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In the belly of the wailing “democracy” called Israel

In this story, Hope may just be the name of someone I served coffee to in Pennsylvania
by Jesus Martinez, 21 May 2007

We start this tale on Friday, May 18th in Bethlehem, and end up back in Bethlehem on Sunday May 2o. Jesus would have been devastated seeing what I have seen in his birth town.

In 1948, Palestinians suffered from a major Catastrophe. They call it the Nakba. Three quarters of a million Palestinians were displaced from their homes and 531 villages, hundreds of which were razed to the ground, civilians were massacred, and they continue to remain as refugees, denied their right of returning home.

The right of return is an inalienable right. Denial of the right of return is a perpetuation of ethnic cleansing which is a war crime. The right of return is a basic right, derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all international and regional covenants. It is an individual right derived from the sanctity of private ownership and a collective right derived from the Principle of Self-Determination. It has no statute of limitation and cannot be extinguished by a treaty or the establishment of a state. It is affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 and repeatedly confirmed by the international community over 110 times in 50 years, unparalleled in UN history. Legally, the Return can ONLY be implemented to the refugee’s home and land in 1948, not anywhere else, even in Palestine. Ben Gurion’s doctrine: “the destruction of the Palestinian Society in Palestine is a necessary condition for the establishment of the state of Israel on its ruins.”
from the Palestine Land Society

So, on May 18th, Palestinians from Umm Salamuna, a village near Bethlehem, were joined by 100 Israeli and international solidarity activists in a demonstration commemorating the Nakba and an action geared at dismantling the construction of Israel’s Apartheid Wall in the village. 1,500 dunams between Umm Salamuna and Wadi Rahal villages will be isolated because of the Wall, and Palestinians will on be allowed passage through massive iron gates controlled by Israel Occupation Forces.

Two flying checkpoints were established on the main road and the entrance of the village, preventing Palestinian vehicles and the residents of the nearby villages of Umm Salamuna to join their right to protest against the illegal occupation and the theft of the their land. A group of Palestinians and internationals walked down a rocky slope, effectively avoiding the checkpoint in order to reach the demonstration.

The army, border police and riot unit showed up with around eleven jeeps and 60 well-armed men. After Palestinians prayed on the land for Friday prayers, demonstrators attempted to cross the Israeli settler road and reach the restricted village’s land in a show of peaceful resistance to the many years of brutal occupation and oppression.

Speeches were made by Palestinian villagers and members of the public detailing their wishes for peace and justice for their people. Then, demonstrators made their way towards their restricted land on the other side of the road.

Basha, a Palestinian demonstrator, said, “We were stopped almost immediately by the special riot unit, who pushed us back with much force. Two Israelis were arrested for “violating” the closed military zone order that had been imposed. Much violence ensued on the part of the riot unit.”

The Palestinian leaders of the demonstration decided that we were to turn our backs on the soldiers and march along the route of the wall back to the village. A number of people spontaneously began to destroy the infrastructure of the wall, in order to make it more difficult for the Israeli authorities to complete their work. Pipes were pulled from their places and building materials were thrown down the hillside.

Dismantling the Wall in Umm Salamuna

Once again, we were confronted by a line of many soldiers. A short and rather peaceful confrontation ensued and the demonstration was then ended by the Palestinian organizers.

Mahmoud, one organizer of the event said, “the demonstration was a great success: we managed to get our message across. We were there to defy the Occupation and we did so.”

The Israelis who were arrested were later released.

Several of us loaded ourselves into a taxi to make our way down to the Israeli- Occupied neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, located in al Khalil (Hebron). The Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians
had a show to perform for the kids tonight. However, just as we were about to leave Israeli-Occupied Bethlehem, I received a call from Mohammad Abu Swai. Friends call him Awad.

He told me that Israeli soldiers were currently in his village of Artas, about 20 minutes from Umm Salamuna. The soldiers, Awad said, were taking pictures of the area and a handful of jeeps were in the village. Awad and his family’s trees were slated for demolition. Everyone, including me, sensed that the trees’ time was coming soon– and maybe it was at this moment.

