Sunday, April 02, 2006
Palestinian Land Day, 30th March '06
Much of Rafats land has already become inaccessible behind the Wall. We left the village with the aim of walking on the remaining land up to the "security barrier". Spirits were high and there was a jovial mode on this bright sunny day. An older Palestinian woman and long term activist took over the mega phone, injecting a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
We had not long left the village, when we saw the Israeli army blocking the road. We continued walking and whilst we were still at least 20 meters from the army got the first two sound bombs. It was not a good start to be met by this level of aggression. It shocks every cell of my body that there is no room for peaceful demonstration here in the West Bank, without meeting the weapons of the Israeli army.
We continued moving forward, arms up in the air, clearly showing our empty hands, calling out in different languages that we are a peaceful demonstration. There were more sound bombs and tear gas. But people re-grouped quickly and again came up to the army, to start negotiations to be able to pass. It was completely non violent on the part of the demonstrators. At one point it looked like we would be able to move a bit further down the road, so people from behind started calmly moving forward. Chaos errupted . Suddenly the army started throwing sound bombs right into us. The sound I'm getting used to, but seeing these bright orange things flying through the air and exploding next to me is just hideous. Three people were injured.
There are many layers to my feelings. But at least as big as my fear is my absolute belief in the right to demonstrate. At least as big as my fear is my conviction about the role internationals and Israelis can and should take in these demonstrations, showing solidarity with the Palestinians and being a visible presence. Using our international privilege for the benefit of people stripped of so many basic human rights.
Besides the shock and feelings of outrage I have about the army using its weapons of aggression against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators, I am left with other images of the day. A line of older men, arms linked, walking towards the army. A couple of older Palestinian women (normally women do not come on the demonstrations) who remained at the front, during the hour or so long negotations. By this point, one sound bomb too many, I had moved far back. A group of Palestinian men doing lunchtime prayers on their land to the side of the soldiers. To be this close to the soldiers was by this point impossible for me. But to have put myself in such a vulnerable position as to be kneeling with my back to them in prayer, takes the kind of faith I do not have. The relief I feel when the ambulances arrive. The sight of the medics reassures me and my sense of gratitude to them and admiration for their work ever deepens. Groups of young, smiling boys eager to practice their english and teach me Arabic.
However my over-riding feeling is one of deepest respect for every single person there. For remaining completely non-violent, in the face of army aggression. Not a single stone was thrown, not in response to the sound bombs and tear gas, or in response to the long unfruitful negotations. I think to understand the enormity of this level of self discipline you maybe have to be here. It is utterly huge. These are men who have suffered for years at the hands of the Occupying army, routinely humiliated, and many beaten and arrested. These are men who are steadily losing their land and livlihood, who have watched their olive trees be destroyed and the Wall carve up their land.
There are things we can and should do. Things that need to be spoken about. I really, really encourage you to find what ever you are able and comfortable to do, and most importantly to act on this. It may be just talking with friends about what is happening and commiting to trying to find out more. It may be writing to your MP, informing them that every week unarmed, peaceful protesters in the West Bank are being met by the weapons of the Israeli army, and that the arms relationships of our numerous countries with Israel should be severed. Boycott Israeli products and ask your MP to raise this in parliment. Actively support the Palestinian economy by buying Palestinian olive oil. Encourage your shops to stock Palestinian olive oil. Think about coming here. There is an ongoing need and request for international solidarity....
The resilience of the people I was with at Rafat deeply touches me. After the demonstration we enjoyed the wonderful Palestinian hospitality, sitting in a living room crowded with Palestinians, internationals and Israelis drinking sweet black tea, followed by strong Arabic coffee, chatting, laughing, being entertained by the smiles of a 6 month old baby.....This gives me hope