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Palestinians protest closure of Azzoun Atma gate

20 June 2009

Today there was a demonstration, led by the P.P.P., the “People’s Party of Palestine,” at the `Azzoun `Atma gate, in the Qalqilia district. This was the first demonstration in one year. The last demonstration ended with arrests, so the objectives of the demonstration were to maintain peace and to feel out the situation in order to better plan for future protests. It appears that these objectives were fulfilled.

There were approximately fifty people in the demonstration, approximately half Palestinians and half internationals, Israeli activists, and members of the Palestinian, Israeli, and international press. Groups present included EAPPI, IWPS, ISM, Anarchists Against the Wall, as well as others possibly. Internationals maintained silence and documented with cameras and video recorders, while the Palestinians waved flags, displayed banners, and chanted in Arabic.

At the start of the protest, two military jeeps parked in the middle of the gate, which set the limit on the group’s ability to make forward progress. Approximately five or six soldiers stood in front of the jeeps. Shortly after that, before the demonstration had gotten going, three Israeli soldiers occupied the high ground in our rear. Then, two soldiers stood behind the jeeps.

The soldiers were mostly young guys, and it appeared that they didn’t quite know what to do with this group of peaceful protesters. The soldiers used no violence. In fact, at one point, a senior-looking soldier told a member of the press that he could take off his helmet. This might have been done to look good for the press.

The demonstration lasted for approximately one and a half hours, at which time the group peacefully disbanded.

The village of `Azzoun `Atma is approximately 90% surrounded by the separation wall (see Figure 1). There is only one entrance and exit from the village and only residents are allowed to pass through the gate. Beyond the humiliation and injustice of this blatant occupation action, there are regular problems with woman being denied back to their family’s village due to having married names. This is just one example of the plethora of problems created by the separation wall and this closed gate. The purpose of this demonstration was to open the gate to nonresidents. There were approximately 1,000 locals in the last demonstration, one year ago, from surrounding villages. None of the villagers came to the demonstration today, because they were afraid to participate given the Israelis’ severe response to the last demonstration. The organizers will use their observations from this demonstration to decide whether it will be safe for the villagers from the surrounding area to hold regular, weekly Friday demonstrations in the future.