Saturday, February 04, 2006
Bil'in and beyond
Fridays protest began in the heavy rain. On the march down towards the wall there were less people, with many of the young people from Bil'in taking cover in an abandoned house. Until things cleared the rally was made up mostly of Israelis, Internationals and more experienced Palestinian activists. This in some ways set the tone for the rally as we were a united front line that was upbeat and political, we were dancing and chanting similar chants to those chanted in Australia "1,2,3,4, Occupation No More" and "Bush, Sharon you will see, Palestine will be free."
As the rally dried up more of the villagers came to join the demonstration. At at the back of the rally a soldier with a tear gas gun (featured in photo below wearing a belaclava) was threatening to fire tear gas at a group of kids with some of his friends watching. I and others tried to de-escalate things at the back with a variety of jovial banter. One his fellow soldiers had a mini-digital camera like mine and I joked about how he was taking photo's for his mum "Hey mum here is a picture of a kid I gassed today." Most of the soldiers are very undisciplined. Unlike Australian police who tend to stay quiet and not respond these soldiers displayed a wide gamete of behavior from ignoring, to arguing back, to giving the Nuremburg excuse "I am just following orders."
Some of the soldiers were visibly upset and needed their friends to reassure them that they were doing a good job after they fired a warning shot. The issue of refusers is more complicated then I thought, some of the Israelis at the demonstration outright refused to serve and some of them were still currently serving. Of the Israelis that are still in the army reserves, some refuse to serve in the occupied territories and one I met serves in the occupied territories because he feels he can lessen the impact of his group. He said he did this by "sticking up his hand before a raid and questioning his commanding officers orders." He felt that he had stopped raids from happening and had reduced their effect. He was now often kept in the outpost while other soldiers would raid Palestinian homes, but even then he thinks that these raids were less violent because his peers would face him when he got back.
When the kids threw stones at the soldiers some of them turned to us like little kids and said "look, see what they do?" We told them that if they were going to play that game then they started it by being on their land and preventing them from protesting on their land. Some of the kids dragged the Danish flag through the mud which was not useful. Such actions only alienate and scare internationals and really Australia and the US are supporting the occupation so why focus people on Denmark?
We ended up running to another break in the wall. I was leading the charge and they sent off warning shots as we advanced. We put our hands in the air to make it clear we were unarmed but kept moving forward slowly. The closer we were, the safer we were as they could not use tear gas without hitting themselves. We formed up right in front of them and some of them went a bit crazy with sticks.
We held our ground however, moving back on our own terms and ended up de-arresting some people caught up in another section of the demonstration. The soldiers fired more tear gas and we retreated back. The kids continued to throw stones, one kid threw some stones at some of the internationals that were taking pictures. An experienced Palestinian activist talked to the kid and found out he was concerned about having his photo taken given the repercussions a Palestinian can face at these demonstrations (months, sometimes years in jail).
At the end we all pulled back and watched a film. Thinking about the Israeli soldiers and the kids you get a sense that things are about to crack. Unlike Australia where the conflicts (though generally not involving tear gas) are between disciplined police and usually experienced activists, here people aren't as clear. There are too many doubts in the soldiers minds and they are beginning to crack in all directions.
Likewise the village kids who just happen to be on the front line of the occupation aren't educated in political strategy. The wall came to them, they didn't have the luxury to have 6 years of theoretical and practical education in activism before coming into the conflict. Palestinians (I say Palestinians not 'the Palestinians' because it only applies to some) have a real tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. They are frustrated by an occupation that is affecting every aspect of their lives. You can sense the psychology of this place, people are depressed.
Despite this tendency, I do see that many people are developing and talking strategy. Likewise I get a sense that the soldiers are becoming increasingly hostile to the work that they are doing. One change that seems noticeable talking to Israelis is there seems to be a big backlash against the settlers. People are pissed off that they are causing violence, that the army is having to come to their rescue, that they are getting cheaper housing and are paying less taxes then other Israelis. People have told me "only a few years ago settlers were still seen as heroes" now it seems to be a selling point in the election who can be most harsh to the settlers.
I will be talking to some people from the Palestinian Peoples Party (formally known as the Palestinian Communist Party) to talk strategy and get a sense of their ideology. I will report back soon.