Among tear gas and injuries, Bil’in celebrates victory

Posted: June 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hundreds gathered in the West bank village to witness the removal of the Separation Wall after more than six years of protest, but the IDF was in vindictive mood

Protesters march from Bil'in to the wall, June 24 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

Protesters march from Bil'in to the wall, June 24 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

Bil’in, West Bank – It was a hot Friday in Bil’in – one of those early summer days here that remind you what to expect come August. The crowd at the village’s center was unusually large: The weekly march to the fence—a protest which made this village an international symbol of unarmed resistance—was to take the form of a celebration, after the Israeli army has began moving the infamous barrier that separated Bil’in’s people from their land.

Some context: Instead of having its separation wall on the Green Line—the internationally-recognized border until 1967—Israel decided to have it run deep into the Palestinian territory, cutting through villages and neighborhoods, separating farmers from their lands and families from their loved ones, and most important, annexing to Israel lands which had excellent market value, for their proximity to the Israeli cities along the Mediterranean coastline. Under the pretext of “security concerns,” communities like Bil’in, Nil’in and Budrus saw their fields being taken away, olive trees uprooted, and valuable land annexed to nearby settlements.

Palestinian residents of these villages made two important choices: To fight for their lands—the source of most of their livelihood–and in doing so, to use popular, unarmed resistance. It wasn’t something new for Palestinians–general strikes and mass protests were common in the years leading to the first Intifada–only that this time, the Palestinian farmers weren’t alone: Almost from the beginning of the protest against the security barrier they were joined by international and Israeli activists.

You can read about the role these activists played in the struggle, and the effect it had on the Israeli society in this piece Joseph Dana and I wrote for The Nation a few months ago.

Every week, and sometimes every day, Palestinians and activists would march to site of the planned wall, confront the army and try to reach the lost lands. Some tied themselves to the bulldozers, while others sat on the road in front of it for hours. In places where the work was completed, the protesters tried to make it to the wall or the fence, occasionally crossing or cutting it. They were met with beating, tear gas, arrests and even live bullets.

A young Palestinian is seen injured during a protest against the wall in Bilin, April 2004 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

A young Palestinian is seen injured during a protest against the wall in Bilin, April 2004 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

Around the time the protest began, the people of Bil’in filed a petition to the Israeli high court, demanding the barrier be removed and their land returned to them. It was not an easy decision on their part: Petitioning to court is seen as recognition of the Israeli occupation and the authority of its institutions over the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, who have no civil rights or representation in those institutions. But the need to get even some of the land back overcame this argument.

The Israeli Supreme Court is a relatively liberal institution, but at the same time, it is extremely hostile to Palestinians – contrary to its public image, the court rarely rules against settlements or the army, and in most cases it wouldn’t even hear Palestinian petitioners. This time, however, even the Israeli court couldn’t ignore the obvious attempt to rob Bil’in’s people of their property. In a landmark verdict against the army and the defense ministry, the court ruled that the land was taken from Bil’in not to increase security, but to make way for the nearby mega-settlement Modi’in Ilit. It ordered a new barrier to be constructed in a route that would have some of the land returned to the people of Bil’in.

The court didn’t order the removal of Modi’in Ilit settlement, or the return of the land already built upon. It never does.

What happened next was even more shameful: the army didn’t carry out the verdict. Months and years passed, and the barrier–part fence, part wall—wasn’t moved. Only after an escalation of the demonstrations and a threat of contempt of court on behalf of the defense establishment, did the work on the new barrier begin.

A few days ago, after more than six years of struggle, the removal of the old security barrier near Bil’in began. the new barrier, already seen in the hills surrounding the village, will be a concrete wall.

All these years, the protest in Bil’in continued. Every Friday, dozens of Bil’in residents marched in the direction of their lost lands. Occasionally, some kids hurled stones at the soldiers, but most of the time the protest was peaceful and creative. Yet it was met with brutal oppression: Hundreds of people were injured. Two – a brother and a sister – killed. Warning – graphic images]. Dozens of Palestinians, many of them minors, were arrested and held without trial for months in military prison. At nights, the army raided the village’s homes (as seen in the video above, one of many), searching for suspects in “incitement” offenses, i.e. organizing protest.

