he was clubbing people who were protesting through non-violent means. I don’t know if I can ever temper—nor do I think I would ever want to — the outrage that I experience each time I witness the violence of the IDF. My outburst cost me my freedom, at least for the remainder of the day, as I was arrested on the spot and dragged to the detention facility where I met up with around 40 Israeli, international, and Palestinian non-violent demonstrators. They handcuffed us with plastic strips and walked us up the hill towards the Israeli settlement. They began to separate us immediately. As usual, the one Palestinian detained, Jawad Asi, was taken off by himself and treated the most harshly of all of us. At first they let us sit with the Israelis, but then they began to separate us further and placed the internationals under a separate tree. There were two British, one Swedish, and two Americans including me. Eventually all of the Israelis except for two were allowed to leave and the British were released as well.
The five of us, Ted Auerbach (U.S.), Natalia Nuñez (Sweden), Noga Almi (Tel Aviv), Uri Ayalon (Tel Aviv) and me, were taken to the illegal Israeli settlement of Giv’at Ze’ev where we were placed inside a police station prison. Before we left the site, the soldier who arrested Natalia told her, “Please don’t come back to my country. To which she replied, “I’m not in your country; I’m in Palestine.”
Jawad arrived at the police station shortly after we did, with a new bandage on his right elbow, but once again the police and military soldiers began to separate us. Natalia and Jawad are the only two who seemed to have visible injuries on her shoulder and on his arm, as a result of police beatings with the club.
We were all charged with resisting arrest and entering a closed military zone; everyone except for me was charged with assaulting an officer, but I was charged with insulting an officer. I was the only one searched, by a female officer at the prison, who was possibly looking for film footage that would refute the soldiers’ claims, though she specifically asked me about my cell phone. Fortunately, I hid them in my underwear so they remained safe. I also hid my cell phone in my bra, which she did not find either. At first we had to meet as a group with the soldiers as they filled out our forms with vital statistics; this experience was particularly surreal as they played an Israeli soap opera on the television set in front of us while we answered these questions. All of us were interrogated separately, but experienced similar scenarios. When I went in for questioning Moshe Levy, the investigator, upon learning that I’m Jewish stated, “When the Arabs come to kill all the Jews, they will come for you first.”
He said it would be just like 9/11 in New York or the recent bombings in London. Throughout the questioning I maintained my mantra, “I deny all the charges against me.” When Noga went in she told me that they harassed in a similar way, but with her they tried to convince her that the Palestinians are just using Israelis, with a similar end point as the one described to me. In between these interrogations we were placed in separate corners of the yard in the police station. Anytime we tried to speak—including the Israelis just trying to translate what the soldiers or officers were saying— we were moved again.
We did talk about strategy because we are all worried that Jawad would remain in jail all week and we would be released with conditions. Natalia was scheduled to leave the country that evening so it was not possible for her to stay; Ted and I decided that we might be able to help Jawad better if we were outside the jail, especially because I thought I might have film that could help get him off. It turned out, however, that an Israeli activist who demonstrated with us, Shai, came by to sign our release papers and he also had such footage of the day. He showed it to the investigators and they realized that neither Jawad nor any of us assaulted any soldier and let Jawad leave with us. It felt like such a victory since Abdallah is still in prison from last week’s non-violent protest in Bil’in.