So we flung ourselves from the al Khalil-bound taxi, hopped into one headed the other direction, and made our way through the curvy roads of Artas, wedged between two beautiful, large mountains. A “Closed Paradise” is what residents of Artas call their village. So we headed to Paradise to confront the Apartheid Mongers from destroying it.

Soldiers were gone before we arrived. But everyone there knew they would be back. Awad said that they were gathering evidence of who and what was in the land so the army would know how many jeeps, soldiers, and police were needed to expel the residents and activists and to cleanse the land of its fruit, Nakba-style.

We remained on the land until several other activists arrived and continued our trip back to Hebron.

A new welcome note had been added to one of the concrete blocks outside the checkpoint into the Tel Rumeida neighborhood:

These concrete blocks are seen all over Palestine, preventing freedom of movement between Palestinian lands, preventing farmers from reaching their lands, students from reaching their schools, and the ill from reaching their hospitals. Inside of the Palestinian neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, where we now lay our scene, these massive concrete blocks seal off the neighborhood from the rest of Palestinian al-Khalil. Palestinians are not allowed to drive cars of any kind in Tel Rumeida, including ambulances, taxis, and fire trucks. Only Jewish illegal settlers from such colonies as Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida are allowed to drive cars. They are also allowed to carry weapons, including M-16s, as they walk around the streets. Palestinians, of course, are not allowed to carry weapons of any kind.

But, although in the past we at the Tel Rumeida Circus for almost forced by Israeli police to halt our fire show (we had just ended anyways), the Occupation has not banned the fire performance on the streets of Tel Rumeida– yet.

So, at 9:00 pm, TRCDP revealed our new fire routine to the kids of Tel Rumeida.

We were joined by two additional TRCDP fire spinners.

At the end of the show, Israeli police arrived in their jeep. They watched us creatively resisting the unwritten law which prevents groups of Palestinians to gather in the streets of Tel Rumeida, especially so close to the Israeli colonies. They took in 30 seconds of the fire show, then they left. We couldn’t see them through their tinted windows, but I think they were smiling.

It was a fun night.
The next day turned into the saddest days of my activist life.

It was Shabbat, Saturday. Just hours after I arrived back to Ramallah I received a call from Hebron. It is more often than not that settlers attack on Shabbat. Today was no different.

The story goes like this: Israeli settlers started to hassle a group of Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, just near the spot where TRCDP had the circus show the night before.

Two international human rights workers began to follow the settlers. As the Greek volunteer pulled out his video camera to start filming the incident, settlers attacked him from behind, punching him in the head, then kicking him as he lay on the ground. Settlers broke the camera and tried to steal it.

When the German volunteer began yelling for the soldier, who was standing right in front of the whole scene, she was then kicked in the stomach and fell to the ground. The soldier yelled at the settlers but, although mandated by international law, did not physically intervene to stop them.

Both volunteers received medical attention at the hospital. One stayed the night under doctor supervision as they were worried about a skull fracture or concussion.

In a situation where Israeli soldiers want to stop Palestinians from doing something, they will most likely disperse them by using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber-coated steel bullets like in Bil’in, or live ammunition. Of course, when settlers attack, nothing ever gets done about it in Tel Rumeida, or Palestine as a whole. The campaign of harassment against the Palestinians by the settlers continues perpetuates itself while soldiers stand idly by. Eventually, and if the extremist settlers could have things their way, all of the Palestinians will be forced from Tel Rumeida if this abuse continues, if the rocks continue to be thrown at children as they walk to school, as settlers continue to torch Palestinian cars and olive trees. The Nakba hasn’t ended in Tel Rumeida. It hasn’t ended in Palestine.

You can read the full report of this settler attack HERE

The Cleansing of Artas

These trees are now gone

At 6:00 pm this night, I received a call from Mohammad Abu Swai “Awad” from Artas village. I paused for a second as the phone rang and before I answered. When his name flashed on my phone, it means something is wrong.

He told me the news: One of the Bedouin construction workers, a fellow Arab who was helping the Israeli army to demolish the land and construct the Apartheid Wall and sewage system for the illegal Israeli settlement of Efrat in place of the beautiful field of apricot trees belonging to Abu Swai’s family, came to the field in order to give the Awad a cordial warning.