One of these organizers, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was tried for one year in military prison. When he finished his term, rather than releasing him, the army simply kept Abu Rahmah in prison, and meanwhile appealed the sentence. While serving his time, Abdallah met in prison his cousin, Adeeb, who was also arrested, tried and imprisoned. 99.8 percent of Palestinians’ trials end in conviction. Watch this emotional outburst by Adeeb in front of the soldiers in one of the protests:

Both Adeeb and Abdallah remained men of peace. Like the rest of the people of Bil’in, they didn’t let their persecution change them. During the worse days of the struggle, they kept declaring that they are fighting the army and the occupation, not Israelis or Jews. When Jawaher Abu Rahma died from IDF tear gas, her family and friends invited the Israeli activists to her funeral.

Here are some things Abdallah Abu Rahmah wrote in a public letter from Ofer military prison. The entire text can be found here. It’s more than worth reading.

I have been accused of inciting violence: this charge is also puzzling. If the check points, closures, ongoing land theft, wall and settlements, night raids into our homes and violent oppression of our protests does not incite violence, what does?

Despite the occupations constant and intense incitement to violence in Bil’in, we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and International supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice.

.

Tear gas, shot by the army, inside a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian protester, during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Tear gas, shot by the army, inside a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian protester, during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Politicians love to co-op success, so Bil’in saw visits from Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad and Israeli Palestinian MK Muhamad Barakeh prior to yesterday’s festive protest. There were around 40 Israelis present, and many international activists. A few hundred Palestinians led the march. A pickup truck with large speakers played music. At the village’s edge, a bulldozer joined the convoy—the people of Bil’in wanted to take part in dismantling the fence that had become the symbol of their misfortunes, and their lack of freedom.

The army had other plans. When the bulldozer approached the old fence, dozens of tear gas canisters were shot simultaneously at the crowd. Live fire was used to stop the bulldozer. A teargas grenade penetrated the driver’s cockpit. He barely made it out alive out. The rest of the crowd—unarmed and not threatening anyone—was sprayed with “skunk,” a stinking liquid, one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing crowd control weapons there is (and naturally, an Israeli invention). A few brave Palestinians in storm suits were trying to collect samples of the awful liquid (to be analyzed later, I was told), before collapsing from the effect of the smell and the gas. It all happened so fast that many members of the media didn’t have time to put on their gas masks and started chocking themselves.

Standing a couple of hundred meters back, I couldn’t open my eyes and could feel my throat burn. I figure the army shot around 60 or 70 canisters at the protesters.

A protester, injured from tear gas, lies on the ground during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

A protester, injured from tear gas, lies on the ground during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

As we walked back to the village, everyone around me was coughing and choking. Yet the spirit was high. The unbelievable violence – aimed against unarmed people, for the defense of a fence that is already been taken down (the new barrier is up and ready for a long time now), showed how scared and confused the army is, how lost it is because of the immoral and self-destructive mission it carries out.

In the next few days, the army will continue to dismantle the fence it so vigorously protected yesterday.

The people of Bil’in might continue the weekly demonstration. Even with the removal of the old barrier and the construction of a new one, much of their land won’t be returned to them. The simple fact is that as long as the occupation goes on, the Palestinians have every right to resist it.

Israeli army begins to remove parts of the separation barrier, Bil'in, June 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills.org)

Israeli army begins to remove parts of the separation barrier, Bil'in, June 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills.org)

Whether they chose to do so, or prefer to heal their community from the long struggle – it’s up to them. But the victory of Bil’in’s people—however partial or limited it was—has taught us a valuable lesson: Israel will have to either give up the occupation or to considerably escalate its methods for maintaining it, at a growing cost. Either way, the occupation’s days are numbered.

A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)


New army version on Bil’in death contradicts previous claims

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , | 10 Comments »

Yesterday evening, just in time to make the eight o’clock news, the IDF has presented another “official” version for the death of Bi’lin’s Jawahar Abu-Rahmah during a protest against the security barrier near her village on December 31st.

This is from Haaretz:

Abu Rahmah, 36, was taken to the hospital after she inhaled tear gas fired by IDF forces during a demonstration in Bil’in against the West Bank security barrier at the end of December.

According to the IDF investigation, Rahmah’s condition deteriorated at the hospital after she received an incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

The IDF findings, which were presented to GOC Central Command Avi Mizrachi, were based on hospital documents, some which showed that doctors believed Abu Rahma was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.

The investigation also found that Abu Rahmah was not present at the demonstration itself, but instead was near her house.

As Yossi Gurvitz notes, the army’s story was released (again) through unofficial channels, and not by IDF spokesperson. Harretz’s piece, as well as other reports in the Hebrew media, indicates that the source of the story was at Central Command. The fact that same story appeared on all media outlets suggests that Central Command’s CO Avi Mizrachi was personally involved in releasing it.

