This Land is Palestine: removing the occupier’s flag

On the route between the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Ramallah, one witnesses numerous illegal Israeli colonies occupying the hilltops. Although these Jewish-only settlements are a violation of International Law, and the Palestinians are a vast majority, most of the route is lined with the Israeli flag.

Palestinians driving between their towns and cities are forced to pass beneath their occupier’s flag, as if to constantly remind them that they do not have power in their own lands.

Before dawn on May 4, a group of independent Palestinian activists thus decided to raid one such road and replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one. The symbolic act serves to reaffirm that despite Israeli occupation and apartheid, this land is still Palestine.

They were able to successfully complete the action and leave before Israeli authorities arrived.

Palestinian activists replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

A Palestinian activist climbs a ladder to remove the Israeli flag | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

Independent Palestinian activists replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

The image that circulated social networks| compiled by Thaer Sharaf | 05/04/2012

The price of a Palestinian prisoner and Hana Al-Shalabi – continuing the fight

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 26, 2012

Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike last Tuesday, wherein he protested against his administrative detention – that is, arrest without charge or evidence for an indefinite period of time. The final deal reached essentially just shortened his detention order by a few weeks, stating that Israel would not renew the detention – unless, new ‘secret evidence’ surfaces. Thus, although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting. As of February 1st there were 309 Palestinians under administrative detention, but even in the past few weeks this number has increased.

One notable case is that of Hana Yahya al-Shalabi, a woman who was released in the prisoner exchange last October, but was arrested on 17 February 2012 with a six month administrative detention order. Upon her arrest she began a hunger strike, and continues now on her 10th day. For other notable cases under administrative detention see here.

In the recent prisoner swap the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were delighted to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid. One Jewish Israeli life is worth over a thousand Palestinians. And so it has been and continues to be.

For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeatedly splattered across global media. Yet how many of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners can we recall?

There were two phases to the prisoner release, the first which occured in October, led to the release of 477 Palestinian political prisoners. In the two months until the second group of prisoners were released, 470 more Palestinians were imprisoned, essentially making up for those released. Those arrested between October 18 and December 12 included 70 children and 11 women.

Regardless of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and their cruel treatment at that, it was the Israeli captive that made international news continually for five years. Despite that 700,000 Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20% of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population), it is Shalit who was invited to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential palace in Paris where Sarkozy praised Israel for its effort with Shalit, claiming it as a sign of Israel’s democracy “because in a democracy we attach importance to one life.” In the case of Israel, a self proclaimed Jewish nation, that importance appears to be attached exclusively to Jewish lives.

The arrest of an adult military soldier while serving in the Israeli Occupational Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since just 2000 went ignored.

The crimes of Israel’s occupation go largely ignored by the international community.

For example, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel (international law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory). The result of this violation is that the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are often denied permits to enter Israel and thus cannot visit the prisons. This goes largely unmentioned by the international community. Instead, we read about the inhumanity of Hamas not allowing visits to Shalit.

Many aspects of Palestinian life have been criminalized under broad military orders. Examples given by Addameer are, for instance, that the political parties comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are considered “illegal organizations” despite that they have been in peace negotiations with Israel since 1993. The raising of a Palestinian flag is a crime. Participating in a demonstration is a disruption of public order. Even “pouring coffee for a member of a declared illegal association can be seen as support for a terrorist organization.” Thus, imprisonment has also become a common aspect of Palestinian life.

To the families, friends, and supporters of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, the repeated talk of prisoners as numbers can be sickening. Each and every prisoner has a life and story as worthy as Shalit’s was to the world and despite the unequal representation in the media, we can vow to empower as many voices as possible by our own means.

Urgent Action Alert for Hana Al-Shalabi

As Hana al-Shalabi is attempting to remind us that even the prisoners released in the exchange are not safe from harassment. Many have received threatening raids from the IOF in the middle of the night, with a reminder that they should not feel free just because they have been released. Others have had prices put on their head by illegal Israeli settlers, offering money in exchange for their murders.

Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released last October. Last Friday the 17th, she was re-arrested without a charge or trial and since then she has refused food. She has been given a 6-month detention order which can be renewed indefinitely.

On day 10 of her hunger strike, she needs international support to amplify her voice. Act now for Hana al-Shalabi – sign the letter and/or send a fax!