“The bulldozers will be here at 4am, Mohammad,” said the Bedouin worker, “It’s time for you all to evacuate the land.”

There were warnings like this before. Thats’ why internationals and Israelis have joined the Palestinians to maintain a presence on the field of apricot trees in Artas since Wednesday, May 16.

See past reports on Artas HERE and HERE

Today’s warning, however, I really felt it, as did Awad. “This is the night,” he told me. “This is the night our trees will die.”

Israel’s Apartheid Wall is being built through the village of Artas to allow for the expansion of the Israeli colony of Efrat and is confiscating approximately 4000 dunums of land. Two new Israeli settlement neighborhoods, Tamar and Dagan, are being built on the land and will be attached to Efrat. This expansion is illegal under international law and the so-called “Road Map to Peace.” Sewage from Efrat will be piped out through this former orchard.

You really get to know people under these circumstances. Camping out in a field of trees in Bethlehem, in an ancient land, surrounded by mountains and wild sage. I would have never thought while sitting through Bible class in my old Catholic upbringing and singing songs about Bethlehem that it could have ever translated to this: Bethlehem is under siege and the Israeli army is coming to uproot these trees under which you are sipping tea with the Abu Swai family in order to construct a wall of Apartheid and a sewage pool for an Israeli colony. No way. WWJD?

After making some calls regarding the settler attack in Tel Rumeida, I did my best to rally as many people as possible to make their way to Artas, at the request of Awad, in order to resist the events that were about to occur.

Qalandiya Checkpoint

In a private taxi, I made my way through twists and turns back to Bethlehem. Would have made it sooner had the fortress-style checkpoint of Qalandiya wasn’t there, which separates Palestinians in Ramallah from Al Ram and other Palestinian towns, including the spiritual, economic, and geographical center of Palestine: Jerusalem.

As we waited to exit the checkpoint, Jewish settlers could be seen entering the checkpoint through a separated entrance. Israeli soldiers waved them through without hesitation and the cars sped away as the line behind the car I was in grew longer.

40 minutes later we made it to the booth of soldiers. Normally, soldiers will rummage through the car and questions the passengers in the car. In this case, because the soldiers saw that one of the passengers had an American passport, a passport from the country who helped pay for this fortress and occupation, they waved us through.

8 minutes later, however, we reached a floating checkpoint (consisting of military jeeps, non-permanent). When they saw me and my passport, sitting in a car with a Palestinian driver, questions were raised.

“Where are you from!” demanded the soldier.

“You have my passport in your hand.”

“Are you getting smart with me!”

“No, but you have my passport in your hand. It says really big on the front ‘United States of America.'”

He disappeared with my passport and the driver’s ID. The soldier came back saying something in Hebrew. I stared at him blankly. He screamed it again and I stared back blankly.

“Are you stupid or something?” he asked me.

I responded that I do not speak Hebrew and kindly asked that he try again in English.

“Where is your huwiyya?” the soldier asked. (A huwiyya is a Palestinian ID card.)

I am not Palestinian, so I do not have a huwiyya. He apparently refused to believe this and asked me again and I responded that I am an American, hence the passport still clenched in his 18 year old hands. 18 year old disappeared again, came back, more or less throwing my passport from the driver’s side window to me, and let us go.

When I arrived in Bethlehem, one of Awad’s cousins came and picked me up in the market. It was now 11:30 pm, Saturday night, fast approaching the 4am warning time of the tree destruction. The cousin pulled over to a small restaurant and told me to follow him. I sat down and he came back with a piece of kanaffe (a Palestinian cheesy dessert). How could you eat at a time like this, I thought. I would be too nervous if some foreign army was coming into my home or land to forcibly expel me and then destroy it. But he ate away and so did I, then back down that windy road to Artas, Bethlehem.

The Bedouin security personnel were still up on the mountain near where the path of the Apartheid Wall is being paved. The trees were still there, too. In nearly five hours, they would be gone.

Apparently the call was heeded, because about 50 Palestinians from Artas and surrounding Bethlehem areas came to show their solidarity against the tree and land demolition. There were also 2o or so Israeli and international solidarity activists.