After the protest, Palestinian sources claimed that Jawahar Abu Rahmah stood on a hill near her home, not far from the protest, inhaled massive amounts of tear gas and as a result, collapsed. She was rushed to Ramallah’s hospital, where she died the next day.

In the following days, the army presented several versions for the event. It claimed that Abu-Rahmah died at her home, that she died of cancer, and that she wasn’t present at the protest or hurt from tear gas. An army source even spread a vicious rumor that Jawahar was murdered by a Palestinian for violating her family’s honor

The current IDF version contradicts all previous ones.

The army currently admits that Jawaher was hurt from the tear gas which was shot in Bil’in on December 31st. The IDF is only claiming that Jawahar wasn’t hurt that badly from the tear gas, and that it was the treatment at the Ramallah hospital that caused her death. This might be true – I have no way of telling. Yet there are two important points to make here:

(a)    The IDF failed to present any evidence that would back its recent story. Given Central Command’s total lack of credibility on this affair, even those who want to believe the army should take the current version with a little salt.

(b)    The common view is that a failed medical treatment does not exempt the injuring party from responsibility, both morally and legally. Speaking of the Abu-Rahmah case, Attorney Roi Rotman wrote on his blog that according to the Israeli interpretation of the Eggshell Skull Rule, at least some of the “late” damage to the injured party should be blamed on the injuring party – and on this case, the IDF.

I would like to illustrate the last point with something that happened to me last Friday in Bil’in. I was walking down the road with the other protesters, when the soldiers started shooting tear gas at us (by the way, at least one of them was shooting directly at us – I saw the canister flying right into our group). Most protesters immediately turned back and started running towards the village. I was running too when someone bumped into me from behind and made me fall flat on the road. I hurt my hands, my elbow and my knees; one of my nails broke, I had a couple of deep cuts and a few of my fingers were bleeding. It was unpleasant, but things could have been worse. The important point here is that according to the IDF’s logic, I should blame the guy who ran into me for the (very minor) injury I suffered. It’s an absurd idea, that wouldn’t stand a chance in court. The only relevant question is whether the army had the right to shoot at us, and whether it used “proportional force”. The same goes for Jawahar Abu-Rahmah: The fact that she was taken to the hospital because of the tear gas is the one that matters.

One last note, regarding the media: a few days after Jawahar’s death, Central Command held a special briefing for rigthwing bloggers who later posted the army’s version, including the most absurd rumors, word by word. I wonder how they feel now, when the army backed away from most of what they wrote.

This affair wasn’t a great success for the Israeli media as well. As it turned, some of the reporters that repeated the IDF’s version have never spoken to a Palestinian source or been to Bil’in. This is why they thought that Jawahar’s presence near her house means she couldn’t have suffered from tear gas inhalation – not knowing that the tear gas canisters are shot to the hill on the village’s edge, and the wind sometimes even carries the gas cloud all the way to Bil’in’s center. I can only hope that next time, these reporters would use more caution before repeating IDF’s stories. I am not saying that people should take the Palestinian version for granted – simply use the same amount of skepticism on both sides, and remember that the army is not an “objective” party, certainly not at events when it’s being accused of crimes.

related post:

IDF on Bil’in: spins, half-truths and lies


IDF on Bil’in: spins, half-truths, lies

Posted: January 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Jawahar Abu-Rahmah of Bil’in was rushed to Ramallah hospital last Friday during an unarmed protest against the fence in her village. She passed away Saturday morning.  Her death gained relatively  wide publicity, and the IDF scramble to  pushing its own version of the story, first claiming that Abu-Rahamh took part in a violent riot, and later saying she wasn’t even there, and the whole thing was a Palestinian hoax.

As it happens, I was in Bil’in on Friday, so I got the opportunity to compare the IDF’s version with what I saw with my own eyes, and with what I know. The IDF spokesperson, and even anonymous IDF sources, are seen by Israeli and international journalists as a credible source of information. This story, I believe, shows why Israeli and Foreign journalists should be more careful before repeating the army’s version of events. They should certainly make an effort to bring other sides of the story, and to put things in a wider context.

Here is my take on the version the IDF has been pushing regarding the death of Bil’in’s Jawaher Abu-Rahmah.

1. The event: “a violent riot”

On Friday, the army treated the protest in Bil’in as a usual one. An army spokesperson’s tweet didn’t mention a higher level of violence than in previous weeks, or in other villages:

~250 rioters in Bil’in now hurling rocks @ IDF forces-area declared closed military zone to prevent escalation but open to village residents

Only after the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah was reported, the need to justify the killing came (check out this tweet by Peter Lerner, Spokesman of the Central Command). The IDF Spokesperson released photos of a few kids throwing stones and one unidentified glowing object, later described by the army as a fire bomb. The pictures were clearly taken from a great distance, but that was all the army had for its attempt to  create the impression that the soldiers were defending their lives against a violent mob.