Also, tweet:

Demand Israeli occupation release Hana al-Shalabi immediately! #FreeHana #Palestine http://samidoun.ca/?p=327

Three years, no charge? no trial? Free Hana al-Shalabi now! #FreeHana Take action: http://samidoun.ca/?p=327


Arrested by IOF for nearing a Jewish-only settlement

Yesterday was the one-week anniversary of Mustafa Tamimi’s death. The weekly protest in Nabi Saleh was going as usual last week: Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were responding to peaceful protesting with, among other weapons, tear gas canisters aimed like large bullets. The difference is that last week they didn’t miss. Mustafa was shot from a few meters away directly in the head. Two days later, IOF arrived with mourners at Mustafa’s funeral and began to fire the same tear gas projectiles only a few minutes after the funeral. The day ended with soldiers violently attacking us when confronted about Mustafa’s death, and arresting several.

This week was no better.

Car after car packed with people began arriving in Nabi Saleh from as early as 8am to avoid expected Israeli checkpoints. People wanted to commemorate Mustafa’s death. A bus arrived full of Israeli activists. By noon, everywhere I looked I saw Palestinian flags and keffiyehs.

Crowds of people head to confront soldiers | 16/12/2011 ICAI

As the protest left to confront soldiers at the entrance to the village, I headed in a car with others to the entrance of the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish, which along with annexing land has claimed Nabi Saleh’s only fresh-water spring for themselves. We wanted to make ourselves shown wearing t-shirts bearing the face of Mustafa Tamimi.

Other cars showed up with the same idea and at the entrance to Halamish, some ten people sat down peacefully just in time for three Israeli jeeps to arrive. Soldiers jumped out raid-style and began to arrest everyone they could get their hands on, but particularly those that were sitting, doing nothing other than sitting. There was no warning or threat – just a quick and violent arrest.

Soldiers make arrests outside Halamish settlement | 16/12/2011 activestills

It happened quickly. Women were desperately trying to hold onto each other, screaming and shaking from shock. Others were being dragged away, handcuffed, and gathered on the sidewalk. An older woman was screaming as four soldiers attacked her for arrest. I was torn between being a photographer or partaking, but as I kept going back and forth a commander recognized me from last week’s struggle and came directly for me. I tried to resist but they began to drag me, then another soldir came and grabbed one leg.

My arrest outside Halamish settlement | 16/12/2011 Ahmad Daghlas

I was piled with the others infront of a jeep. When I stood up, a soldier tried to push me down but I dodged him. I rushed back to see my friend from England was being grabbed by a soldier and was really panicking. I held her thinking we might resist arrest, but we were in a sea of soldiers, and instead they handcuffed me and her and stuffed us into a military jeep.

English activist, Holly and I are arrested | 16/12/2011 ICAI

Inside we were met with the older woman and soon after by an Israeli girl and Mohammed Khateeb who had just been attacked by an Israeli settler who had stopped. Of course soldiers arrested us for sitting, and not the settler for actual violence.

The Israeli girl who would later be hit by an Israeli settler while soldiers look on | 16/12/2011 Fadi Arouri

In the jeep there wasn’t enough room for us. Mohammed Khateeb was lying on the floor handcuffed and the soldier suggested the Israeli girl sit on a bucket full of tear gas canisters. She refused and brought our attention to the bags and bins full of weaponry and ammunition at the back of the jeep. There was no woman soldier in the jeep with us.

We were driven deeper into Halamish, and stopped outside a military base. Soldier men and women were walking around, some curious, most just laughing and making fun of us. None of them could look you in the eye for more than a couple seconds. A soldier opened my purse and pulled out my camera. I tried to stop them but was just shoved around between the many soldiers that were there. They pulled so hard on my arm that the plastic-tie handcuffs came loose and they had to redo it, this time behind my back and so tight that my hands instantly started swelling.

Meanwhile the same soldier that had attacked Khateeb had stopped his car infront of us. A man and his son. Soldiers didn’t interfere as he came up to us and began to take photographs of our faces. The Israeli girl stood up infront of him  and he slapped her across the face, knocking her back. This infront of at least ten soldiers. No one stopped him or arrested him. We began to chant the numbers of his license plate so we could later file a charge: 44322, 44322, 44322….but if history teaches us anything he won’t be charged.

The soldiers let us know we didn’t have the right to get angry. Khateeb was being pressed against the stone stairs by two soldiers. One soldier had his hand around Khateebs neck, and I tried to put my leg inbetween his head and the stones. Soldiers picked him up and threw him to the ground face-down. They were pulling at his arms, which were handcuffed underneath him. “I’ll give you my hands by myself!” He screamed repeatedly in Arabic, English and Hebrew.

It went on like this, leaving him with blood on his face and arm and dirt on his cheeks. I was thinking how he has such a warm face, wrinkles around his eyes and often smiling. Later on they would say he assaulted a soldier. I don’t know when this allegedly happened, him being in handcuffs the entire time. I do know that 99.74% of Palestinians tried in Israeli military court are convicted and that just the word of a soldier is proof.

