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End the Occupation Now

End the Occupation Now
by Mairead Corrigan Maguire, 26 April 2007

On Friday April, 20th, 2007, my friend Ann Patterson and I joined the Bil’in Peoples Committee, a Palestinian peace group (based outside Ramallah) for their weekly nonviolent protest and march to the Apartheid Wall. We were joined by Israeli peace activists and some two hundred other activists from over 20 countries, including France, America, Puerto Rico, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, and India.

Before the peace vigil, I participated in a Press Conference with the Palestinian Minister for Information, Mustafa Barghouti. Minister Barghouti praised the nonviolent vigil of the Bil’in people and the nonviolent resistance of many people around Palestine. He said that the Bil’in resistance movement was a model and example for all. He called for an end to the building of the wall, and for upholding of Palestinian rights under International Law.

I supported his call and thanked the people of Bil’in. I offered my support for the nonviolent resistance to the Wall as it contravenes International Law, including the International Court of Justice decision in the Hague. I also called for an end to the Palestinian occupation, which will mark 40th years in June, and full recognition by the international community of the Palestinian Government, together with restoration of economic and political rights to the people.

Both Dr. Barghouti and I called for the release of the BBC Journalist Alan Johnston. I also called for the protection of journalists all over the world, whose ability to cover the truth, is being daily infringed.

During the conference, the Israeli military drove through the main gate onto Palestinian land. Israeli foot soldiers also came through. They surrounded the journalists and warned us all that if we did not disburse, they would attack in five minutes. Dr. Barghouti and I condemned this threat as an abuse of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the peoples right to protest peacefully.

During the press conference, an activist from San Paulo climbed to the top of the surveillance tower and released a Palestinian flag. He planned to stay there for 2 days.

So we returned to the village and joined the peace vigil. We walked down the road toward the wall. Several hundred people participated in the walk. Palestinian men and women led the march. Young Palestinian males are often arrested and beaten at these weekly vigils. I walked with my Palestinian interpreter who told me his home was on the other side of the wall. His 12 acres of land was confiscated by Israeli Authorities and his 400 year old olive trees were uprooted, taken to Jerusalem and planted in a new Israeli settlement.

Half way down the road, Israeli soldiers started firing a mystery gas at us, and aimed plastic bullets directly at us. Later, they used water cannons. We were a completely unarmed. It was a peaceful, nonviolent gathering. This vicious attack upon civilians by the Israeli soldiers was totally unprovoked. The soldiers blocked the upper part of the road, thus preventing Dr. Barghouti and some of the Palestinians from joining the main vigil. Then we were tear gassed.

As I helped a French woman, I was shot in the leg with a rubber-covered steel bullet. I was targeted by an Israeli soldier and shot from a distance of 20 metres. This itself was illegal because such lethal weapons, under Israeli military law, are not allowed to be used within a 20 metre range.

Two young women, one from the US and the other New Zealand, helped me to an ambulance. An elderly Palestinian mother was carried away on a stretcher to another ambulance. She was shot in the back with a plastic bullet. I saw one man whose face was covered in blood; he was overcome with the gas. About 20 people were injured.

Afterwards, Ann and I went back to the protest while people were still being viciously attacked with nerve gas and plastic bullets. This time, I was overcome with gas. My nose bled terribly and I was carried again to an ambulance for treatment.

The medical staff advised us to return to the vigil, so we were obliged to leave our friends who were still heroically trying to get near the wall. On the road outside the village, we watched two Palestinian children playing in their garden, oblivious to the nerve gas floating down on the wind toward their home. The gas permeates their clothes, their lungs and their lives, and the question has to be asked–What the health of these children will be like in a few years time?

This is not only an abuse of human rights and international law by the Israeli government; it is a health and environmental issue. We were all traumatized by the Israeli attack. With the gas on the air, I remembered the words from a Palestinian doctor, who said, “the whole Palestinian people, after 40 years of occupation, are traumatized. It is time for the International Community to act and put a stop to this suffering and injustice.”

I agree. Enough is enough. It is time for action to force the Israeli Government to enter into unconditional talks to end this tragedy upon the good and gentle Palestinian people. End the Occupation Now!

Mairead Corrigan Maguire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her peace work in Northern Ireland. She is the author of “The Vision of Peace,” (Orbis Books, edited by John Dear). For information, click HERE