The truth couldn’t have been further – as those who have actually been to the Bil’in know. The protest in Bil’in takes place on a road leading to the fence. Usually, most protesters simply try to march towards the fence, until the army decides to disperse them with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. When stone-throwing does occur, it usually begins after the army disperses the march. Very few people throw stones – and it’s usually some Palestinian kids, the “Shabab”. As for the soldiers, they are standing on the hill, heavily protected, and the stones normally pose no real danger for them.

Last Friday, the march was larger then usual. Even PM Salam Fayyad was there, though he didn’t venture outside the village. The march was completely peaceful – there was even a brass band present. From what I could see, the tear gas was fired by the IDF well before the march got even close to the fence – and it was fired directly at the unarmed protesters walking on the main road. I remember feeling surprised, because the soldiers usually let the march go a bit further before they shoot.

You could see it all very clearly on the following video, taken on last Friday’s protest. You can see how far the soldiers are from the protest when they start shooting tear gas. The stones are thrown [min: 3:20] off the road. An effort by the protesters (including a brave sax player) to march again to the fence is met with more gas – this time, the canisters are shot directly at the protesters [min 4:00], in the illegal way that led to the death of Bassam Abu-Rahmah last year.

In my own army service I faced real riots in the West Bank, when hundreds of people were hurling stones at us in a small city alley. Scary as it was, we didn’t use as much fire power as the army now does in Bil’in and in other villages I visited. Not only that the death of Bassam and Jawahar Abu-Rahmah is not surprising, I actually think we are lucky more people weren’t injured or killed in those unarmed protests.

2. The context: “The fence will be removed anyway”

Facing a PR meltdown, the army held a “special briefing” on Monday for bloggers (all of them from the rightwing, pro-IDF side), in which it put forward its own narrative. This sort of unofficial briefing took place with military reporters in all of Israel’s major news organizations. One of the interesting points in the briefing referred to the context of the demonstration. This is from a report by one those bloggers:

Israel’s High Court ruled that the IDF must change the path of the security fence to go outside of Bil’in, thereby agreeing to the Palestinian claims. The new fence is under construction and should be completed within a few months. The IDF will remove the older fence once the new one is complete — therefore the current riots are completely propaganda.

But here are the facts: The huge Israeli settlement Matityahu-East was built on private Palestinian land, taken from farmers in five villages, including Bil’in (this is not surprising: every story in the West Bank ends up being about a settlement). According to a Supreme Court ruling from 2007, the route of the “Security Barrier” was planned with the intention of annexing even more land to that settlement. The Court ordered the fence to be re-built on a different route – one that returns some of the land to the village.

More than three years after the verdict, the army still hasn’t moved the fence. Only recently, when it was about to be charged with contempt of court,  did the work on the new route begin. And again – even with the fence moved, much of the village’s land won’t be returned, so Bil’in’s farmers have every right to continue their protest, both morally and according to international law.

3. The Death: Maybe it was a Palestinian who killed her

The unofficial briefings were part of the army’s counter-attack, initiated in Central Command [UPDATE: Yossi Gurvitz reveals that it was Central Command CO himself, Gen Avi Mizrachi, who led the briefing], which is in charge of Bil’in and its surrounding areas (and not in the IDF spokesperson unit). It was meant to discredit the Palestinian version, cast doubt, and more than anything else, move the burden of proof to the other side. This last fact is important: While the Palestinians presented a medical report on the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah as well as a few testimonies, the army never investigated the event. The IDF spokesperson didn’t release an official statement, and all the army’s comments were released through anonymous sources and in informal briefings.

Among other things, the army claimed (through proxies) that Jawahar Abu-Rahmah died of cancer, that she wasn’t present at the demo, and that only after her death (from natural causes), the Palestinians decided to claim she died of tear-gas poisoning.

The army went as far as spreading a rumor that Jawahar was killed by a family member:

IDF has heard about the honor killing theory, that Abu Rahma was stabbed to death for being pregnant as a family “honor killing”, however they cannot confirm this and the direction they currently are investigating is death from a chronic illness.

As I said, I was present at the demo and I saw an ambulance leave the site twice. I don’t know who was in the ambulance, but this tweet by Jewish Voice for Peace director (who was present in Bil’in) mentions Jawahar by her name:

One eye injury and Jawahar – sister of bassem who was killed last year at a demo -was taken to the hospital for gas inhalation.