We were taken to a room where we met a few others. Nothing was said to us, and we waited sitting on old cushions and mattress-less metal bed frames for hours. The entire time we were handcuffed. If your phone rang, a soldier would take it away. If we talked too loud, soldiers would interfere. The windows didn’t close and as the hours passed, we began to huddle together for warmth. When we needed to use the bathroom, we were told to wait. After half an hour, they started to take one person at a time to a bathroom outside the building, about a 10 minute trip. There were 23 of us.

Arrested we were 23 people in total, including 7 Palestinians, 12 Israelis, and 4 internationals – among them 12 women. Among them was Mohamed Tamimi, a young man my age, braces still on and resembling his late cousin, Mustafa Tamimi. Everytime he walked into the room he would put his cuffed arms in the air, resembling the famous picture of Marwan Barghouti. We would clap for him. He was pacing most of the time, red eyed. He was going to be charged with stone-throwing, which could land him 6 months. He doesn’t throw stones, he photographs and reports. He kept trying to talk to the soldiers – You killed Mustafa, isn’t that enough? How can you sleep at night, I just want to know….How can you sleep?

Mohammed Tamimi being arrested. He is currently in Ofer prison. | 16/12/2011 Activestills

The older woman that was arrested with us had a ring of purple bruises around her upper arm and her entire arm was numb. We requested a doctor. Half an hour later, a medic-soldier came and did nothing but accuse her of making it up. I flipped out when he said it! She got to see a doctor after an hour of waiting, but nothing came out of it.

The entire time we were in Halamish we didn’t see one soldier or officer that spoke Arabic. Can you imagine if you were a Palestinian arrested alone without anyone to advise you not to sign or say anything – everything was done in Hebrew and if those among us didn’t translate, no one would have.

We were in Halamish for 9 hours. They filmed us while our charges were read in Hebrew, one by one. They searched us, took away everything except our money, and escorted us to the bus, one by one. When everyone was on the bus they started to call people, one by one, to have their charges read to them in Hebrew. Mohammed Khateeb translated. Most of us were charged with entering a closed military zone, then refusing to leave when asked. Do you have anything to add? no I replied. Do you want to sign? no. We were not in a CMZ  and were never asked to leave, but had we signed, we wouldn’t have gotten out.

The bus drove to Benyamin Gate police station, with soldiers posted at the back and the front.  They had taken our belts, and I wanted to tie a scarf around my waist: it took me about twenty minutes to manoeuvre with the handcuffs on. In Benyamin we were piled into a tiny room, some of us sitting on tables or the ground. Everyone had their handcuffs removed except Mohammed Tamimi. The smokers were still denied to smoke, and honestly this was the biggest object of stress in the room. At one point, soldiers agreed, then changed their mind when they reached outside. Taunting. We had been arrested for 10 hours before a soldier walked in, and threw a box of food on the ground. Before, two Israeli activists had come around giving everyone one bite of the food they happened to have. Inside the box was some fruit, several loaves of white wonder bread, a hundred small packages of chocolate spread, and two huge bags of yogurt (which remained largely untouched…).

This post is a jumble of words, but it expresses this experience. It was a jumble of confusion, anger and sadness. I felt so powerless without my camera in my hands. Everything in those rooms was between us and the IOF with no way to prove that we were treated like caged animals. As for the protest happening in Nabi Saleh, I obviously can’t testify but the pictures speak for themselves:

Tear gas is fired into a crowd of protesters | 16/12/2011 ICAI

A sound bomb explodes among protesters | 16/12/2011 Ahmad Doghlas

In Benyamin they began to take Israelis and Internationals for interrogation. Two hours passed and finally an officer who spoke Arabic came. He dealt with me and the four other Palestinians excluding the two Mohammeds with worse charges. As we walked by some officers, shivering, one of them looked at us pitiyingly and asked – did they get food? How ridiculous that these people, the backbones of the Israeli occupation, like to play the “humanitarian”. Am I supposed to thank you? My people wouldn’t be imprisoned if it weren’t for people like you. They may try to ease their conscience with small gestures, but until they put down the gun and stop invading our lands they must carry the responsibility on their backs.

An hour later, at almost 1 am after over 12 hours, he told us that he was going to do us a ‘favour’ and let us go.

We received our belongings in plastic bags, and weren’t allowed to say bye to the people we left behind. Mohammed Tamimi and Mohammed Khateeb were eventually transfered to Ofer prison. Throughout the night they joked that they would send our Salaams to Bassem Tamimi, a prisoner from Nabi Saleh. Somehow I thought that they would find a way to get out of the mess, but in reality there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and detained. 30% to 40% of the population have been in prison and between 3 and 4 out of 5 Palestinian men have been in prison. Why would these two be any different?

