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Military uses live ammunition on Burin demonstration

29 January 2010

Young boy from Burin plants Palestinian flags atop the threatened mosque

A demonstration against the Israeli order to halt construction of a nearly-completed mosque today, on threat of demolition, drew local, regional and international supporters in addition to attendance by the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religion. The demonstration was met with violent resistance by Israeli occupation forces, including the use of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and .22 ammunition. One local protester was removed from the area by ambulance when he was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet. The demonstration follows yesterday’s incursion, in which Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and a sound grenade at villagers as they attempted to plant olive trees on village land close to the nearby settlement of Yitzhar.

The order was issued three days ago to the village, declaring that the village must halt construction of the mosque, on consequence of demolition. Israeli officials claim that part of the mosque has been constructed on Area C, under full Israeli control in accordance the 1994 Oslo Accords zoning plan for the West Bank. Similar orders have been issued to 5 homes in the nearby village of Salim.

A newly draped poster of Yasser Arafat welcomed the people of the village Burin to their new mosque. The gathering is uncommon for the residents, an era of pacification entering the village in times of hardship and an ongoing campaign of settler and military intimidation. However, after receiving orders from the Israeli government to destroy their place of worship a groundswell of urgency for action fills their minds and attracts support from within the Palestinian Authority. The village’s collective anger reached its tipping point today. Their unified grievances exploded and were heard by their occupiers.

The expectant air hung heavy outside the mosque, which was then shattered at around 11:30 as a series of small explosions were heard coming from behind the school 150 meters away. The 100 villagers who were gathered for the demonstration hurried to investigate. Upon entering the schoolyard housing its soccer field, seven IDF soldiers and two jeeps were seen positioned at a crossroads less than half a kilometer south of the village. To the east, five settlers stalked one of Burin’s olive fields and vacated the area quickly on four-wheel all terrain vehicles. After coordinating with the IDF soldiers, the settlers returned to the Yitzhar settlement.

Israeli jeeps prior to the attack on protesters

Upon completion of mid-day prayer and a speech by the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religion, the villagers, waving Palestinian flags, marched to the crossroads seemingly to walk the olive fields where the settlers had been. As they neared the IDF soldiers they were met with low-flying tear gas grenades streaking one or two meters above their heads. Many villagers sought refuge in another olive field which flanked the road just to the west.

When it became apparent that the villagers intended to hold their ground amidst the tear gas the IDF soldiers began shooting rubber-coated steel bullets, and soon .22 caliber, live ammunition could be heard buzzing through the air and bouncing off the gravel on the ground. The villagers were able to maintain their positions on the road and in the field for another 20 minutes until, Sharif Haj, 22 year old resident of Burin, was struck in the right shoulder by a rubber-coated steel bullet and required assistance boarding an ambulance.

The military’s use of brute force is the second occasion in as many days in the village of Burin. January 28 saw an olive tree-planting initiative, authorized by the IDF and the Civil Administration and funded by “Green Palestine”, violently disrupted by the IDF. Soldiers approached the group of journalists and villagers, ordered them to disperse and attempted to confiscate all media equipment, claiming they were in a closed military zone. When the journalists refused to stop recording or turn over the cameras, the IDF accosted Rami Swidan, Ma’an News Agency photographer. Over a dozen tear gas rounds were fired into the group causing some of them to pass out. The journalists viewed the IDF’s action as an infringement on their ability to view and accurately document injustice. The villagers were outraged that they were unable to lawfully cultivate their land without the threat of forceful repression.