The tweet was posted on 2:36PM, while the protest was still ongoing (I left Bil’in shortly before 4 pm) and long before anyone knew of the deterioration in Jawahar’s condition.

Numerous eyewitnesses – all going on record – account for Jawahar’s presence on the hill at the edge of the village, overlooking the demo. The long-range gas grenades were landing nearby, and the western wind carried the gas to the hill and onto the edge of the village. I was standing on a hillside and felt it myself. People around me were constantly coughing, and we all had red eyes.

Those witnesses also describe, in detail, Jawahar’s evacuation to the hospital.

Islam Abu Rahmah: “I was standing with Jawahar, her mother and my grandmother in order to watch the confrontation that was going on just in front of us, in the area of the fence. The wind moved the gas in our direction, making our eyes itch and tear up. After that she (Jawahar) began to cough and foam at the mouth. Soon after that she became weak and lay down on the ground. I managed to carry her as far as the Abu Khamis home, about 40 meters in the direction of her house, but then she became terribly weak, vomited violently and foamed at the mouth. She was having difficult breathing and lost her sense of direction. We got a few women to help her by waving a paper fan over her face in order to provide some oxygen. After that she was taken to the hospital.”

Saher Bisharat, the ambulance who evacuated Jawahar: “We received Jawahar near the entrance that is parallel to the fence, which is where the demonstration was taking place. She was still partially conscious, answered questions, and said that she had choked on gas. I took her straight to the hospital.” (Click here to view the Red Crescent report).

During the infamous bloggers’ briefing, the IDF rejected claims that the tear gas it uses can be lethal:

We have never heard of anyone dying from inhaling tear gas (5 years of experience with this particular tear gas). There were hundreds of other rioters in the same open air location, in broad daylight and yet she was the only one “allegedly” affected by the gas.

This is a lie. There have been numerous reports on people hurt by inhaling IDF tear gas, including a number of fatalities. +972 Magazine reported on the death of a Jerusalem toddler from tear gas in Silwan just a few months ago. But when you only call your supporters to the special briefing, such details are not likely to be mentioned.

One last point on that: Israel has released – through anonymous sources, of course – personal medical details from the file of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah (no privacy for Palestinians). An Israeli journalist told me yesterday that it was the Shabak (Israel’s internal security service) that was sent to Ramallah to obtain the dead woman’s file from the local hospital. Today’s Haaretz article confirmed this: It states [Hebrew] that there was an “intelligence effort” to obtain details on the case. I, for once, find it incredible that this is what our secret service does: help the PR effort and the cover up of what seems like an unlawful killing. But maybe I’m too naive.

4. Controlling the media

One of the key elements for Israel’s partial success in spinning the flotilla incident last May in its favor was its ability to control the information. Some 60 journalists on board the Mavi Marmara were detained by Israel, and all their media and equipment was confiscated. Later, IDF spokesperson released only the footage that served its narrative. That’s how we got to see several soldiers attacked – but we never saw how nine passengers died, and dozens more were wounded.

On Friday, the army blocked the main entrance to Bil’in. While it didn’t stop Israeli and international protesters from joining the demonstrations (they marched through the hills to the village), I know of at least one international press crew that was turned away.

Without coverage from western media organizations, whatever happens during a protest becomes a matter of different versions – the army’s vs. the Palestinians’. In such events, the local press, and some of the international reporters as well, tend to prefer the IDF’s story.

Today, the IDF’s version on the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah is a front page story on the daily tabloid Maariv (the headline: “Bil’in conspiracy?”). Yedioth gives the army’s claims a full two-page spread, with an op-ed stating that this is another A-Durah-style fabrication. Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom also mention the IDF claims on their headlines, and one should separately note  the clear words of Haaretz’s editorial on the affair today.

The bottom line is that the army didn’t present one piece of evidence in its effort to avoid responsibility for the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah and to discredit the unarmed protest, the people of Bil’in and their supporters in Israel. To this moment, the army didn’t even release an official statement, but instead spread doubts, rumors and lies. Unfortunately, for much of the Israeli public, this seems to have been enough.


Palestinian leader’s letter from Israeli prison

Posted: December 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Abdullah Abu Rahmah, the unarmed struggle leader from Bil’in who was put in prison by Israel for his political actions, and is now kept there even though he finished serving his sentence, has published a public letter for the International Human Rights Day.

No matter what you think of the conflict and its desired solution, this is a text worth reading.

