International Solidarity Movement
19 February 2010
There was an odd collection of internationals rousing in our media office this morning. We were an eclectic mix of activists from the US, Denmark, France, England, Sweden and Taiwan preparing to head out to various demonstrations across the West Bank. After an early guitar session with fellow volunteers, we waved goodbye and began our journey to the Nabi Salih protest. Although we hadn’t made this journey before, we found the service in Ramallah without much trouble. We were three at this point, Valle, Sweet Prince and Lucy, fresh with international enthusiasm to go to a Palestinian demonstration.
Fifteen minutes into the ride, it dawned on us that we needed an alibi if we were questioned by the IDF at the Atara checkpoint just ahead. Valle, pulling out a giant wooden cross out of his bag, thought that we could perhaps pass as Christian zealots following the footsteps of the Crusaders in a village called Sinjil, which apparently has some ancient tombs. Inevitably, the soldier at the checkpoint demanded to see our passports and told us to turn back. After much debate, a shebab persuaded us to follow him on a paved road nearby to get around the checkpoint. We reluctantly followed him, foreseeing that a military vehicle will pull up and chastise us for undermining their orders. Of course, five minutes later, a soldier brandishing an M-16 demanded to know where we thought we were going. Damn, we thought, busted so soon.
In a diplomatic tone, Sweet Prince calmly explained that we were simply pilgrims on our way to visit the holy sites in Sinjil. Unfortunately, we looked more like hippies then devout Christians. Not completely buying our story, the soldier insisted on us handing over our passports. Knowing that our magical little passbooks of privilege would most likely be confiscated and not returned until we signed a letter prohibiting us from re-entering the West Bank, we refused. After a couple minutes of fruitless negotiating, we were forced to turn back.
In our determined spirit and armed with a UN map of the area, we decided to make a 12 kilometer trek weaving through the valleys, dodging the checkpoints to reach Nabi Salih. We zigzagged through aged olive groves, passed picnicking families and strolled along tree-lined stone cobbled footpaths. Nevertheless, the overwhelming injustice of the occupation crept up on us as we saw wadis and its vast tiers of stone lined plateaus upon the horizon; a work of labor over a matter of years and decades that can be snatched away from Palestinians upon the flicker of a pen. Another picture perfect postcard with a back story not often known in this ignorant world of ours I thought. And the beat goes on with the occupation at 61 years of age.
Alas, after three hours under the warm Palestinian sun, we finally approached Nabi Salih. The deserted streets with accompanied by gun shots and shouting ringing from a distance. Due to our three hour detour, we had just missed the demonstration as the press, with gas masks still strapped on their foreheads were heading out. What was still alive and kicking were the shebab throwing stones at the IDF in the field. After a quick refreshment at a Palestinian house, we proceeded to witness tear gasses clouds above a scattered crowd of Palestinian youth, some barely even 7 years old, flinging rocks with homemade slings at one of the most powerful armies in the world.
We were within 300 meters of the IDF, far behind the shebab taking photos when Valle nonchalantly said, “I think something hit me.” A stream of crimson red was running down from his lip. A circle of Palestinians, Israeli activists and internationals soon formed around the wounded Swede. In the midst of a panicked crowd, Valle tried to assure everyone that he was okay as he held a blood soaked handkerchief in his hand. Although a bit relieved, we could still clearly see that his upper lip had been cut completely through; forming three lips like those of cleft lips. At first, we thought that it could have been shrapnel that sliced his lip, but a shebab later said that he saw a rubber bullet ricochet from the ground. If it had been a rubber bullet that hit him straight on, his teeth would have been smashed in, a cringing thought.
Within minutes of Valle being shot, the IDF unleashed 40 canisters of high velocity tear gas from their military vehicle. The canisters rained down in all directions as plumes of thick white tear gas lingered in the blue sky, scattering the crowd like ants. It was a run-run-as-fast-as-you-can kind of situation with apprehension of the canister dropping on our heads or being engulfed in the lachrymatory agent. As we ran, an Arabic speaking international managed to hail a car to bring Valle to the hospital. He returned an hour later with three stitches and enough resilience to want to go back to the field where the shebab were still hurling stones. Until sundown, it was a cat and mouse game until the IDF started shooting live ammunition into the air and at the ground, creating mushrooms of dust to show the shebab that time’s up, they’ve had enough today.
It’s an obvious act of resistance against the occupation as anyone can see, but it’s also evident that it was a game for the IDF, shooting tear gas canisters, lobbing sound grenades and firing rubber bullets at Palestinians for hours until they’ve had enough and eventually invade the field with their US funded military arms and chase the Palestinians back to their homes. It’s a procedural Friday routine we were told by the Palestinian family who later treated us to dinner in their home. Knowing that Palestinians won’t be able to succeed through force in this current state of affairs, I couldn’t help but wonder how these weekly stone-throwing actions hinder the reconciliation process as Israeli media paints the picture of violent anti-Semitic Arabs. However, many of the shebab are simply unloading steam, taking out their frustration and in their stone throwing, physically resisting the occupation.
We returned to Ramallah and smoke boxed the apartment with strong, cancer-ridden Palestinian cigarettes and we swapped stories of the various protests we were at. The stale cigarette smoke mixed with the rotten smell of sewerage, carried back by two other volunteers who were sprayed with stinky water at the Bil’in protest, despite their multiple showers. The mood was jovial. We compared mental notes of our day in Palestine over sweet sage tea. Shot, stinking, dirty and tired, we laughed away our fucked up world through antics and jokes and went off to a world of dreams.