Qalandia: White sky of tear gas looms over apartheid wall construction

[delayed publishing this one on my blog because Mustafa Tamimi was murdered on the same day in Nabi Saleh]

by Rana H.
9 December 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

Peaceful protesters came face to face with Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in Qalandia on Friday before soldiers began to fire tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at the civilian group including children, women, and elders. Qalandia village is protesting the construction of the apartheid wall that will cut through their land.

Following the Friday prayer, a procession marched down a dirt path flattened by Israeli bulldozers to a fenced in area where the bulldozers were parked. Two jeeps full of soldiers were quick to arrive and met the march at the fence.

Demonstrators chant in front of Israeli Occupation Forces | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

“We resist with peace, as we learned from Bil’in!” chanted the demonstration, among other slogans that criticized results of Israel’s occupation such as the wall. “We are here to resist against the settlements and the wall that steal our land and divide us,” said one of the protest leaders. The procession was joined by activists from Israel, France, America, Canada, and Switzerland.

A Palestinian girl waves her flag in the face of Israeli soldiers | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Although protesters were peacefully chanting, and not advancing, the Israeli military began showing aggressive movements such as pointing guns directly at protesters and pulling out tear gas and sound bombs, hinting at the assault to come. Some soldiers also began to snap photographs of protesters’ faces, despite that they had not committed any crime.

Palestinian demonstrators stand on concrete blocks in the face of IOF soldiers. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Israeli military orders protesters to descend from the concrete blocks. Demonstrators maintained that they have the right to stand peacefully. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

A protester hung the Palestinian flag onto the fence surrounding the bulldozers and the flag easily stuck onto the barbed wire. At this point, a couple IOF soldiers became enraged and began to push and strike protesters, including at least three women.

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier shoves a female protester away. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier threatens protesters. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier strikes a Palestinian man | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Chaos broke out as the IOF unleashed sound bombs, causing demonstrators to try to distance themselves from soldiers. Before people could get away, tear gas began to fly through the air. Soldiers continued to shoot tear gas at the people: a procession including many women, children, and elders who were visibly unarmed and had not committed any crime.

The cloudy white sky made the high-velocity tear gas projectiles almost impossible to see until they landed among the crowd – an incredibly dangerous situation to fire in, which could have ended lethally as was the case in An Nabi Saleh when Mustafa Tamimi was killed after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister.

Soon after, soldiers began to fire rubber-coated steel bullets as well.

Despite the obvious danger of facing these weapons, protesters continued to attempt to re-gather themselves and continue chanting for almost one hour. Young boys stood unabashedly in the front lines, dodging rubber-coated bullets and gas.

Eventually, protest leaders called the group back to the village and the demonstration ended.

Ni’lin battles bullets, tear gas, and the apartheid wall

December 2, 2011 | Rana Hamadeh

Last time I was in Ni’lin it was covered in dust from a summer without a drop of rain. Now I see the green and lush hills of new grass, with daffodils sprouting up and it’s as if I’m in a different place altogether. It’s sunny and warm, unlike most of Palestine at this time of year and I assume that’s why their cacti haven’t withered yet and there are still people out harvesting olives.

We arrived in the village, none of us being too familiar with it, and just began to walk. Wearing our keffiyehs on a Friday morning, the day of the weekly protest, it was obvious where we were going. People pointed us in the right directions. The first open store we crossed, a barber shop, we asked to leave our bags inside. Theft is almost never a problem here (for example, I lost my ID and bank card and $200 in a taxi, only to get it back as it is a few days later from word-of-mouth between taxi drivers).

We could hear the Friday prayer on the loud speaker, so we knew the march hadn’t begun yet, but we walked slowly to the area anyways. The path we reached was regally surrounded from both sides by a hedge of stones and cacti. To our right and left were olive, almond, and fig trees growing out of rich red earth.

A hedge of cacti separates the path from olive, almond, and fig trees in Ni'lin's farmland. | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The procession eventually reached us, marching, carrying flags, and releasing their frustration through their chanting. Which frustration exactly? That of which every single Palestinian carries from being affected by the occupation. Arrests, checkpoints, night raids, harrassment, beatings, shootings, lootings, house demolitions, displacement, settlements, the wall, racism, curfews, land grabs, evictions, exiles… the frustration at having no effective means to fight these, the frustration of being forsaken by much of the outside world, and the frustration of being called the oppressor while being brutally oppressed.

It is a heavy burden to carry but somehow most Palestinians manage to continue on in life – to build friendships and relationships, have children, find joy, and end their day, no matter how dismal, with laughter. But when we chant, you see frustration releasing from every tongue. So we chant quite a lot.