I often wonder what Israeli leaders think they will achieve if they succeed in their goal of suppressing the Palestinian popular struggle? Is it possible that they believe that our people can sit quietly and watch as our land is taken from us? Do they think that we can face our children and tell them that, like us, they will never experience freedom? Or do they actually prefer violence and killing to our form of nonviolent struggle because it camouflages their ongoing theft and gives them an excuse to continue using us as guinea pigs for their weapons?


As Budrus opens in US, film hero is denied exit from West Bank

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Budrus, a documentary about the unarmed struggle of a Palestinian village against the confiscation of its land for the construction of Israel’s security barrier, is opening today in cinemas in the US and in Israel.

I watched Budrus twice, a few months ago in Israel and last night in NY, in a special screening attended by Queen Noor of Jordan. I found the film as inspiring and compelling as it was on the first time I saw it.

In 2003-2004, Budrus played a key role in what became, in my opinion, the most important grassroots effort of the decade: the emergence of a widespread unarmed campaign against the occupation, involving Palestinians, Israelis and international activists.

What started as local protests in a handful of Palestinian villages, became a new strategy for challenging the entire mechanism and political rational of the Israeli control over the West Bank. One might say that the unarmed struggle is bringing this conflict back to its basics: not a diplomatic issue, but rather a human rights one; not a question of peace and war, but one relating to the denial of personal or political rights for decades from million of people.

Budrus, the film, does not claim to present a history of the Palestinian unarmed struggle, nor of Israeli involvement in anti-occupation activities. But it tells a story, or a certain reading of a story, which demonstrates the unique power the joint unarmed struggle in the current political context. In a political world dominated by talks of “war on terror”, and with a Palestinian society fragmented and torn apart, the unarmed struggle can provide a platform that will bring different groups together and at the same time, won’t alienate the international community.

As director Julia Bacha, said after the screening, when she and producers Ronit Avni and Rula Salameh started working on the film, nobody knew the name Budrus, and very few people outside Israel and the Palestinian territories even heard of the unarmed struggle. I won’t claim that Bil’in is a household name by now – just the fact that Budrus is only 20 minutes ride from Tel Aviv came as a shock to the audience at yesterday’s screening – where exactly do people think the West bank is? – and yet, more and more people realize these days that Middle East politics don’t start or ends in the Oval Office, nor does it happen only during George Mitchel’s fruitless trips between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Ayed Morrar, the organizer of the popular struggle in Budrus and the leading character of the film, was supposed to attend the special screening yesterday in New York. But from what I hear, Morrar was denied entry to Jerusalem by Israel, so he couldn’t apply for a US Visa.

Beside the obvious lesson here for all those thinking that “Palestinians are running their own life”, this, for me, should be another reason for people to go and see Budrus, so at least they can meet another side of this person, labeled by Israel as too dangerous to travel.

And it’s also just a very nice film.

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Budrus opened today in London and Tel Aviv. It opens Friday, October 8th, in New York and Boston. Details of shows in other cities and countries here.

The events described in Budrus happened seven years ago, but dozens of unarmed Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations happen every day in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. I report on them occasionally, but for a more detailed, on going, coverage check out reports and images and clips posted by my fellow +972 blogger Joseph Dana.


The occupation in a nutshell

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Take a few minutes to hear the story of Adeeb Abu Rahma of Bil’in. It’s not part of the big diplomatic news like the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, but in a sense, it’s more important. Far from being unique, this case captures most of what there is to know about the current stage of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. It’s the kind of things you have to keep in mind when you read the morning news.

Adeeb Abu Rahma is a resident of Bil’in, the village which became the symbol of non-violent resistance to the occupation. A few years ago, Israel decided to build its security barrier on Palestinian land, and not on the Green Line, the historic border between Israel and the West Bank. The reason for this was PM Ariel Sharon’s desire to capture more land for new neighborhoods in some of the large settlements Israel was building in recent years, and to secure a reality in which most of the settlements are seen as part of Israel, and not something “across the border”.

The people of Bil’in, who had much of their land taken for the barrier project, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the confiscation, and even had a partial victory: The court ruled that parts of the fence were not constructed on the village’s land for security reasons, and ordered it to be moved. The court failed to address the main issue – the decision to build the fence inside the West Bank rather than on the old border – but it didn’t really matter, because the army simply ignored the verdict. Three years later, the fence is still on its original location.

For five years now, a popular struggle against the fence has been taking place in Bil’in. Every week, Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are taking part in demonstrations. Most of the action consists of attempts to march to the village’s confiscated land; occasionally stones are thrown, but there was never a serious threat to the army forces there, and certainly not to Israeli civilians who live nearby.

