Protest: Al Ma’sara
Friday is demo-day in the West Bank. Popular committees throughout the territories organise protests against the occupation, the wall and the Israeli settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.
We were armed only with a hand-drawn map of how to find the servees in Bethlehem that would take us to the small, West Bank village of Al Ma’sara. After little sleep the previous night at Sheikh Jarrah, Austin & I stumbled on a bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, crossed the checkpoint, and walked to the other side of town in search of the elusive bus.
The demo at Al Ma’sara is in its infancy compared to the more established ones at Bi’lin and Nilin, but we were committed to supporting these initiatives. As a result, internationals were present every week in solidarity with the Palestinians, and to try to reduce the level of repression that would be inflicted upon them.
We met with the organisers, and four of us squashed into the back-seat of a car as we were driven through the village to the place where the march would start. People were exiting the mosque from the Friday prayers, and so Palestinian flags were held out of the car window to lead the way.
This week, the turn-out was high; the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) were celebrating their 41st anniversary and addressed those assembled before handing over to the organisers of the protest. As well as the Palestinians present, there were around 14 internationals, including three Israelis. In the distance, we could see the Israeli army standing beside their jeeps, a roll of barbed wire stretched across the road.
The group of demonstrators, which included many women and children, walked towards the soldiers before dropping on to a settler’s road that runs parallel, in order to reach their farmland. At this point, jeeps rapidly approached, and once close enough, fired tear-gas and sound grenades.
I was initially shocked that this level of repression was so quickly enacted. Surely these types of dispersion tactics are to be taken when faced with violence? But “pre-emptive strikes” are becoming synonymous with the Middle East , and even small, peaceful protests in the West Bank countryside are not spared the aggression of the Israeli army.
As people fled back to the village, the army followed, indiscriminately firing tear-gas into the narrow streets. This entered into the houses lining the street, choking the people inside, the majority of whom had not even participated in the demonstration.
The soldiers continued to fire tear-gas into the village, occasionally directly at the heads of some of the Palestinians who stood below. This type of action is inexcusable — these high-velocity canisters are designed to be fired in a high-arc; a Palestinian man was still in a coma from being hit by a canister only a few weeks before.
Their violence was also aimed at us as well as members of the press who were present. As we stood next to the soldiers, documenting the force that they were using, we were shoved and told to go and join the Palestinians below. I had a sound grenade thrown directly at my feet, showering me with stones as it detonated. Tear gas was then fired at us.
The army eventually left, and I began to question what had just happened. This all took place on land well-within the Palestinian Territories. The use of violence by the Israeli army was totally excessive. I wonder what either side had achieved in this exchange.
Later that afternoon, we hitch-hiked back to Ramallah to meet up with the other volunteers who had all just lived their own experiences of West Bank resistance. Our experience had been relatively tame: in Bi’lin, part of the security barrier had been pulled down by demonstrators and was met by strong Israeli reprisals; at An Nabi Salih, one of our volunteers had been shot in the mouth by a rubber bullet.
So this is how it rolls in the West Bank…
» A slideshow of photographs from the demonstration
Background to Al Ma’sara
The village of Al Ma’sara, which lies south of Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank, has lost 350 hectares of its farming land to a nearby Israeli settlement. It also lies close to the proposed route of the segregation barrier that Israel is building around the West Bank, in places annexing parts of the Palestinian land. The wall deviates strongly from the United Nations recognised borders of Israel, and is illegal under international law.
The route of the wall runs through the land of Al Ma’sara, and once completed, will block the residents from their farmland, a vital source of their income and sustenance.
Every Friday, throughout the West Bank, demonstrations take place by the Palestinians, who are often joined by international and Israeli demonstrators. These demonstrations are organised by the elected Popular Committees of the villages involved.
There is also an article from the Guardian about Al Ma’sara here.