To my dismay, the dirt path led us straight to the wall. The tall concrete twists through the village’s olive groves like a snake. Last time I was here, this wall wasn’t. Last time I was here, we still had hope for change – thinking if we kept our protests creative and peaceful that Israel would feel the pressure. Last time I was here, children were shot point-blank and I thought certainly the world wouldn’t turn a blind eye.

Climbing the apartheid wall | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The path lead straight to a huge black gate in the wall. When the Israeli military raided the town, their jeeps came through this gate and tore through the beautiful path we just came along. All I could see of the soldiers was their helmets peeking out from the other side of the wall, standing on a watchpost.

It was only a few minutes before thrown stones were battling tear gas. People lit up a couple tires against the wall, explaining the blackened concrete patches all along it.

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The soldier were firing from behind the wall without being able to see us. The tear gas they were firing was not the usual type I’ve grown accustomed to dodging – this type doesn’t fly in a straight line. It looks like a small black balloon, but is in fact rock hard and quite heavy. When fired, it buzzes around in loops, then shoots unpredictably in one direction. Watching them shot out over our heads and not knowing which way to run exhausted me.

As usual, I was amazed and saddened at the children that skipped straight through this mess without flinching, the youth voicing their resistance with a stone, the farmers standing calmly with a flag raised in the air. To the outside eye, this was war: fires, smoke, explosions, gun shots, tear gas, people ducking, running, shouting.

One boy climbed the wall, peeked over, and reported back where the soldiers were stationed. Others prepared a cardboard house, painted with the Israeli flag colours, and reading “No to the apartheid wall, no to the settlements” to be burned. It was hoisted onto a long pole, so that soldiers on the other side could read it clearly as it was burned to nothingness.

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

A tear gas canister flew right in the face of a woman Israeli activist who immediately collapsed. Boys ran into the thick air and picked her up just as she hit the ground. They tried to take her to clear air but more shots were fired. People fanned her as she vomited.

An Israeli woman activist is carried after collapsing from tear gas suffocation | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

Even though the village kept up this resistance, I felt something was different. Was it just in my mind, or did no one really believe this would change anything? Every week, coming out to tell Israel that this wall is a crime, only to be gassed and forced to run like ants under a magnifying glass. The urge to equalize the playing field is powerful. Go there, experience what its like to lose your land, your freedom, your brother, to always be at the mercy of the Israeli army and all its weaponry….and you will understand why people pick up guns and resist. Of course they have the complete right to respond as such. But as most of us know, a few Palestinians with smuggled guns or home-made rockets cannot face one of the most powerful armies in the world, the IOF. For now, the people will continue the non-violent struggle, but the international community must stand with them.

Smoke from tear gas and fires fill the sky | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

An hour and a half later, the protest was called back just as tensions were rising. I heard people shout that if we kept going, the soldiers would just open the gate and chase us in jeeps back to the village. We walked back, and just as we were about to sit under an old olive tree to have a drink of juice with some of the residents, we heard shooting in the distance. Not the normal sounds – live bullets. “The soldiers entered!” shouted people running back to the site to stand with whoever was left behind. Soldiers had crossed the wall and were following a few youth that were left.

We ran after them.

A few men were at the top of a hill, with a loudspeaker, watching the movement of the soldiers and shouting down to the four or five boys left, throwing stones in the face of Israeli guns. Two young men, one a photographer and one a stone-thrower, just kept approaching the soldiers despite others shouting at him to go back. I stood with friends behind an old almond tree. I heard the familiar sound of rubber-coated steel bullets zooming by. As I looked out from behind the tree, the young man threw a rock, ,a bang and hiss sounded as a live bullet was fired, and the rock exploded in the air. Another bang, and the man throwing rocks zoomed past us away from the soldiers, running with a limp and his hand grabbing his leg. He didn’t respond to anyone’s yells and went off by himself. Later he told us he thought it was live, until he had run a couple hundred metres and realized it was a rubber-coated bullet. Thank God, he said.

Now the photographer stood alone, soldiers aimed and shouted at him to retreat. I’m just a camera man! he shouted at them and took a step forward. Myself and other women stood up on rocks behind him with our hands visible. The air was like ice for these few moments.

Then a shout from our comrades at the top of the hill: “the soldiers are retreating!”

That was my return to the Ni’lin. It was more beautiful than I could have remembered.

The next day I returned to look for something I had lost. Two Palestinian men came along to help. As we neared the protest area, soldiers jumped out from behind a rock, guns pointed at us and beckoned us over. A Druze Israeli soldier spoke to us in Arabic that they had been on orders to wait for us because we looked like reporters (my big camera over my soldier).

“No, this is my land right here.” said one of my companions, pointing to an area nearby. “And my camera doesn’t even have battery” I showed them. Nonetheless, we were held for over an hour as they radioed our ID numbers and awaited a reply.

