In a country where fear is so ingrained in the culture and many are racked with the fright of being attacked at any second, it's strange to see what can pass as a security threat.
I am a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The ISM is a non-violent organization. All members of the ISM must abide by its principles at all times. Therefore, as logic follows, I am a peaceful activist.
Many, if not most, of the Palestinians I've met are also peaceful activists. To be peaceful for them is one choice of many, but to be an activist is not. When your lands are being erased, your children are being shot, and your very identity is being denied, resistance becomes your only option. You must resist to exist.
So, on the morning of Tuesday, February 1st, when we were called to a demonstration in Khallet Adar, just south of Hebron, to protest land destruction for the building of a settler bypass road, I wasn't surprised to find a fervent passion in the crowd.
A note on settlement roads - settlement roads connect settlements to settlements and settlements to Israel. Settlements are bad. They are illegal under international law. Many Israelis think international law is bad. Too many scoldings, too many headaches. Many of the settlers are bad too. Some think it's their god-given right to steal land from Palestinians and build fancy homes on it. Settlements are for Jewish people only, and settler roads are for Israeli cars only. In South Africa, they would have called this apartheid. In Alabama, the word was segregation. In Israel, they just call them settlements.
The raod in question today was being built to connect the Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba and Beith Khagai in the Hebron area. It has already received much opposition from local Palestinians. So much so that the Israeli Supreme Court made an injunction recently that the construction had to be halted for 21 days. Rather than wait for a legal ruling on their already-illegal road, the Israeli authorities just decided to move the path of the road about a kilometer and start anew. Yesterday, the Israeli Occupation Forces uprooted 300 trees on the road's path. Palestinians here say that this kind of land confiscation is shattering their peace - a peace that many are hoping for, the Western media is obsessing over, but Palestine isn't seeing.
As the demonstration marched towards the hill where the road was being built, you could hear the crashing sound of the demolition drill hard at work. Silhouettes of a few soldiers could be seen, watching the winding path of our march from above.
Just before getting to the hill, I was overwhelmed as hundreds of young students who had just been let out of school flooded into our march to join. They were excited, eager, and ready to go. It was clear they had done demonstrations like this before.
It was almost frightening how much energy there was in this demonstration. People were chanting in Arabic as if their lives depended on it. The chants in Hebrew were also refreshing and welcoming from the Anarchists Against the Wall group. They chanted “The occupation is terrorism!” and “Refuse soldier refuse!”
For about 30 mintues, there was a feeling of sheer victory in the air. We managed to force the demolition vehicles to retreat a few hundred meters, and everyone was cheering madly. That was until the driver emerged from the cab of the vehicle with a pistol and threatened to shoot at people. Luckily, he didn't.
Another amazing act of resistance took place when a prayer session was held directly in front of the soldiers. The soldiers just looked on as if puzzled, not knowing what to do or who to point their guns at.
All of the sudden, the army decided it was time for everyone to leave, and our non-violence tactics were wearing them thin. Three of us ISM activists were caught, trapped between a massive Caterpillar wrecking machine and the army.
I was grabbed, and immediately they started hauling me away. I managed to grab hold of another detained activist, and we locked our limbs together and went limp. This not-so-cozy position didn't last for very long, as I was torn away from him and began to be dragged mercilessly across sharp nettle thorns and jagged rocks.
At this point, a couple Palestinians and some of the Israeli anarchists jumped on top of me in a courageous effort to de-arrest me, but to no avail. After about a minute, I had bad cuts all over my back, torn clothes, and a broken pair of glasses. When the soldiers finally had me behind their jeep and away from the demonstration, one proceeded to hit me in the head with the butt of his riffle while another punched me in the face. I get the impression these kids get a twisted kick out of taking cheap shots at activists.
After standing in the custody of the soldiers for another minute, they were distracted from me and were worried about another activist who was taking photos of them. Picture-taking is very threatening to Israeli soldiers, because it means that the world might see what they're doing. Since there weren't any soldiers holding me, I just decided to walk away, plain and simple. And it worked!
In the end, two ISM activists had been detained (one from Canada, and one from England), along with five Israelis from Anarchists Against the Wall (one of whom is being charged with assaulting an officer). Two Palestinian men were injured, and one had to be hospitalized after being pushed roughly to the ground by a soldier. Many were suffering from the effects of the tear gas and sound bombs that were used.
Unfortunately, this kind of response from the army is typical for non-violent protests in Palestine. I left the demonstration with a headache and stinging back from my beatings, but I have relatively nothing to complain about. People everywhere in the world are talking about peace for Palestine, but as long as the occupation forces continue to expand settlements and settler roads, our non-violent tactics are meaningless to them. The occupation is the ultimate violence in Palesine.
(Aaron Lakoff is a member of the International Solidarity Movement, and a journalist with CKUT community radio in Montreal. He is currently travelling and working throughout Palesine. To view his previous writing and photos, visit http://aaron.resist.ca. He can be reached at email@example.com)
--To view the photos which accompany this story, visit http://gallery.cmaq.net/album31