PALESTINE EYEWITNESS: Report from Palestine on the 4th anniversary of the Second Intifada
Despite the restrictions on movement and the complexity of travel in Palestine, you soon discover how incredibly small both Palestine and Israel are compared to Australia. In the past two and half weeks, I have visited over 20 villages, townships and cities throughout both the Occupied Territories and in Israel proper. One of the most inspiring villages that I have been fortunate enough to visit is the small village of Budrus, which lies west of Ramallah.
On Tuesday (28/9), the 4th anniversary of the second Intifada, myself and the other women from IWPS travelled to Budrus to attend the 45th consecutive action organised by the village in their campaign to stop the construction of the Apartheid Wall and the confiscation of 45% of their farm land.
Since October last year, the village has been organising a popular united grassroots campaign of resistance. In response to their highly organised and successful campaign (they actually succeeded in stopping the wall being built for 3 months from June to September), they have had to endure the constant harassment and state terrorism of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and the Israeli Border Police (who are usually more brutal in demonstrations then the IOF). In the last 10 months in Budrus, over 100 people have been injured and the village has had to endure numerous closures, as well as tear-gas, sound bombs, live ammunition, arrests and raids.
The previous week in response to the renewed construction of the wall, the village had recommenced demonstrations. The following day, in retaliation for the demonstration, the IOF and Border Police invaded the village putting it under closure and detonated teargas and sound bombs, surrounding the school, trapping the students (aged 6 to 15 years) and teachers inside for several hours before they were released.
The combination of the 4th anniversary and the Jewish High Holidays meant that travelling to Budrus on Tuesday was never going to be smooth sailing. The action was scheduled to take place at the completion of the school day at 1.30pm to ensure that the students were able to get home safely and could not be used as hostages by the IOF/Border Police. We left our house in Haris at around 9.30 am (for a trip that should have taken around 1.5 hours). We soon encountered a "flying checkpoint" approximately 1km down the road. The soldiers had stopped an old man on his way to a medical appointment because he had a photocopy of his documentation rather then the original and detained one of the young men in our car because he did not have the correct ID.
The general response of the IOF to Internationals is either to ignore us, move us to the side or try to get rid of us as soon as possible, however, it was a bit hard to do the first two in this instanced, as they were suddenly confronted by five Internationals. While Kate rang Hamoked (a Palestinian legal aid organisation) for the men, Hannah began to walk around their jeep and conspicuously taking down their jeep call number and the rest of us began to question the soldiers as to why they were making the men wait when they could easily verify their documentation by radio. After about 20 minutes, the soldiers, who up until then had done little to process the men’s documentation began to suddenly processing them, letting them go five minutes later. In addition, to our surprise, they also began to dismantle the checkpoint. We are not sure whether it was because we were there or whether they had received orders to leave. Either way, however, we felt like we had a small victory.
At the entrance of the road to the villages of Qibya and Budrus, we were stopped by the IOF who demanded to know who we were and where we were going, telling us that area was now a "closed military zone" and that we had to leave. Not deterred, we quickly rang one of the Israeli peace activists who informed us there was a second road via the mountains which could get us in. After travelling for another 30 mins we finally reached Budrus at 1pm.
As we entered the village, we saw a Border Police jeep heading towards us. Our driver made a quick turn into a street only to narrowly miss crashing into a second Police jeep. We were once again informed that it was a "closed military zone" and that if we didn’t we would be arrest and deported. Undeterred, we walked back from the village of Qibya to Budrus with about 10 minutes to spare before the rally took place.
Around 50 Internationals and Israeli peace activists had come to support the village. RC and NH were already there told us that the Border Police had been threatening to arrest everyone all morning (the IDF can't arrest Internationals, only the Border Police can). We soon moved down to the empty school yard and it was clear that the rally wouldn’t be able to proceed down to the olive groves as the Border Police and IDF had already sealed off the area. Instead the protest remained on the incline at the top of the school, with the Palestinians leading singing and chanting.
A young group of women around 15 years old sang both political chants about Sharon and Israel, while also engaging in some humourous chants in Hebrew (one humus, one fuul, we don’t need the Border Police – which of course rhymes better in Arabic and Hebrew). These young women had also been at the forefront of the rally that I had attended in Budrus two days earlier. At both actions, the young women had been more organised then the young men in the village, moving confidently to the forefront of the action to directly confront the security forces in non-violent action both times.
After an hour or so, it was decided that we would move off as there was no way we could move down to the olive groves without there being serious injury to people. As everyone moved off, some of the young boys threw stones at the IDF and this was all the excuse the security forces needed. Within seconds, sound bombs and tear-gas was exploding all around us and people began running. As we, the Internationals and Israeli peace activists, ran along the front of the school patio in attempt to get the security forces to stop targeting the children, the Border Police was able to cut across in front of us, stopping and detaining around 20 of us. We were curtly informed that we were now under arrest. Shortly, more Border Police and IOF began to move up into the schoolyard and amongst them was the soldier who had unceremoniously told us to leave the village earlier in the day or face arrest and upon seeing Sarah and myself amongst the crowd, he did not seem impressed at all that we were there.
As second group of detained Internationals and Israelis were brought into the schoolyard, the Border Police began to first grab the Palestinians amongst us in order to separate them from the groups. In response to the Internationals and Israelis trying to prevent the Palestinians being separated from the rest of the group. 7 Border Police moved in quickly and began viciously beating everyone with their batons (which are about 3 feet in length). As people tried to stop the Police and to get out of the way, people also began to run.
In the ensuing chaos, RC and I found ourselves on the edge of the mêlée and had to quickly decide whether or not to make a break for it. As group of us began to run, the soldiers began running after us to try and prevent us from getting down the hill. They grabbed RC before she made it down the hill, but ignored the two or three of us who had already started the decent. I was not able to get too far as the Police had blocked of the junction which lead up to the mainstreet. Not sure what to do, I head back to try and find a gate into one of the yards but was unsuccessful. As I satd own near one of the brickwalls, I watched as the IOF marched a group of about 15 Israelis (as well as 2 Palestinians and 2 Internationals who they mistook for Israelis) down behind the school and down into the olive groves, isolated from the rest of the village.
After the Israeli activists had been arrested, the Border Police released the rest of the Internationals. Unware of this, however, I decided cut through the cacti nearby where one of the villagers quickly took me into her home. After quickly calling and speaking my colleagues at IWPS, it was decided I should stay put for a while as the IOF and Border Police were still harassing and arresting anyone out on the streets, as well as detonating teargas and sound grenades.
After an hour or so, everyone had regrouped at Abu Ahmad house (one of the village leaders) and it was decided that the remaining Israeli activists who had not been arrested would go to Jerusalem to see what had happened to those arrested. It was decided that it was too dangerous for Internationals to go because on a previous occasion an International had been arrested when they had gone to the police station after an action.
While I was unhurt physically (except for a little teargas inhalation), it was the first time since I arrived that I have been actually right in the middle of such a vicious attack by the security forces. The reaction of the security forces, particularly the Border Police, was in the extreme, especially in response to an overwhelmingly non-violent and peaceful action. Despite this, however, I was blown away by the conviction, strength and bravery of the villagers of Budrus, in particular, the young women.
At times in Palestine, I think it could be quite easy, it you allowed yourself too, to lose hope and feel that nothing will ever change. However, in the past three weeks that I have been here, I have been constantly inspired by the dignity, strength and conviction of the people I have met.