N told me the organizers of the Bil’in demonstrations feel they’ve achieved all they can for now. They wish to spread the movement of nonviolent creative resistance to other regions of occupied Palestine. The movement is in Bethlehem, and it’s recently moved to highway 443, cutting thru the West Bank from Jerusalem north and then west to Tel Aviv. A few weeks ago activists were able to actually enter the highway—much of it is fenced—and block traffic. All the traffic is Israeli—yellow license plates, no green plated Palestinians allowed. The road, like many in the West Bank, sometimes called bypass roads, both truncates the region and illegally confiscates more land. Illegal thru various human rights’ declarations that set requirements for occupying powers. It is one more element in the matrix of control, the apartheid system.
On this occasion international and Israeli activists assembled in Bil’in to make the arduous trek across the 2 miles or so separating bil’in from the demo site south of Bil’in, small villages named Bir Naballa and Biddu. While waiting for this journey to begin I met an Israeli from tel Aviv, allied with Anarchists Against the Wall. He knows Matan Cohen, the Israeli shot in the eye with a rubber covered bullet in Feb. 2006, who I met while he was coming thru Cambridge on his way to study at Hampshire college in Massachusetts in August. His t-shirt sported an image of Homer from the Simpson’s, Homer declaring unending revolution, in the style of Che Guevara, “until the beer runs out.” Not a joke I particularly appreciated. He’d been in the army and when I asked about his turning points he was vague—“over a period of time,” he said, “as I came to know the situation better.” Like many former soldiers he’d traveled widely after his duty, including about 4 months in Des Moines Iowa, not exactly an oasis of challengers of Israel.
Our trip to the demo site had to be improvised: from a returning driver we learned the army had placed a roadblock ahead. Off road we careened in our stuffed serveece (shared taxi), bumping and rocking across a rock-strewn landscape. Rick believed the driver did not own the vehicle but was one of the local organizers.
We were greeted by approximately 100 villagers, all male, without exception, and ranging in age from about 5 to into my realm, mid to late 60s. The leaders seemed to be older than usual, 30s and 40s, some wearing suits. ISM folks had made signs composed of the American flag, Palestinian license plate, and a strip that said, “you are not allowed.” Ambiguous at best, and easily torn and thrown to the ground during the upcoming melee.
We approached a band of some 8 soldiers near a rd block. They quickly retreated, not a good move on their part. 3 meters back they tried to stop us. We pushed thru. Some rough stuff but nothing vicious, that I noticed. Then another line of soldiers and police, at the rd itself, with about 5 army and police vehicles. Their numbers had swelled to about 40. We didn’t push thru this line. Had we, and some wondered why we hadn’t, we’d have been at the road itself where passing motorists would have seen us. Some drivers honked but I could not ascertain whether this was support or opposition. No Israeli media were present—“just another Palestinian demo.”
Much conversation, some shoving, a few attempted arrests, but with one exception all were cut short by nonviolent interventions like we’d learned during training: lock arms with the arrestee, backs to the arrestors. Or pile on anyone thrown to the ground. Surprising how effective this is. Differing from most demos I’ve attended: no sound grenades, no tear gas, no bullets of any kind. It wasn’t a peaceful demo. I observed much anger, esp from the Palestinians. Also one soldier who had to be pulled back by a colleague. Uniformly the soldiers looked young, inexperienced, ambivalent, open, esp compared with the highly militarized police I’ve encountered in the US.
At one point I was working behind the police lines trying to show the action from their points of view. I’ve been able to do this elsewhere, rarely impeded. This time a policeman stopped me, asked for ID, and as I was about to show him my passport, he said, “no, a media ID.” I have none, I said. He then held me, I surmised, for detention or arrest. I yelled out to Rick, “Rick, help, help, they’ve got me.” Rick did not hear me. The chaos was too great, and he was preoccupied with saving others.
My officer argued with another and eventually they let me go. No attempt to confiscate my camera or memory card, no threat, but I observed the line of do not tread more carefully.
M was detained. He is one of the Bil’in organizers, helping the local organizers. He is often harassed. The army comes into the village at night, attacks and arrests key people. The Palestinians are most at risk, obviously, since internationals at might be deported and listed, not allowed back, but are often released. Israelis are usually never held for more than a few hrs, if that. But Palestinians can land in administrative detention, as in South Africa, renewable terms of incarceration—no trial, no attorney, little contact with family. Just like apartheid South Africa, just like civil liberties-deficient USA.
Rick performed nobly and courageously, using his height and bulk well. I often noticed him in the midst of the action, his red cap, blue jacket, and body size conspicuous. Perhaps his years of work with union organizing has emboldened him.
Near the end of the demo boys assembled on piles of stones and construction debris, I thought, ready to attack their occupiers. The usual course of events at such demos is for the boys, finally, anger exploding, frustrated, to declare their war of the stones on the army. The army, either provoked by the stones, or provoking the stones, fire. Depending on who is present the missiles may be: 1. rubber bullets if Israelis are present. 2. rubber covered metal bullets if internationals are present. 3. metal bullets if only Palestinians are present. Some allege they have also used exploding bullets, dumdums, declared illegal under any conditions.
M was released, no arrest. But some ISMers tried to rescue him before they knew he would be released. One, J, was stopped, carried bodily to a police vehicle, and finally released once we’d all agreed to cease and desist. We cheered to see J walking toward us, and lifted him on shoulders in celebration.
We tried. Another in a long line of unrelenting efforts to end the occupation, bring freedom to the Palestinians, justice and security to the region.
I photographed freely, with that one exception, and despite the partially broken lens seemed to operate well. How my photos will stack up with others is not an important question. Whether they will reveal the underlying truths of the troubles here is a more important question. I cannot answer that. I do know they are counterpoint to the last batch I uploaded, from the mural painting. These have garnered some praise and I’ve thanked all.
International Solidarity Movement
Other demonstrations at the highway