Yesterday I woke up early and headed for a small village in the West Bank, outside of Ramallah, called Bil’in. I arrived earlier than I had expected so I wandered around trying to see where the new portion of the Apartheid Wall will be built to encircle this town and imprison its inhabitants. I asked a small boy to show me the Annexation Wall and he took me up to the roof of his home to photograph it. Afterwards his mother came out and asked me to sit down in their courtyard so she could make me breakfast. She brought out an enormous steel bowl of dough and proceeded to make fresh bread on their tabun outside. I finally understood why the pita bread is so fantastic here. The tabun is a big stove with stones in it and they place the dough directly on the stones. She brought out some zaatar and I had a lovely meal—stuffed beyond belief.
About an hour later, after speaking with her neighbors and children, the rest of the crew from ISM and various Israeli groups such as Gush Shalom and Taayush arrived and many of the villagers we congregated at the town’s main mosque to walk as a group to the site of the demonstration. The people in the community created an enormous justice scale with a coffin beneath stating “Rest in Peace.” On the heavy side of the scale was a globe wrapped in an Israeli flag and on the lighter side was just a globe, symbolizing Israel’s continued practice of thumbing its nose at international law. We walked down the hill to the site where the Annexation Wall will be built–there were around 100-150 people present, including media like Al Jazeera) most of whom were equally Israeli and Palestinian non-violent protesters. The demonstration began with the Muslims in the group praying and then we spent 1 1/2 hours chanting peaceful slogans in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. When we arrived at the bottom of this hill we were met by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) who were in full riot gear in a line in front of us. They had their weapons pointed at us and there were also quite a few filming us and photographing us. This protest in Bil’in is a weekly occurance, but because today is the 1st anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that this Apartheid Wall is illegal, there were many more people and it lasted much longer than normal.
(See my editorial in today’s Idaho Statesman for more on the legalities of this ruling and what you can do about it: www.idahostatesman.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID==/20050709/NEWS0503/507090310/1055)
After about 1 1/2 hour of a non-violent protest, in the blazing hot sun, the demonstration became violent. The IDF states that one of the protesters threw a molotov cocktail at them: this is entirely unfounded. Even soldiers there who knew some of the Israelis we were protesting with received calls confirming this lie. Nevertheless, the entire time it was clear that the IDF was looking for an excuse to attack us. The next thing I remember was loud blasts, fires, and smoke all around me. The tear gas made it impossible for me to see and the sound grenades (which were strong enough to set off fires all around us) made it impossible to hear. As I began running away back to the town, I found lost my shoe (stupidly I wore flip flops) and had to run back into the line of rubber bullets. I tried running without my shoe, but the dry grass here is prickly and there are too many stones. Someone finally handed me an onion, which is used to combat the tear gas, so I could try to open my eyes again. It was very scary being fired at and one of the Palestinian youths with us was badly wounded by the rubber bullet, he is in critical condition –although it’s made from a different substance so it doesn’t explode once inside your body, they are still very lethal. There were many other injuries, mostly to Palestinians youths.
After the demonstration there was a discussion between the Israelis and Palestinians. It lasted for 2 hours and was fascinating–the desire to collaborate on future non violent protests, the desire to bring more Israelis to see the reality of the Occupation up close. But one of the main issues that some Israelis had was the fear of the youths throwing stones. There are some who say some youths off to the side of our group began throwing stones and this is why they began to fire at us. However, I was in the front and did not see any stone throwing until later in the day. But the Israelis made a good point: the stone throwing keeps some Israelis from joining in and also it takes to focus off of why we are here: to protest the Annexation Wall. Because there was a violent clash, the stories in the media became stories about the clash and not what we were doing there and why we were there. Moreover, as one ISMer observed, the youth throw stones, the IDF film them, and then the IDF uses that footage to hunt down and jail those kids. It perpetuates this endless cylce of imprisonment and violence. All of the Israelis admitted that they understood why the stones are used, but they worry that it will keep this movement from growing and from being a non-violent movement, as well as the stories that will be altered as a result.
The day left me really debilitated and traumatized. I saw Ramzi Yasin (Read More), and in fact filmed, him as he was wounded and taken away in the ambulance. It is not clear if he will survive. For the first time I witnessed with my own eyes the aggressiveness of the Israeli military Occupying a land that they have no legal right to be on.