International Solidarity Movement
22 May 2010On Friday 21st May, the village of Al Ma’asara, south of Bethlehem, held its weekly demonstration against the theft of village lands by the nearby Israeli colony/settlement of Efrat. Chanting “We want to go to our lands” in Arabic and English and bearing a banner proclaiming “Boycott Settlement Products” the villagers, numbering in excess of 200, marched towards the nearby access road. They were accompanied by a sizeable contingent of Israeli and international supporters, including a party of French visitors from Grenoble, who maintain an aid program to villagers in the Bethlehem region.
Upon reaching the road junction, the protest march was met by a heavily armed contingent of Israeli soldiers and border police who immediately, and for no apparent reason, arrested two 16 year-old youths from the village. A day later they remain in detention. The marchers were then urged by the organisers to sit down in the road and maintain a non-violent and peaceful protest.
The commander of the Israeli troops then produced an order declaring the area a closed military zone. Almost immediately, and without warning, troops commenced to throw sound grenades amongst the assembled people, followed by successive volleys of tear gas canisters which blanketed the area with dense clouds of choking, painful fumes. Two people were injured when hit by the canisters. The most serious injury was sustained by Hassan Birjiyeh, a march organiser and member of the Al Ma’asara National Committee. He was taken to a hospital in Bethlehem with head and shoulder injuries which were later diagnosed as not life threatening.
Participants in the march were shocked by the level of violence and unprovoked aggression employed by the Israeli military. The French contingent (comprised mostly of middle-aged and elderly men and women) were particularly distressed to see and to experience such a disproportionate use of force. Even seasoned observers were surprised that tear gas had been used at Al Ma’asara, where protests are always peaceful and non-violent. They wonder whether this presages an increased level of repression by Israeli forces.