The villagers of at-Tuwani village in South Hebron were joined on Friday June 9th by Israeli and international peace activists in a successful non-violent demonstration to try and prevent the continuing construction of a one-metre high wall by the army along a settler-only road that separates at-Tuwani and other villages near it from the rest of Hebron district. Activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) marched with Palestinians from the area and Hebron city towards the road from the north while activists from the Christian Peacemakers (CPT) and the Israeli group Ta’ayush (Coexistence) marched simultaneously with at-Tuwani villagers from the opposite side.
Palestinians, young and old, men and women, turned out in large numbers to protest yet another apartheid-style attempt to divide up Palestinian land into isolated bantustans. At first, the military tried to prevent us from even reaching the road by intimidation; they put a couple of jeeps on the road in the hope of scaring Palestinians away from participating, but no one was deterred.
The protest was largely peaceful and lively. We were met at the settler road by the Border Police and regular police, who attempted to stop us from going on to the road, ostensibly to let traffic move. However, every settler car that passed was given a resounding “welcome” by the Palestinians, who chanted in Arabic “See our flag, we want to see our flag, we don’t want to see settlers”. The Israeli forces also tried to keep people on both sides of the road apart from each other, but they seemed to be overwhelmed a little by being “attacked” from both sides as it were. No one – international, Israeli or Palestinian gave them even the slightest excuse to resort to violence. Also memorable was an old woman from at-Tuwani who gave a resounding speech to the demonstrators against the building of this wall, as well as three young Palestinian women who spiritedly chanted slogans about the unity of the Arab people “from at-Tuwani to al-Jowlan [Golan]” and “from Yatta to Beirut”, defying stereotypes about submissive and silenced Arab women that the Western and Israeli media often love to propagate to justify this occupation and other imperial adventures.
After the protest was peacefully declared over, internationals and Palestinians went to at-Tuwani to evaluate the action, rest and drink tea. The Border Police, known as the “pride of Israel” for its brutality towards Palestinians, tried to prevent internationals from the Northern (Yatta) side from crossing the road in order to go to at-Tuwani. They obviously didn’t want us to get too friendly with members of the “enemy state”. As I was crossing the road with my video camera in hand, one Border Policeman said something to me in Hebrew and grabbed me by shirt and started pulling me back towards the road. There were several internationals right next to me, and a co-ISMer pulled me out of the Policeman’s grip back in the opposite direction. Eventually all the internationals were able to get through, but the Israeli activists were forbidden from passing. At the village, Hafez, a resident of at-Tuwani and its activist superstar (for his resistance against the occupation) thanked everyone for their participation. He talked about how the military and Shabak would often raid villages and try to intimidate Palestinians into not participating in demonstrations. But along with others he expressed his hope that nonviolent resistance in this region would continue to grow and that protests such as this would become bigger, more effective and regular.