Without much outside help or even support from the Palestinian Authority, these demonstrations had a tremendous effect. They relegitimized the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community, after the blow it suffered because of the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. The protest also spread to other villages in the West Bank, and there are already talks of a third Intifada – this time, a non-violent one.

Israel is doing all it can to stop the protest in Bil’in. It used rubber covered bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets against the demonstrators. Bassem Abu Rahma, Adeeb’s cousin, was among those killed on the hills surrounding Bil’in, after suffering a direct hit of a tear gas canister. As can be seen in this video, Bassem (like all the rest of the protesters) wasn’t taking part in any violent act when he was hit, and the soldiers who shot him weren’t in any kind of danger.

A few months ago the army declared the entire Bil’in area a closed military zone, and stepped up the nightly raids on the homes of Palestinian residents. Many were arrested and held under “administrative detention”, without having any charges presented against them. This is standard procedure in the West Bank; there are currently 213 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention orders without charges or trial.

Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi-driver and father of nine, was knows as one of the prominent figures in the none-violent protest. Adeeb and his wife Fatima’s families have been cut by the fence from some 25 acres of their land on which they used to grow olive trees and cereals. In this video, you can see Adeeb in an emotional outburst in front of IDF soldiers:

Adeeb was arrested on 10 July 2009, while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the fence near Bil’in. He was brought before a military panel in Ofer Prison, North of Jerusalem, one of several Guantanamo-like facilities in Israel. After being held there for 11 months (no bail for Palestinians), Adeeb was convicted last month on charges of “incitement”, “disturbing public order” and “presence in a closed military zone”.

This is from Rechavia Berman’s report on his trail:

[Adeeb's] conviction was based on testimony of four minors – 14, 15 and two aged 16 years old – of which [the Shin Beit] got an admission… that Adeeb Abu Rahma told them to throw stones.

These Minors were taken forcibly from their homes at 3:00 in the morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, and kept this way until the next day at 2 PM, without being allowed to eat or to go to the toilets. They were questioned without the presence of a lawyer or a family member, as required even by army regulations.

During the court’s hearings, the military prosecutor argued that she has videotapes of the demonstrations to prove its case [against Abeed], but when Abu Rahma’s lawyer, attorney Gabi Lasky, asked to review this material, the prosecution claimed that the tapes were mysteriously deleted. In the interrogation of the minors there was not even a distinction between throwing leaflets […] and stone-throwing.

Despite all of this, the military court decided to send Adeeb to no less than two years in prison, a time in which his family will be left without its sole provider. Needless to say, his arrest and conviction were hardly mentioned by the Israeli media. These kinds of stories happen every day.

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Meanwhile, on the same land but in a completely different universe, a Hebron settler named Yifat Alkoby – seen here harassing local Palestinians – was detained for slapping a soldier. According to a report in Haaretz (h/t Hagai Matar), Alkobi was throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron, when a soldier approached her and asked her to stop. After Alkoby attacked the soldier, slapped and scratched him, she was arrested, only to be released after several hours (unlike the Palestinians in the West bank, Jews are brought before a civil court). Had Abeed Abu Rahma dared lay his hand on a soldier, he would have spent the next decade behind bars.

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So there you have it all. The systematic confiscation of the land (sometimes illegally even by our own standards); the separated legal systems, with different laws for Jews and Arabs; the unproportional use of force against civilians and minors; the treatment of any kind of protest as “terrorism”, justifying special interrogation methods; the blind eye towards the settlers; and the failed notion that any of this would actually work, and the Palestinians would simply forget about their lands. In short, the injustice, cruelty and absurdity of it all.

This is the everyday level of the occupation, as I’ve first seen it 17 years ago as a soldier (though things have gotten much worse since). Adeeb’s case is not “an incident”, it’s part of a system. The occupation is not the work of a bunch of extreme settlers, but a national project in which the army and the Israeli legal system play the major role.

this is something many fail to understand: the heart of the story is not about murder, like some of the anti-Israeli propaganda claims (or should we say, most of the time it’s not about murder), but about the daily banalities of an evil system. Israel is not fighting a battle against Iran, Hezbollah or the International Jihad, like our government and its cheerleaders around the world want you to think; it is engaged in an effort to prevent basic human and civil liberties from millions of people.

Even the best of Hasbara talking points won’t blur this simple fact much longer. The world can’t go on turning its back on Adeeb Abu Rahma and the people of Bil’in. They deserve justice.