“We wish the occupation could end too,” said one of the soldiers. Nothing more infuriating that someone stepping on you and saying I wish you could be free.

Palestinian Freedom Riders challenge segregation

At the media meeting point, journalists jumped out of their cars, blocking both lanes of the road, and rushed to catch a glimpse of the freedom riders. Inspired by the US civil rights movement Freedom Rides, 6 Palestinians were on their way to (attempt to) board segregated Israeli settler buses to occupied East Jerusalem.

Public statements from the Palestinian Freedom Riders:

Badee’ Dwak, who was arrested during the ride, said: “The companies operating Israeli buses, like Egged and Veolia, are directly complicit in Israel’s violations of our rights. They transport settlers in and out of our occupied land, on roads that we often can’t use into places that we can’t reach, including Jerusalem. They need to be divested from and boycotted. Not just here, but around the world. It is a moral duty to end complicity in this Israeli system of apartheid.”

Basel Al Araj commented prior to his arrest: “The settlers are to Israel what the KKK was to the Jim Crow South – an unruly, fanatic mob that has enormous influence in shaping Israeli policies today and that violently enforces these policies with extreme violence and utter impunity all over the occupied Palestinian territory, especially in and around Jerusalem.”

The freedom riders walked to the bus stop, followed by a mob of cameras and journalists. They carried signs reading – DIGNITY, DEFY UNJUST LAWS, WE SHALL OVERCOME

At the settler bus stop

Four buses passed without stopping to admit the Palestinians. As the fifth neared, Huwaida Arraf (Palestinian activist and lawyer) reached out her hand and hailed the bus to a stop, then lead the 5 other freedom riders, and a swarm of cameras, to the doors of the bus.

Once they boarded the bus, we ran to our car and did our best to follow them, despite an Israeli military jeep which appeared to be purposely driving slow to deter the cars behind it from catching up to the bus. We took a short cut and arrived at Hizmeh checkpoint.

Here, the bus was stopped, and some of the Israeli passengers got off when it became apparent that there was going to be delays. They had a stand-off here for about an hour. In the meantime, friends and I got out the posters we had prepared and began to demonstrate along the street leading up to the checkpoint and the bus. Many passing Israelis made rude gestures, refused to look at us, even shouted – but now and then, we would catch the smile of a 1948-Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship, but whose heart lay with us.

Activists holding posters (Picture from the ISM)

The Palestinian Freedom Rides are specifically calling for a boycott against two companies profiting from Israel’s illegal settlement infrastructure: the largest Israeli public transportation company, Egged, which the freedom riders boarded, and Veolia, a French prominent transportation company in the Occupied Territory. For more information on companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations, visit BDS.

Veolia is involved in building a tramway that links illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel. Article 49th of the 4th Geneva Convention forbids an occupier from transferring its own civilians into the area it occupies.

Although there is no official prohibition against Palestinians on Israeli transportation in the West Bank, in practice, the buses are segregated. They pass through Jewish-only settlements which forbid Palestinian entry by military decree.

Palestinians need a rarely-given Israeli permission to enter Israel (1948 Palestine), Jerusalem, or any of the 224 illegal settlements within the West Bank. Peace Now’s interactive map shows all these settlements. Israel restricts Palestinian freedom of movement by means of temporary, permanent, and random checkpoints, by forbidding Palestinian use of certain roads, and the Occupation wall.

Israelis in occupied Palestine have very few limitations enforced to them. They are encouraged by the Israeli government to illegally, by International law, settle in the West Bank. The United Nations says the number of attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinians resulting in either injury or damage to property has roughly tripled since 2009. Around 10,000 olive trees have been burned or damaged by settlers this year alone. Despite this, the UN report says that in 90% of complaints filed to the Israeli police by Palestinians against settlers, nobody is ever indicted.

Although by the laws of occupation, Israel has a responsibility to protect the Palestinians from these settlers (in fact, Israel should not have illegal colonies within the country they occupy in the first place) – very little is done to prevent the violence. Settlers are most often free to travel to Palestinian areas, are not searched, are free to carry weapons, and are sometimes even trained by the army. When they do commit crimes, Israeli military and police often are delayed in bringing a stop to it, or do not interfere at all. Settlers are rarely indicted for these crimes, even murder.

