Monday, March 24, 2003

The Mas'ha camp in the eyes of a Palestinian activist By Nazeeh Sha'alabi 24/3/2003

On March 24, 2003 Israeli bulldozers and other heavy construction machinery shocked the Masha community. They were uprooting our trees and destroying our fields to clear land for the Apartheid Wall. As a volunteer on the General Committee of the Land Defense Committee, I called the organization's coordinator in Salfeet. We started to organize resistance to the Wall with the different Palestinian political parties and other institutions in the region, because of the devastating effect it would have on our future and our existence on our land. We also got in contact with the International Women's Peace Services (IWPS), the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and Israeli peace groups.

We organized our first demonstration on March 29, 2003. When we returned home, we realized that it was a good action, but not enough. We called another meeting of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals in which we decided to initiate the Mas'ha Camp Against the Wall.

On April 5, we organized a big demonstration that was attended by about 500 people. It ended with pitching the tent that would become the center of the Masha Camp. For four months Palestinians, Israelis and international activists lived together on Masha land confiscated by the Wall. The tent was moved from location to location, depending on where the bulldozers where working. It found its final place in front of the house of Hani Amer, which will be completely closed in between the Wall and the fence surrounding the Elkana settlement.

With the Camp we organized photo exhibits, gave speeches, wrote reports about the situation, and visited Palestinian communities affected by the Wall. We visited the Emergency Centers Against the Wall in Qalqilya and Tulkarem and organized joint activities. We also cooperated with the Palestinian National Committee Against the Wall. Two more anti-Wall demonstrations were organized on April 17, and on May 15, the commemoration of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) of the Palestinian people.

We succeeded in bringing the issue of the Wall to the front page of the newspapers and to national and international TV and radio stations. The Palestinians whom we visited became aware of the threat of the Wall. All this was the result of the efforts of all of the groups who participated: the Palestinian organizations PENGON, PARC, Land Defense Committee, and LAW, the international groups IWPS and ISM, and many Israeli peace groups, including Gush Shalom, One Struggle, anarchists, Black Laundry and others.

We, the Mas'ha farmers and our supporters, knew from the beginning that we could not stop the Wall in Mas'ha or remove it. But we wanted to show that the Israeli people are not our enemies; to provide an opportunity for Israelis to cooperate with us as good neighbors and support our struggle; to show that the Wall is condemned by the international community; to expose that the Wall is not for security, but is about confiscating land; and to focus the mass media's attention on this issue.

We all condemn the occupation. Through our efforts together, we proved that the ultimate goal of the Wall is to block the creation of a Palestinian state and to imprison the Palestinians in ghettos, denying them a chance to live a normal life. Through our cooperation at the camp as Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals, we proved that the occupation is the enemy of the Palestinians as are the settlers who rob our land and kill our children.

Our camp showed that peace will not be built by walls and separation, but by cooperation and communication between the two peoples living in this land. At Masha Camp we lived together, ate together, and talked together 24 hours a day for four months. Our fear was never from each other, but only from the Israeli soldiers and settlers.

On August 5th, our fears became reality when the Israeli military tried to close down the camp and arrested 46 of the Palestinians, internationals and Israelis present. On August 6th, they raided the camp again and arrested 26 Israelis. On August 13th, they declared the area of the camp a Closed Military Zone and confiscated our tent. The soldiers threatened Hani Amer, the owner of the house, that if they saw it again they would demolish his house.

The internationals that were arrested were barred from entering the West Bank again during their stay, and the Israelis were forbidden to enter the West Bank for two weeks. While everyone else was released after less than one day, I remained in prison for three days. I was finally released on a bail of NIS 1500 ($300). The hearing for my case will be on October 21.

The occupation will not stop our struggle. It will not stop until the Wall is removed and until we live in a free and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, according to United Nations resolutions and international law.

I want to ask every person who loves justice and peace and human rights to support the Palestinians in our struggle for our rights and our right to decide our own destiny and build our state.