“9 protesters hurt in clash outside Ofer prison,” Published May 11, 2012
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Nine Palestinians were injured, including one seriously, by rubber bullets during clashes that erupted between Palestinians and Israeli forces near the Ofer prison.
The demonstration was held near the Ofar prison but the Israeli forces intervened in a sit-in by shooting tear gas and stun grenades in addition to rubber bullets and a foul-smelling liquid.
Palestinians threw rocks and empty bottles toward Israeli forces.
Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
May 12, 2012, Saturday, Jenin refugee camp, guest house in the Freedom Theater
Same as usual, very frustrating. Here’s what I wrote M yesterday:
we all arrived safely home a few hrs ago. 5 girls, 2 teachers, and mustafa, well known to the girls as a long term, trusted videographer and teacher at the jenin freedom theater. we suffered some tear gas, some high flying and low flying rubber-covered metal bullets, and a shot or two (at a distance) of stink water, chemically treated water that might smell like a skunk, or sewage, or shit. many injured from gas inhalation, perhaps a few from rubber-covered bullets. none seriously as far as i saw. lots of photos, but this event and ones like it deeply disappoint me. nonstrategic, more like a theater piece, tit for tat, back and forth, symbolic action, each side daring the other to take more risks. with no clear goal or method in view.
the issue is prisoners’ rights, sparked by the mass hunger strike of palestinian political prisoners in israeli jails. ofer prison, where we were today, near ramallah, is the only israeli prison in the west bank and thus the site of daily demos. good experience for the girls, i suppose. they ranged from terrified, hiding and crying, to overly gutsy, taking rash chances to merely make the same photos over and over again. i suppose a good lesson for them, regardless.
The prisoners’ rights demonstration in Ramallah yesterday began at a large parking lot in Al Bireh [near Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine], someone speaking to a huge crowd of men sitting outside on prayer mats, a relatively small number of women sitting under a tent. The speech ended with the call to prayer. I used this occasion to make a series of photos that included the prayer, something I love doing and can rarely do in Palestine because I don’t enter mosques. I lost many of these due to a camera card failure (I hope to retrieve them.). I urged the girls to make photos during this period. They began and were stopped by some men who said, because you’re not media you can’t photograph here. The men further explained that some photographers use photographs to malign Islam. We called Mustafa to intervene but he preferred to finish prayer. By the end of prayer the men had given the girls permission to photograph. A little lesson in how to deal with obstructions. Real world photography.
Then the march. Which itself began with the “war of flags and chants.” Which flag, which chant, which political party, Fatah or Hamas, would prevail? Someone tried to confiscate all the yellow Fatah flags. A contingent wearing Hamas green barged their way into the throng. Some tussling and then it settled. One set of slogans, one flag—Palestine! We’d occasionally stop, bunch up, I’d feel claustrophobic, we’d begin to walk again. Relief! Thru a few parts of Al Bireh and Ramallah to the Manarah [center of Ramallah] and then what? Ofer prison?
But first another assembly at the Lion’s Square tent where I met Fareed and his son, photographed a guy in a wheel chair who I believe was an early Bil’in casualty [small village near Ramallah which for more than 6 years non violently resists the Annexation Barrier which confiscated much of the agricultural land] and a grandmother and granddaughter, the elder in traditional Palestine village clothing, looking regal and impressive, the younger holding a photo of a man, perhaps the grandmother’s son, granddaughter’s father.
The girls photographic workshop from the Jenin Freedom Theater
Mustafa with one of the girls
We’d intended to go to Bil’in, but while on the way in our hired serveece, Mustafa called to tell us the plan had changed—big presence at the prison and not in Bil’in. So after consulting Jonatan and Adnan at the Freedom Theater in Jenin we headed to Ramallah, expecting eventually to reach Ofer prison.
After the prayer and speech and subsequent march thru Al Bireh and Ramallah we called our driver and drove to Ofer prison about 3 km SW of Ramallah, near Betuniya. Fareed said he’d not go to the prison. I no longer throw rocks, I don’t support it. Remember, I was imprisoned when a boy for throwing rocks. He also asked me if I’d seen the photo of Edward Said throwing a rock from Lebanon, perhaps an indication that we must recognize the frustration of many Palestinians at the injustice they suffer—and the symbolism of the rock against a mightier force.