My poster reads, "Freedom for Palestine." | Haitham Khatib

While it was stopped at Hizmeh checkpoint, border police had tried to aggressively drag one of the Palestinians off the bus, but unsuccessful, they decided to command the bus 200 metres up the road, in order to free up the blocked lane in the checkpoint, and attempt to evade some of the media. Here they planned to arrest them. When we tried to go, soldiers let through all the demonstrators except me – for the same reason the Freedom Riders were about to be arrested – I’m Palestinian. Instead of returning to sit in the taxi alone and accept the rules that allow anyone except the actual descendents of the land to enter, me and 3 others decided to try to walk through the checkpoint anyways, knowing that I risked arrest for it. Immediately soldiers surrounded us and blocked the way. They took a look at my Canadian passport, then walked away and began to do other work without returning it. I began to follow the soldier demanding he return it, until he passed it off to another soldier. Now three soldiers faced us.

“I’ll give you the passport if you go back,” said a soldier.

“Give me the passport, but I’m not going back,” I replied. The 3 internationals with me began to demand that he give me my passport, that he’s already seen it and has no right to detain it.

He handed it back to me, and tried to push me back, “alright, now go back.”

“Nope” we replied simply. He tried to grab the passport back, but I pulled my arm out of his reach, then snuck the passport into my pocket and the two other soldiers burst into laughter at how he managed to lose the passport, but not us.

We stood in confrontation for around an hour. I was speaking to only one of the three soldiers, because he was the only one who spoke Arabic. The soldier would say, “It’s not me, it’s the law.” But when asked about the illegality of the settlements they are blocking entry to, he was unable to look at me. “It’s not me, it’s the establishment. I’m not blocking you from going” he would say, trying to extinguish his role in this. It’s not you? So on his cue, I stepped to his right and began to walk through the checkpoint – only to be surrounded by even more soldiers.

Eventually we decided to turn back because we heard word that all six Freedom Riders had been violently arrested, and we wanted to go to the Atarot prison to protest. It didn’t feel good to turn away, but at least we showed a few soldiers that there are some people still not normalized to their rules of apartheid.

An Israeli soldier unsuccessfuly tries to intimidate protesters away.

We headed back to Ramallah, then crossed the Qalandia checkpoint into another area that according to Israel’s laws, I’m forbidden to enter, but we managed! We held a protest outside the Atarot prison where we knew the Freedom Riders were being held. For us it felt a little bit futile, as it was late at night, and the media had all gone home, but the Palestinians being held told us later that they could hear our chants and even had tried to shout back!

We soon after made the decision to leave, because soldiers came out and threatened to arrest us all if we weren’t gone in ten minutes. Although some of us were ready to defy this, we made the decision that it wasn’t worth it as there was no media left and we needed to get home to send our reports, photos, and videos of the day.

The large crew of cameras definitely had an influence on the turn-out of events.

On the one hand, they had a positive extinguishing effect on the likelihood of violence from Israeli settlers and soldiers.

The other hand is that it resulted in a non-realistic handling of the situation. Had the cameras not been present, the Palestinian Freedom Riders would very likely have been subject to much more abuse, may not have been able to get on the bus in the first place, and probably would have been held in Israeli detention for much longer.

Although no one wishes these things for the Palestinian Riders who boarded the bus, it is worth noting.

At the end of the day, we went home with the feeling that, as a fellow ISMer puts it, “like I was witnessing history.”

Freedom Riders: “I felt like I was witnessing history” – ISM

Israel Arrests “Freedom Riders” Challenging Apartheid Road System – Electronic Intifada

Palestine: Freedom Rides Expose Israeli Segregation – Green Left Weekly

Israeli Reactions to Freedom Riders – +972 mag

Palestinian “Freedom Riders” Arrested – AFP

Solidarity with Palestinian Freedom Riders – Jewish Voices For Peace

Arrests Greet Palestinian Freedom Riders – Salon

Freedom Riders Take on Israeli Segregation – Bikyamasr

Burin: “We know for certain it’s not the settlers’ land, because they burn it.”

Palestine has been in the olive groves for the month of October, picking despite threats of Israeli soldier & settler violence and harassment. At dawn, generations of the family, from grandmother to grandson, pack up their donkeys or tractors and head to their piece of land to pick each and every olive from each tree on their land. It is hard work, but the people will only complain when they are prevented from reaching their groves by settlers or soldiers. The work is often done with a hint of a rush, knowing that at any moment they could be ordered to leave. When the bags of olives arrive at home at the end of the day, a sigh is released and a prayer is made for the next day.

A portion of the Najjar family's land

This year, more than 4000 olive trees have been burned in Burin by the illegal Israeli settlers. (LRC)

“Every year it is getting worse, and this year it is a lot worse. It used to be they burned trees once a year, but this year they have burned trees four times since April. Since April, they have cut down and burned entire areas to clear the land so we can use nothing,” says Ghassan Najjar. “Olives are the most important farming product here for us. Of course the olive harvest is important for the olives and for the resistance. We know for certain that if we leave the land they will steal it, and claim it is their land.” He also added something that is easily overlooked, “we know for certain that it’s not their land, because they burn it.”(Harvesting Olives as a statement of resistance, EI)

The hillside pictured below shows some of the trees that were so damaged by the fire that they had to be pruned down to stumps. Further down you can see that many of the trees are brown and dry from the fire. The ground is still littered with remnants of black ash.

