February 23, 2015
In Blog News
Stun grenades rolled out by the Border Police went off in front of us, centimeters from our feet. The noise of the powerful explosion — and the fear — sent me fleeing the group that had gathered at Al-Quds Gates. This is a new protest camp east of Abu Dis, where Palestinian activists challenge Israel’s forces of repression.
A December 2012 report by human rights group B’Tselem, a must read, details the suppression of demonstrations in the West Bank. The report includes police safety regulations that require officers throwing stun grenades to keep a safe distance of three meters from the grenade and five meters from the target.
The regulations also forbid the throwing of a grenade directly into a crowd. But back at Al-Quds Gates the safe distance was maybe three centimeters, not five meters, and the grenades were rolled into the crowd. Routine.
The Palestinian activists remained standing as if rice and flowers had been thrown, not devices that explode with a blinding light and deafening roar. A team from the Popular Resistance Committees set up the camp; the Civil Administration plans to establish there a new neighborhood for the Al Jabal Bedouin township.
Al Jabal was founded at the end of the 1990s to let Israeli authorities expel hundreds of people from their homes in order to expand the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement. Research by the NGO Bimkom and UNRWA proves how much Al Jabal destroys the fabric of life and livelihoods of its residents.
Over the last three weeks, the activists have built small concrete structures at least nine times, and bulldozers have come and demolished them. At every demolition, members of the Border Police shoot tear gas and stun grenades and arrest people. The activists return and build anew.
Last Monday, senior Fatah officials announced they would come to show their support. This raised my suspicion. The Al-Quds Gates camp joins a list of protest activities and pockets of disobedience that have become a routine marked by many wounded and few participants.
Meanwhile, senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials get their pictures taken while praising the protest efforts. I wonder. Are these actions part of a thorough thinking process, or are they a photo-op meant to blur the adjustment of the PA and the movement in power — Fatah — to the status quo of creeping annexation and surrender that Israel created?
Hit in the leg by a bullet
Bassem Tamimi of the village Nabi Saleh was there. The weekly demonstrations in his village — demanding the return of the spring that the Civil Administration and Halamish settlement usurped — have cost him and his family two killed by soldiers’ guns, arrests and imprisonments, blows, injuries, nighttime raids and frightened children.
Two months ago his wife Neriman (whose brother was one of the two killed) was wounded in the leg by a live bullet fired by soldiers. The bone was shattered, so doctors put in a plate. It hurts and she still needs crutches. Routine.
Tamimi told me he’s also suspicious and skeptical because the activities — including the demonstrations in his village — break up the occupation into isolated, separate claims. He decided to join me on my trip to Hebron, my next destination that day.
We traveled south on the road permitted to Palestinians — the winding, twisting, steep Wadi Nar. The Japanese and Americans have invested a lot of money to improve and widen it so Palestinians will forget the old natural route that runs by Jerusalem and is now closed to them.
Basic light using solar energy has been arranged for this road, but only a few lamps provide light because the panels and other pieces have been stolen. This is Area C, under Israeli security and police control, and the police don’t care if Palestinians steal from themselves. Such theft is another worrying sign of crumbling social solidarity.
According to Tamimi, it’s one reason people rely on their extended family, the clan. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s very palpable now — when the Arab states are falling apart, the PA doesn’t deliver on its promises (independence and statehood), and the Palestinian political system isn’t functioning as a framework of mutual responsibility with a joint national goal.
We returned via Wadi Nar late at night and went to see the guys at Al-Quds Gates. We missed the demolition and real suppression that went on that day. The bulldozers dug ditches and demolished the concrete structures, and the police arrested people and fired plenty of tear gas and stun grenades. But when the bulldozers left, the activists returned and built a wooden frame for the tent and concrete structure.
About 70 percent of them, most Fatah members and the rest Democratic Front members, have been arrested and jailed in the past. A nice fire burned in two drums. Somebody poured coffee. Another brought boxes of pizza.
There were no senior officials or television cameras. Despite the violent repression and exhaustion — the activists barely sleep — optimism prevailed.
Tamimi said the suspicion and skepticism had left him. The youths’ seriousness and determination impressed him. It’s important to show that they don’t surrender to every plan the Civil Administration and army dictate, he said. At every opportunity, it’s important to try to rebuild solidarity that extends beyond the clan.
Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz