For several hours this afternoon, I participated in a non-violent demonstration against the construction of the Annexation Wall through the village of Bil’in. We internationals, along with Israeli peace activists, were asked by the people of Bil’in to join them in the demonstration. Bil’in is a Palestinian village that will lose more than half of its land when Wall is completed.
I volunteered to be an “arrestable,” someone who is in the front lines of the demonstration, actively participating in the main action. I, and several of my fellow “arrestables”, had filmy Israeli flag blindfolds over our eyes, UN posters attached to our shirtfronts, and strips of tape over our mouths.
We marched with a large group of people who could see, and then played (extremely clumsy) catch with a ball wrapped in a Palestinian flag. I think that the message was something like, “Israel ignores UN rulings, tries to shut everyone up instead, and inevitably ruins Palestinian lives.”
After about twenty minutes, someone decided that the message had been conveyed, and we got to take off the accessories. I was now able to actually see the demonstration which was *completely* non-violent. There was chanting and milling around, and one older Palestinian villager yelled at the soldiers’
commander, and that was it.
There was maybe fifteen minutes of this, when, without any provocation that I (or any of the other demonstrators I’ve asked) could identify, the soldiers began throwing sound bombs among the demonstrators!
After a few more minutes of milling around, the soldiers suddenly took off after a young Canadian activist, again for absolutely no reason that anyone could find, except that she probably looked Palestinian. A woman from my training class, who has many years of experience with demonstrations in Europe, immediately called out for other ISM members to surround the young woman to protect her from the soldiers.
My fellow trainee immediately followed her advice, and four more of us joined her as quickly as we were able. I’m told that often this is sufficient to effect a “de-arrest,” but this time, thinking they had identified a Palestinian activist, they surrounded us and attempted to drag us away from the intended victim. The rest of us held tight, but there were simply too many soldiers.
They tore us off, one by one; I’m rather proud to have been the second to last removed, just before my friend was dragged away. I lost my shoes and my camera (which my friend actually had the presence of mind to grab while being dragged off!), and got dragged along the ground for a few yards and then dropped. My friend got the same treatment. The woman targeted for arrest was detained for two hours until she convinced the soldiers that she really was a Canadian citizen. If she had been a Palestinian, the story would, most likely, have ended quite differently. Five others were detained as well, but only one Israeli activist is currently being held.
After 15 minutes of sound bombs and tear gas, a Palestinian youth apparently snuck up near the demonstration and threw a stone at the soldiers. Some six soldiers rushed after the kid, and several of us rushed after them.
For about a half hour, a handful of Palestinian kids slung stones at the soldiers without any hits, or near misses, while the soldiers shot (mostly the less dangerous type of rubber bullets) at the kids. I’m told they hit one youth in the leg and stomach. We activists stayed close to the soldiers, took pictures and video, and urged them to stop shooting at the kids.
The critical issue here is that the soldiers’ presence is illegal and violate practically every section of the Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. The closest parallel is probably aggravated robbery, in which force is used to accomplish a theft. The fact that the victim attempts to defend him/herself is not considered a defense for the robber, to put it mildly.
At any rate, the action is over, and with limited casualties. There was the kid shot with rubber bullets. And a 61-year-old woman from my training class was shot in the back of the head with a tear gas canister; the Red Crescent gave her three stitches, a tetanus shot, and refused payment as usual.
A handful of activists were apparently treated for tear gas inhalation, and an Italian activist tripped, cut himself on Israeli barbed wire, and had a few
Stitches put in his hand.
Once again, the villagers of Be’lin made their statement about the horrors of occupation, and, once again, they were met with senseless violence by the Israeli military.
Note: Villagers and international activists tried to put signs on the guns of the Israeli soldiers. One managed to attach a sign to the gun.