Tents had been set up two nights before to accommodate the growing numbers of activists. Campfires were boiling water for tea and coffee. People were eating pita bread and telling stories in Arabic, Hebrew, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian. People seemed to be having a good time, but if you looked deep into the eyes of Awad and others, you could see the truth. It was a nauseating, impatient, waiting feeling to the whole scene that night.

It wasn’t much longer that, around 2:30 am, a pack of Israeli soldiers could be seen walking the parameters of the village. The campers continued to drink tea and chat. The last ruffles of the apricot leaves were being had.

The soldiers then entered the village. There was no bulldozer in sight and it was too dark to go ahead with their operation, so what did they want? I’ll tell you.

“We are here to inform you that there is a Jewish sniper somewhere in the hills around here. We are here to protect.”

Basically, they wanted us all to go home. But they knew we wouldn’t. This was home to some of them. They were also gathering information: How many Palestinians are here? How many Israelis and internationals? How many soldiers would they need? How many police?

Nobody slept. The tents were empty. At 5:00 am, just the skies were getting bluer, a Palestinian boy came running into the village. “Jeish! Jeish!” The army is coming.

Thirty soldier arrived in six jeeps. They held a paper in Hebrew and showed it to everyone. Then they spoke to Awad and the group in Hebrew–the language of the Occupation.

The commanding officer said that in 5 minutes, if we didn’t voluntarily leave, we would be forcibly removed.

Abhorring Acts of Occupation

These three video clips show the days prior to the demolition in Artas, and the abhorring act itself. The clips speak for themselves:

Part 1: Artas: Pre-Demolition

Part 2: Artas: Dismantling the Solidarity

Part 3: Artas: The Trees are Gone

I guess this is what democracy looks like: Israeli soldiers throwing men, women, young, old, Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals, over a wall, kicking them to the ground, arresting them for non-violent resistance.

This is what a wailing, whimpering, yowling democracy sounds like: a sad, sad excuse for a “democracy.” It’s a word that no one who sees this with open eyes and open ears can dare title this form of government, that privileges one group of people over another, that destroys land and uproots trees for the betterment of one group of people over another, that destroys livelihoods in order to replace it with a pool of sewage.

Soldiers didn’t care about who they were pushing around this day. They didn’t care about press passes. They just cared about “doing their job.”

The soldiers worked at clearing the land from the non-violent activists:

photo by Jonas

Then the bulldozers worked at clearing the land of the trees:

And this is what is left:

Seeing those trees being ripped from the earth, the short time I had spent underneath them, — the effect it had on me, I can’t even imagine the feeling that the Palestinians had. I couldn’t hold back my tears.

More photos from the destruction in Artas can be seen HERE

Continuing to Resist

Later that day, at 1:30pm, the Palestinian Minister of Information Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, held a press conference on the now-destroyed land. Shortly after the media left, according to Mohammad Abu Swai, about 50 Israeli soldiers entered the site and started to brutalize the crowd. Dr. Barghouti was hit with a soldier’s club from behind.

Abu Swai explained, “The soldiers are acting like animals! They are hiting anyone in their path, including the Minister!”

More on the Dr. Barghouti’s attack HERE

Palestinians from Artas were planning to replant the uproot trees, plus an additional 30 trees that were just purchased. Soldiers, however, refused to allow this to happen this day.

And just minutes ago, at about 5:00pm Palestine time, I received word that Awad and two other Palestinians, who were present at the demolition site and continuing to resist the ongoing demolition of their land in Artas, were just arrested.

The charges are unknown as of this moment but what is clear is that the policies of the Israeli government are determined to put an end to anything standing in their way, even if it means jailing the non-violent resisters attempting to halt their atrocities.

We are currently in contact with Gaby Lasky, an Israeli lawyer who will take their case. We are asking anyone out there who can contribute to the legal fees to do so by emailing:

    Jonas at: [email protected]

    And the demolition of Artas continues, and so does the non-violent resistance.

    Please raise your voices and scream! Think of the magic of noise pollution. Silence is tragic!

    Photos and Video editing by Jonas