Smoke grenade thrown at Tel Aviv peace rally, well known activist attacked

Posted: June 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Political tension in Israel grows, as Left and Right protesters clash

Uri avneri (left), befor he was attacked by rightwing people today in Tel Aviv

Former MK and peace activist Uri avneri (left), befor he was attacked by rightwing people today in Tel Aviv

Between 7,000 and 15,000 people (depending on who you ask) marched this evening in Tel Aviv to mark 43 years of occupation and to protest Israeli government policy. Following recent events, the demonstration, which was scheduled weeks in advance, turned into a protest against the attack on the Gaza flotilla.

While the march itself was relaxed for most parts, a few dozens of right-wing people held a counter-protest, and several of them tried to break into the Left’s rally. During the speech of a Hadash representative, a smoke grenade was thrown (There are conflicting reports as to who threw the grenade – the right or the left protesters). Later, Uri Avneri, the 87 years old former MK and peace activist, was attacked. Ynet reports that Avneri was rescued from the area in a car, with police escort. Right-wing activists also clashed with coffee shop goers in Tel aviv and shouted insults at locals.

Here is a video of the moment the smoke grenade was thrown into the crowd. it was taken by a friend who was standing next to me. You can see the speaker cuts his speech and join the crown in calls “no to fascism”.

Earlier this week, Israeli right-wing protesters threw stones and a smoke grenade at the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv. Later, a Turkish memorial site in Beer Sheva was vandalized, and the Turkish flag at the place burned.

More Flotilla news:

The Turkish autopsy of the nine victims of the IDF raid revealed that they were shot a total of 30 times. 19 years old Furkan Dogan, the American casualty, was shot four times in the head and one in the chest, all at close range.

IDF admits editing an audio tape of radio communication with the Mavi Marmara released earlier this week.

Finally, here is a video from Friday’s demo in Bil’in: IDF soldiers are attacking a model of the Mavi Marmara. Surreal.


Using and abusing the Holocaust / the work of Khaled Mahameed

Posted: September 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: culture, guest post | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off
Mahameed giving a workshop in Askar Refugee camp

Mahameed giving a workshop in Askar Refugee camp

Harvey Stein is a filmmaker/journalist, originally from New York, who moved to Israel 3 years ago and now lives in Jerusalem. Harvey is working these days on a documentary called “Heart of the Other“, which follows the work of Khaled Mahameed. Just before Yom Kippur, he suggested writing something about it for Promised Land, and I was more than happy to agree, as I think that Mahameed’s is one of the most inspiring projects I’ve heard of in the last  years.

Besides working on “Heart of the Other,” Harvey has made short videos for Time magazine website, CNN, ABC, and other TV stations and websites in Europe and the United States. If you’d like to contact him, write me (my e-mail is in the “about” page), and I’ll forward your mail.

Since moving to Jerusalem from New York three years ago, I have been fortunate to spend considerable time with Khaled Mahameed (I’m making “Heart of the Other,” a documentary about his work, excerpts here: http://www.heartoftheother.com/trailer). Mahameed is a Palestinian-Israeli citizen who has gotten notice for his “Holocaust education” for Arabs – both at his tiny museum in Nazareth, and in villages, towns, and refugee camps in the West Bank.

Mahameed is a lawyer by trade, and a complex “intellectual in action” by nature. Since at least age 18 (when his Jewish tutor at Hebrew University responded to his request to study more about Nazi Germany with, “Why would an Arab want to do that?”) he has basically been obsessed with the Holocaust – unpacking its meaning and its effect on both Palestinians and Israelis, and their fraught relationship. Read the rest of this entry »


The Cellcom commercial, real life version

Posted: July 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

This will be the last post on this matter, I promise. I just couldn’t resist sharing this video, from the weekend’s protest in Bil’in.

 

(If you didn’t have enough, here is the funny response video that was removed from the Israeli site flix.co.il, because of pressure from Cellcom; And this is a link [Hebrew] to the “volleyball at the wall” video done two years ago by Israeli artists Itamar rose and Yossi Atia).


Nonviolence? Israel prefers the Hamas

Posted: April 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Ibrahim abu-Rakhma, a 31-year-old Palestinian, was killed during Friday’s weekly anti-separation fence demonstration in Bil’in. Abu-Rakhma was shot in the chest with a tear-gas grenade, launched from a distance of some 30 meters from him by IDF soldiers. The soldiers were under no threat at any stage of the demonstration, as this video of the incident clearly shows.

The death of Abu-Rakhma, a civilian from Bil’in who protested the taking of his own village’s land, is not only sad and unjustified, but also carries a bad lesson for both Palestinian and Israelis.

Read the rest of this entry »