Edward Said at the Lebanon border with Israel, 2000
Far fewer people at the prison, site of daily protests sparked by the hunger strikers. Two prisoners have passed the 70-day mark and are reportedly near death. Others are in the 30s. Some 1,500 men are striking from a total prison population of about 4,000. There is huge attention on this issue, at least in Palestine. Doubtful about Israel and the rest of the world. The issues are as follows:
1. End the solitary confinement and isolation
2. End the policy of isolation for all prisoners
3. End the policy of systematic humiliation by the occupation army against the Palestinian people at checkpoints and crossings, particularly targeting visitors to prisons, and end the arbitrary denial of visits to the prisoners, especially the prisoners from the Gaza Strip. End the humiliation and abuse of prisoners during transfer.
4. End the policy of administration detention.
(from one source)
Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel are demanding an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, allowing visits to Gaza Strip Detainees, provision of medical care and education, and an end to strip searches of their families before visits. All demands are consistent with International law and the 4th Geneva Convention.
(from a second)
Mustafa adjusting the face mask kaffiyeh of one of the girls—to help protect from tear gas and to not be identified by Israelis
Here the deterioration of the demonstration, in my view. Lack of strategic planning on all parties. Palestinians throw a rock—Israeli soldiers retaliate with a tear gas canister or a cluster of them. Burn a tire—the army shoots skunk water. Heave a Molotov cocktail and as Mustafa said, you may count 10 dead Palestinians. Exciting? Yes. Wise? I doubt it. Ditto for the media drawn to such actions—me included—as if a whirlpool sucks us into its center and we drown.
At least at some demonstrations there is a clear, recognizable, reasonable objective that a larger audience can understand. Such as at Al Masara. The immediate objective is to reach the agricultural lands now blocked by the wall or fence. More widely the end of occupation. Or at Bil’in the same, reach village land, the fence itself, and tear it down. And at the recent women’s demonstration at the Jenin muqata (municipal headquarters), deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority officials in their offices. And Cremisan winery and monastery which I photographed in Bethlehem, a Catholic mass in full view of the settlers. Going back decades, the sit-ins at lunch counters, the Montgomery bus boycott, occupation of factories to shut them down, etc. And more recently the occupation of numerous public sites around the world during the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. But Ofer prison? To reach the prison? I do not see the point.
Instead yesterday, tumult. How near the gate can we get? How much firepower do we need to turn these Palestinians back? Will that bullet reach me? Will the wind switch direction so the gas reaches the protesters and not us? Am I out of range, behind effective cover? How can I increase the range of this rifle?
I felt the zing of adrenalin, as I’m sure the older girls did when they lunged ahead, sucked by that whirlpool. Thank god for Mustafa who has the charisma, experience, methodology, and above all else love for the girls. He shepherded them very effectively and might make a centerpiece of my photography. I suspect for the girls showing the action was paramount. Maybe this is good, a first step, but not sufficient. We can discuss some of these issues tomorrow when we evaluate the photos. [We never discussed the issues.]
Early into this scene I noticed a young man grimacing while holding his shoulder. Apparently a rubber-covered metal bullet had struck him. I tried to photograph him. Then the men in the field and beyond them the soldiers. A man angrily approached me, no photos! Mustafa had warned us not to photograph faces of rock throwers because later Israel might identify and prosecute them. But distance photos of soldiers? Problems with this? Thought I: this guy’s an ass hole. I’ll defy him at every turn. Not long after this altercation I spotted a woman on the ground, gassed, others attending to her. I tried to photograph this. The same guy grabbed my camera. Luckily Mustafa was nearby and intervened. Then this mini saga concluded when I observed a man on the ground, thought back to what Mustafa had told us that if hurt, fall to the ground and someone will help you. I photographed him lying there. Turned out he was the guy who’d stopped me from photographing. No one came to his assistance.
I plan to tell the students about the Lakota warrior society, maybe called the Buffalo Society, which comprised older men, respected warriors, whose main job was to moderate and direct the younger men. Otherwise, if left alone, their youthful boundless courage would possibly cause needless injury to themselves and their tribe.
Mustafa tear gassed
Al Masara blog with photos: Al Masara: Boys with signs, soldiers with machine guns
“16 injured at protest at Ofer prison,” February 12, 2012
Popular Struggle Coordination Committee for Alternative Information Center
“Clashes in front of Ofer prison during demonstration for Khader Adnan,” with photos, February 21, 2012
“Time for a Change!” Nakba message from Mazin Qumsiyeh
“Edward Said Accused of Stoning in South Lebanon,” by Sunnie Kim, July 19, 2000