Saturday, February 18, 2006
Protest in Beit Sira: Disciplined Mass Action fails to reach potential
Like the rally in Abud the week before it appeared that the cadre leading the rally was a solid vibrant block in the middle rather then up the front, which is usually the case at Australian demonstrations. So whilst a few younger kids ran to the front and were a bit a head the main group, who were proceeded slowly chanting and singing.
There were various chants in Arabic but it wasn't long until we bumped into a settlement. Unlike the settlements at Bil'in that confiscated primarily agricultural land that was a 15 minute walk from the village, the settlement here was literally a stones throw away. There was wire fence that separated the village from the settlement but the full-on wall project was yet to be in full swing.
Many of the villages trees had been cut down where the wall is going to be built. We moved onto a road and proceeded to Match. The terrain in Beit Sira helped things in that the whole group stayed together on the flat cement road, so we weren't dispersed on a hill side like we were at the previous two demonstrations.
A lone jeep drove through the rally. One of the soldiers stood on the roof and waved his gun indiscriminately. In this photo you can see after they parked their car in front of the demonstration the first thing they did was load their guns with rubber bullets. They were clearly trying to provoke. Still there was a thin line of them and the rally could have easily passed the soldiers in a peaceful non violent manner.
But we hesitated. Then another three of jeeps showed up at the back of the demonstration. They also wanted to drive through the rally. Many of the young people wanted to block the Jeeps to prevent them from getting through, but the elders in the village instructed them to let the Jeeps pass and the young people co-operated. Now the Army had four jeeps in front of the demo and they had some more soldiers.
They were trying to provoke the demonstration including this soldier (left) who didn't think twice about where he held his gun or the fact he had a tear gas canister in his outstretched arm. This tear gas canister threat seemed particularly silly given that he couldn't use it while we were that close. Even though there were four jeeps, a jeep is hardly a people mover and they wouldn't of had more then 24 soldiers against the 200 demonstrators
The young people (the majority of the demonstration) wanted to march but the 'popular committee' of the village instructed people to turn back. It was very clear that people were frustrated and wanted to proceed with the march regardless of the soldier presence. Whilst the popular committee were able to stop people moving forward they weren't able to convince people to move back.
So we milled around in front of the soldiers for ages, the crowd slowly diminishing. ISM and the other internationals I think made a mistake in siding with the advice of the Popular committee against the wishes of the majority of the demonstration. Had we pushed through we could have had a united inspiring rally where the peoples energy could have been channeled constructively towards reaching a constructed section of wall further down the road.
Instead people felt defeated with all there energy and frustration remaining. So the usual stone throwing, tear gas dynamic played itself out. This was the first demonstration in Beit Sira so hopefully organisers will analyse the rally and improve for next time. But like some of the rallies in Melbourne when the second intifada happened we need to be careful not to side with a conservative 'leadership' over an emerging younger layer that are wanting to do whatever it takes to win against the occupation and are winning other people to this perspective.