An Int’l recounts a burning in July of this year: “Arriving at the scene we found dozens of local men and boys fighting the fire. Their mouths covered with scarves and shirts they were beating down the flames with olive branches and cloths. A small boy ran up the hillside carrying bottles of water for the men covered in ash and streaked with sweat… around 50 settlers from the Yizhar settlement beside Burin had come down the hills at 11.45am and set fire to the trees and fields. On such a dry day with a strong breeze the flames caught easily and spread rapidly. However, the fire engine and locals were prevented from reaching the flames for over two hours by the Israeli army.”

“We watched as groups of settlers appeared as shadowy figures through the smoke, viewing the inferno from the hilltop, the army standing between them and the villagers putting out the flames. The rest of the team and I wondered what they could be thinking as they looked down on the village’s livelihood being destroyed.” (RightsNi)

This family has had about a quarter of their trees burned in the past year. We were present because their land is high up the mountain, near to an illegal Israeli settlement. They also didn’t have Israeli authority “permission” to pick the land, but seeing as the land is the property of this family, they were determined to pick it regardless. Many Palestinian families refuse to apply for “permission”, or if it is given, will only pick on days without it. Despite having permission, soldiers often appear and inexplicably revoke it, ordering everyone home.

Climbing the charred landscape. This year, hundreds of trees were burned on this hill.

As we picked I overheard a Palestinian man exclaim that “even with a career, a car, a house, friends, the land always comes first. We drop everything and attend to the land because it is the true value we have.”

Faces of Burin

Below is a view of beautiful Burin from the site of the murders of two young men by the Israeli army. Guys from the village were known to come up here at night, smoke, and hang out. This particular night, there were only two there when a grenade hit the area. One was killed immediately, but the other died after being shot three more times. I’ll bring names and more details as soon as I can, inshaAllah.

Burin has been good to me, hard on my hands, soft to my heart, filling, welcoming, beautiful…

go home

Tel Rumeida

Come on a tour of Tel Rumeida. How can I describe what Tel Rumeida is…..

It is the epitome of apartheid. It is surrounded by walls and checkpoints, closed off from the rest of Hebron. There are two Israeli settlements, Beit Haddasseh and Tel Rumeida, housing some of the West Bank’s most extreme settlers, which include members of Kach, designated by Israel as a terrorist organization.

The street that you can see down there is Martyr Street. Palestinians are not allowed to walk on that street, though settlers can enter Palestinian areas. Instead of the paved road, the Palestinians must use this dirt path. In Tel Rumeida, Palestinians cannot drive cars to get to their homes, while settlers are free to drive.

Even though settlers will often throw water or stones, and even violently attack Palestinians and activists with them, they are free from any prosecution, and undergo searches on a daily basis just to move between their homes and the rest of the city. Even though the settlers’ children will terrorize Palestinians (frighteningly enough, even toddlers), it is the Palestinian children that are constantly being stopped, have their schoolbags searched, and are harrassed by any means possible by soldiers. Today we saw a soldier make a very young boy take off his cast for search. Soldiers humiliate, throw things, laugh at families as they walk by, and do what they can to degrade them.

Children that need to go by settlers’ homes to get to/from school need soldiers to escort them due to the violence and aggression from settlers. Soldiers cannot even control the settlers they are there to “protect”.

“Gas the Arabs”, not an uncommon statement here. JDL stands for Jewish Defense League – a far-right wing group that are considered terrorists by many, including the FBI.

We’re shown a Palestinian cemetery. Because it borders Martyr Street, Palestinians are not allowed to use it, maintain it or even walk through it. To reiterate, settlers can go pretty much anywhere they want in Tel Rumeida.

This is a very old well that leads to a spring. To Palestinians these things are truly considered holy. The settlers graffitied it and often swim in it, knowing that Palestinians drink from it.

We are in a field of olive trees, belonging anciently to the families around. Of course, they are prevented from harvesting them and settlers come and take their olives.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is reminded of Nazi Germany where Jewish homes were tagged with the star of David. Now the Palestinian shops and homes have been tagged with it. This entire street is a ghost street. Some Palestinians still live above, but the children do not leave the houses to play. They are not allowed to walk on the street that accesses these doors so they often have to go to nearby buildings, walk across the roofs, and climb down into their own houses.

These streets used to be vibrant markets which are now so desolate that dogs sleep in the streets and the only people you will see in the open are settlers or soldiers.