West Bank Protests
Sunday is the “day of rest” in most Western countries with their Christian roots. But as friends back home would be looking forward to their roast-dinner, it is the day to go back to work in the Middle East. The Jewish Sabbath means that Israel takes its day of rest on Saturday, and Friday is the Muslim holy day.
But in many villages across the West Bank, Friday is not a day of rest, but a day of action. Elected Popular Committees organise resistance to the specific aspects of Israeli occupation that directly affect their village. Whilst an end to the occupation is the ultimate aim, this is something that requires international mediation, and is something that will be conducted on a level far beyond the reach of most Israeli or Palestinian citizens.
Following the Friday prayers, whole communities join in protest against the route of the Israeli Segregation barrier, the theft of local land by Israeli settlements, the uprooting of residents’ olive trees or the failure to comply with court-rulings. All of these are matters than can be successfully fought on a local level, brought-about by non-violent protest and direct-action.
Bi’lin recently garnered a lot of international media coverage, and the following week parts of the segregation barrier were removed as the protest celebrated its fifth anniversary. Through Israeli courts, and supported by protest, Palestinian residents of An Nabi Salih have won-back access to some of their agricultural land from the nearby Israeli Hallamish (Neve Zuf) settlement.
Whilst the large majority of Palestinian protests here are strictly non-violent, the force used by the Israeli army to repress them is highly aggressive. At every, single protest I witnessed, Israeli forces used tear-gas and sound grenades to disperse relatively small groups of protestors within minutes of their opening; those demonstrators often included small children. On the one occasion where I did see Palestinians retaliate, this was after the Israelis had immersed the demonstrators in clouds of tear-gas.
Further violence is prevented by the presence of international- and Israeli- activists; the (human) rights that are afforded to us are much greater than those with whom we stand in solidarity. We can prevent the use of live-rounds and provide protection against six-month, unwarranted detentions of Palestinians, as well as physical brutality by the soldiers.
But these risks are ever-present. Over the past few weeks, several Palestinians have been killed; shot by Israeli soldiers. At the time of writing, the leader of the Palestinian political group, Fatah, was held in Israeli captivity. I have witnessed soldiers use physical force to violently push demonstrators to the ground.
I often questioned whether what we were doing here actually achieved anything, and what else could be done to change things. Seeing Israeli citizens joining in solidarity, in protest, and taking action against their own government was encouraging. Israeli public opinion will play a large factor in their future policy.
But the international community needs to step-up. Should internationals laws be floundered with such disregard by any other government in the region, sanctions and embargoes would be swiftly forthcoming. Had any other government used such disproportional force as the IDF used in Gaza, including the destruction of a major UN aid compound, the condemnation would be more than just verbal. But we stand by and let this happen.
As citizens, we can push our government for greater engagement to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. We can boycott Israeli goods. The UK government has recently issued guidelines dictating the labelling of food coming from the Palestinian Territories, differentiating between that which is produced by Palestinians, and that of Israeli settlements.
Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions.