Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Palestine-Israel, Budrus, Lessons in popular resistance or We are all Ahmed Awwad by kobi snitz* 14/12/04

In his book "stupid white men" Michael Moore, includes an open letter to Arafat, instructing him in the principles of non violence. Moore assures Arafat that when such an approach can not fail and, when taken, it will have a million potential Israeli supporters amongst those who attend 'peace now' rallies. Moore seems sincere in his support for Palestinian rights but he must have known that such a letter reinforces the idea that Palestinian political under-development is responsible for their misery. Quite apart from the obscenity of criticizing our victims, Moore also distorts history by giving the impression that Palestinian resistance has been restricted to terror attacks.

To begin with, strikes, demonstrations and non cooperation with the occupation have gone on for decades. These efforts have not been joined by Peace Now nor covered by CNN. In fact, as Peace Now opposes refusal to reserve service, the only contact many peace now members have with the Palestinian population is when they man checkpoints or generally participate in the repression. In fact, I have met such a Peace Now soldier guarding the wall around the Palestinian village of Mas'ha. He repeated a common line telling me that he, being the humane soldier that he is, is reducing the brutality of the occupation and thus doing more for peace than those like myself who only criticize the army.

For its part, the IDF has tried hard to teach Palestinians a different lesson in Popular resistance. At the height of Palestinian popular resistance in 1987-88, AL-HAQ the Palestinian human rights monitoring organization has documented the deportation, administrative detention (i.e. imprisonment without trial) and beatings of union leaders, heads of charitable organizations and popular committees as well as protest organizers (see 'punishing a nation; Israeli Human Rights Violations During the Palestinian Uprising December 1987- December 1988', Al-Haq, south end press, 1988). In fact AL-Haq itself has had 4 out of 5 of its original field workers in administrative detention for most of the period of the report.

The Israeli position on Palestinian political organization was made explicit on March 19th 1988 when the 'Shabiba' was outlawed by a military order. According to Joel Greenberg writing in the Jerusalem Post on March 20 1988 (quoted in the AL-Haq report):
"The Shabiba, whose members include college students, pupils, and Palestinian youngsters not in school, has branches throughout the Territories and in East Jerusalem... among its open activities were community projects such as home renovation, aid to the elderly and youth programs. Security officials considered it to be in fact a recruiting mechanism for Fatah, through which young Palestinians are mobilized for anti-Israel attacks and nationalist political activity."

The military was not required to substantiate its (unlikely) claims about the Shabiba being a front for Fatah let alone accusations made against any particular member of the Shabiba who has been put in administrative detention. Furthermore, under Israeli law a person can actually be convicted for simply being a member of such an outlawed organization. Evidence of such membership can include delivering food to elderly people or the more serious charge of 'nationalist political activity'.

After years of deportation, imprisonment and beatings Israeli policy was pretty successful in suppressing 'nationalist political activity'. This success contributes to growth of violent armed resistance and terrorism in the occupied territories. When political activity becomes impossible and political leaders are jailed and deported the lesson conveyed is that the only possible resistance is armed and violent.

In spite of the repression, a Palestinian non violent popular movement has risen to oppose the separation wall. In Salem, Anin, Masha, Azawia, Biddu, Beit Awwa, Beit Ula, Iskakka, Budrus, Dir Balut, Beit Surik, Beit Likia, Al Ram, Abu Dis, Kibbia and other villages. A broad based movement, including men women and children has persistently resisted the land confiscation and the caging of their communities. The movement has persisted in non violent action even after 6 protesters were killed and thousands injured by live fire, rubber coated metal bullets tear gas and beatings. For the first time, this movement has also been joined by Internationals and Israelis on the ground. Those Internationals and Israelis who have joined the Palestinian movement do not presume to instruct Palestinians in the conduct of their struggle. Rather, they realize that it is thier own societies which need to learn that Palestinians are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

The Israeli authorities have responded to the popular movement and its international supporters in the usual manner. Demonstrations are violently suppressed with live fire, Rubber coated metal bullets, tear gas and beatings. Not surprisingly, most of the violence is directed at Palestinians. In fact, commanders can be heard ordering soldiers to not shoot the Israelis. However, in spite of their relative privileged position, internationals and Israelis were also victims of IDF and police violence. One Israeli was nearly killed when he was shot in both legs with live ammunition from close range and another was shot in the eye with a rubber coated metal bullet. Other Israelis and Internationals have also been beaten and shot with rubber coated metal bullets.

Other than violent repression of demonstrations the Israeli authorities employ a wide range of political suppression tools. The ministry of interior systematically prevents members of the International Solidarity Movement from entering Israel and tries to deport those who are arrested at demonstrations. IDF commanders issue orders declaring demonstration areas "closed military zones" and arrest Israelis who are caught inside. Most sever of course is the treatment of Palestinian activists. Those who are suspected of being organizers can be imprisoned for months without charges. In the village of Budrus, one of the models for Palestinian popular non violent resistance the brothers Na'im and Ayed Morar, two members of the Budrus popular committee against the apartheid wall were placed in administrative detention last spring. In a rare move, a military judge reversed the detention order and said that their political activity is no reason for administrative detention. However, that was not the end of political repression in Budrus. Since the resumption of construction of the wall and the resumption of the demonstrations another member of the Budrus popular committee was put in administrative detention.

A 43 year old school teacher named Ahmed Awwad has been in administrative detention since Sept 27. In addition, dozens of Israelis and internationals were arrested for supporting the Palestinian demonstrations in defiance of the closed military zone orders. In October, charges of violating the order were brought against two Israeli anarchists. If convicted, they face a maximum of 2 years in jail. The aggravating circumstance that invites all the extra attention from the military and the police is the fact that the Budrus resistance has been quite successful. After months of demonstrating, the people of Budrus have won back all but a small part of their agricultural lands that was slated for confiscation for the construction of the wall. They have also obtained a temporary order by the Israeli supreme court barring construction on the remaining parts.

In response to the administrative detention of Ahmed Awwad and the upcoming trial of the two Israeli activists it was decided to respond with direct action. On the morning of Tuesday Dec 7, close to 100 Israelis from 'Anarchists Against the wall', 'Taayush' and others, as well as about 40 internationals arrived in Budrus. Many of the Israelis got rid of all identification, including the government issued blue cards identifying them as Jews and instead wore signs saying 'I am Ahmed Awwad' in many languages. During the demonstration, the Israelis did not retreat when the closed military zone was declared and the soldiers approached them. As hoped for, 41 Israelis were arrested and when asked to identify themselves they responded with 'we are all Ahmed Awwad'. The police were unable to process such a number of arrests which were complicated by the refusal to identify. After a few hours all but 4 of the Ahmed Awwad were released without even having to identify themselves. The last 4 were not given up without a fight but were literally grabbed from their comrades' arms and taken to Givat Ze'ev police station to be released a few hours later.

Two days later in the Jerusalem magistrate court, the prosecution dropped the charges of violating a closed military zone against the two Israeli anarchists. Charges of rioting are still pending and the prosecution threatens to bring more charges. It is impossible to know for sure what part the mass arrest played in the dropping of the charges but the lesson of the Budrus struggle for Israelis and others should be clear. They can be quite effective when they support the Palestinian struggle on the ground, and the best way to respond to repression and political persecution is with more protest and more resistance.
* One of the two Israeli anarchists the charges of violating a closed military against them was droped.

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