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Crackdown on peace activists in West Bank


Israeli forces employed an increased level of brutality against nonviolent Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists Friday during demonstrations in the West Bank villages of Asira and Bil’in.

Over 250 villagers of Asira, in Nablus district, gathered at 10 a.m. Friday to begin the demonstration for free movement and against military closures that have effected their community since the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Israeli Armed Personnel Vehicles, deployed since dawn, surrounded the villagers before they could take Sabaatash road, which leads to Nablus, and reach the roadblock.

The army confiscated accompanying cars, an ambulance and keys, cameras and film, and immediately blocked the entry to several Arab and International journalists. An officer told Khannan Aljamen, a community leader, that the demonstration was illegal and that he would shoot straight to the head if anyone tried to continue on.

Without warning, a soldier shot a young man in the hip to prove his point. Medical volunteers have reported that the injury is not critical.

Khannan, with some knowledge of Hebrew, also overheard a soldier point out two other young men on top of a car. He said “Make sure you hit them.”

Khannan placed himself in front of the guns and yelled that they stop the shooting. The soldiers spat on him.

A high-ranking officer reiterated, “I promise you, if anyone moves, we will put a bullet through his head!”

The Israeli army also detained and arrested the 10 Israeli peace activists before they could reach the demonstrators. Nine internationals from Canada, Sweden, the United States, and one Palestinian resident of the Balata refugee camp were detained by soldiers at the Sabaatash roadblock as they headed toward Asira from Nablus to join the demonstration. They demanded passports and refused to allow anyone to pass under the pretext that it was a closed military zone.

The villagers were left alone to deal with the violent repression of their protest against the roadblock.

When Khannan asked the officer “why do you allow the settlers to freely move on these lands, and not the Palestinians? What about those sheep over there… are they allowed to move?” They officer replied, “I would like to keep it closed forever, you have no right to move. The sheep can move, they are animals.”

After an hour and half, the most the soldiers left the village. When the foreign activists arrived two hours later from another route, soldiers were still roaming among the trees in the surrounding hills. The Israeli activists were released one hour after there detention and returned to israel.

Residents of the West Bank village of Bil’in — along with Israeli and foreign peace activists — were chased by Israeli soldiers Friday afternoon during the protest against construction of the illegal barrier being built in the village. As the area was filled with tear gas from canisters shot into various points around the community, at least two Israeli activists were kicked by soldiers as they lay on the ground. Six people were arrested. About 200 people took part.

Bil’in protesters, known for making costumes for their demonstrations against the Annexation Wall, wore masks Friday depicting the faces of U.S. President Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice as they marched toward the wall route.

Before the action, as people in Bil’in donned white caps and T-shirts — reading in Arabic and English, “We oppose the wall” —several Israelis traveling from Tel Aviv to join the protest were stopped by soldiers and detained en route. Another 20 Israelis managed to arrive in the village and participate.

Starting just after 1 p.m., men, women and children from the village donned masks of either Bush or Rice and covered their eyes with orange ribbons, the symbol used by supporters of the settlements in Gaza. Several carried a large sign reading “Gaza Disengagement = West Bank expansion.” The orange blindfolds were meant to symbolize U.S. leader’s being blinded from the addition to settlements in the West Bank by the removal of settlers in Gaza.

The action ended with about 15 people being temporarily detained by soldiers who had bolted at them to break up the protest. Six people were arrested in all. They were: Jawad Asi, a Palestinian from the village of Beit liqya; Noga Alui and Uri Ayalon, Israelis from Tel Aviv; Marcy Newman and Ted Auerbach of the United States; and Natalia Nuñez of Sweden. Asi was kept apart from the others at a police station at the Givat Ze’ev settlement.

The arrestees were charged with being in a “closed military area” and of assaulting soldiers. Video footage taken by activists led to the immediate drop of assault charges against all of those arrested. The Israelis and internationals were issued 15-day bans from entering Bil’in.

“It’s ridiculous, because they only call it a ‘closed military area’ after we’re already there. It’s not declared one before that,” Newman said. “The other irony is that we were accused of assaulting soldiers. We were the ones being assaulted.” While two Israelis were kicked, Nueez reported that one of the soldiers began spanking her once the tear gas had been fired and solders began running at the activists.

Meanwhile, as Palestinians, Israelis and internationals in villages across the occupied territories protested the wall, planned settlement expansion and the closure of much needed roads, Prime Minister Arial Sharon visited the West Bank settlement of Ariel — just after a chat with Condoleezza Rice at his ranch in the Negev Desert about the upcoming Gaza disengagement — making promises to “expand” and “strengthen” the settlement in the near future.

At least one person in Bil’in on Friday reported soldiers had tried to take his camera while he recorded footage of Israeli activists being kicked. In Nablus, several cameras and film were seized. Being that no physical harm can come to a person by having a lens pointed at them, it’s a logical assumption that the goal is to limit publicity about the harsh treatment soldiers inflict on Palestinian civilians and peace activists. Video footage proved Friday that the charges of assault lodged by soldiers were false. Video footage of a Wednesday protest in Bil’in also showed that it was soldiers who had attacked activists when they tried to accuse a group of internationals of assault. It’s interesting that those who allegedly work to protect a democratic state are so eager to limit free speech by confiscating the tools of free speech.

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