As the assault on Gaza continues (at the time of writing the death toll has risen to 100, with nearly 850 injured), the West Bank is beginning to feel like a powder keg. Whether or not the frustrations of the population will ultimately take the form of a more widespread rebellion, I cannot say, but for what it’s worth, today gave me some hope that this might at least be a possibility. A few friends and I joined up with a larger group of Palestinian organizers and international solidarity activists for several actions:
The first action was centered on the apartheid wall (what Israel euphemistically refers to as a “separation barrier”). Though ostensibly separating Israel proper from the West Bank, 85% of the wall is actually located within the West Bank, rather than along the 1967 Green Line. It also happens to encompass 98% of the settlements which have penetrated the West Bank, and enclose a large portion of water resources and fertile land. As Saree Makdisi observes, notwithstanding “the talk of this being a ‘security fence’, it is obvious that the real aim of the barrier is to absorb as much land, and as few Palestinians, as possible, to acquire pockets of territory that can easily be connected – and are already de facto annexed – to Israel.” During our action, some of us cut down portions of a fenced segment of the wall, while others (such as myself) stood ready to place themselves between the Israeli military (in the event that they arrived before the action was completed) and those cutting the fence, thereby providing an escape route. As fate had it, we were lucky, and were able to complete the action successfully and flee the scene before any military forces arrived.
The second action was centered on a nearby settler road, and we were not as lucky. There exists an elaborate network of well-maintained roads connecting the Jewish settlements to one another and to Israel proper (approximately 300 miles worth), to which Palestinians are either completely or periodically denied access. Palestinians, instead, are forced to travel upon poorly-maintained roads, movement through which is regulated and disrupted by more than 450 checkpoints or roadblocks. Like the apartheid wall, settler roads are both material and symbolic embodiments of the dispossession, subordination, and exclusion of Palestinians by the Israeli settler-colonial state. We arrived to the settler road en masse, and immediately spread across the road to form a human blockade (I was nearly run down by a semi truck before we created a more coherent formation). The military arrived within minutes, yelling at demonstrators and firing live ammunition into the air. At one point a car of settlers attempted to ram through the blockade, hitting one of the primary organizers of the action in the process (he was taken to the hospital, and while I haven’t yet had confirmation, I believe he is ok). Eventually we retreated, with some seeming to feel as if we had pushed the boundaries with the soldiers enough.
Following these two actions, we returned to Manara Sq. in Ramallah, where a large demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza had begun. We carried a large chunk of the apartheid fence with us as we went, the Palestinians among us singing and chanting in Arabic. The demonstration was noticeably larger than a similar one held in the same square just a few days ago – at least twice the size. The format was familiar and tired, but the energy somehow felt different – electric and full of potential.
After a quick lunch of hummus, vegetables, and falafel (and, for me, plenty of coffee), we moved on to a demonstration against Ofer prison, a military incarceration complex on the outskirts of Ramallah. There are more than 4,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, with ample documentation of torture and abuse (readers may recall earlier this year when some 2,000 Palestinians protested the Israeli system of incarceration by going on hunger strike). By the time we arrived, the demonstration had already been going on for some time. We stepped out of the van to tear gas and the sound of rubber-coated steel bullets being fired. In the time we were present, numerous Palestinians were injured (including a Red Crescent paramedic) from overexposure to tear gas, being hit with rubber-coated steel bullets, and perhaps live ammunition (I have gotten conflicting accounts on this last point, and need to verify). At least one Palestinian was hit in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet (I myself was nearly struck in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet, but somehow managed to just barely duck under). When I departed the demonstration was still going strong.
It is very difficult to get a clear sense of where things in the West Bank are headed at the moment, but there can be no doubt that things are heating up. People are angry about what is taking place in Gaza (rightly so), and the social ferment which has built up in recent years seems as though it could produce a historical rupture, perhaps even a third intifada. But it is too early, and I am too ignorant, to say anything with even the slightest degree of confidence. Meanwhile, the Israeli military forces are also amping up their repression. Scores have been injured during protests in the West Bank over the past few days, and not a few have died. Yesterday a 20 month old baby was killed at Qalandia checkpoint after a teargas canister was shot into his home. Just before I began writing this post, I learned that Rushdi Tamimi – a man from Nabi Saleh, the small village where I’ve participated in Friday demonstrations the past few weeks (see earlier posts) – died in the hospital today after being shot with live ammunition at a demonstration this last Saturday (Saturday’s demonstration lacked the heavy presence of non-Palestinian internationals, and thus the Israeli military acted with far less restraint). For those interested, a video taken on the day he was shot can be found here: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T4L3oaYtyLs&desktop_uri=/watch?v=T4L3oaYtyLs
Intifada literally translates into English as a “shaking off.” Let us hope that the tragedies presently unfolding in Palestine lead the way to a shaking off of the system of Israeli apartheid that produces this violence.
B’Tselem, “Statistics on Palestinians in the custody of the Israeli security forces,” (Oct. 2010). Available from: ;.
Makdisi, Saree, “Diary,” London Review of Books (3 March 2005). Available from: ;.
Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Campaign, “The Apartheid Wall: Land Theft and Forced Expulsion 2010 Fact Sheet,” (2010). Available from: ;.