Activists close entrance to illegal Israeli settlement

On May 13, as some 2000 Palestinian prisoners were in their 27th day of hunger-striking, Palestinian and solidarity activists blocked the entrance to one of the largest Israeli colonies in the West Bank.

Around 50 activists arrived at the entrance of the illegal Jewish-only settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and were successful in blocking traffic for at least 20 minutes. Israeli forces arrived quickly and detained two Palestinian men from the crowd, taking them to the nearby police station. As the activists left the area, they climbed to a nearby hill overlooking the same street and raised Palestinian flags. Israeli soldiers climbed the hill and forced them to descend. The activists then climbed an adjacent hill, prompting the same reaction from Israeli soldiers. The action was successful in its goal of civil disturbance.

The following day, the mass hunger strike of Palestinians in Israeli prisons reached a deal and the strike was finished. Many human rights groups have since criticized Israel for not maintaining parts of the agreement.

The importance of perseverance and creativity in the popular struggle cannot be stressed enough. As Palestinians battle normalization and apathy from several years of repetitive resistance and little gains, new ideas and forms of struggle are needed to keep the passion and dedication alive.


Fadi Abu Zeitoun, Killed as Settlers Attacked Farmers

Rana Hamadeh | April 9, 2012 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

See original article on

Israeli settlers attacked and chased a group of Palestinian farmers last Thursday, causing a tractor to flip over during the chase, causing the death of the Palestinian driver.

On Thursday, April 5th, armed settlers from the illegal Israeli colony of Itamar attacked a group of Palestinians en-masse. In haste and in fear for his life, twenty-eight year old Fadi Abu Zeitoun’s tractor tipped and crushed him as he fled from the pursuing settlers.

The villagers who own olive groves near Itamar rarely get “permission” from the Israeli District Coordination Office to access their own land. During the harvest season, they are permitted a few days, but in the spring when the land needs to be tended they have more difficulty acquiring permission. During this spring harvest, the villages of Hawarta, Yanoun, Aqraba, and Beita were told they had only four hours to  access their land. The area to be tended is approximately 1000 dunums so the villagers collected forty tractors to work as much land as possible in the shortest possible time. Israeli activists from the movement Peace Now, and a group of international activists were present in solidarity. Prime Minister Salam Fayad joined them to make a statement re-affirming their right to utilize the stolen land that they were standing upon.

The funeral of Fadi Sleman Abu Zeitoun | 06/04/12 | photos provided by Beita village

During the Prime-minister’s visit, Israeli authorities were positioned nearby and prevented the settlers from passing. However, shortly after Fayad left the area, Israeli soldiers permitted a mob of settlers to converge upon the Palestinian farmers tending to their land. They began by throwing stones, causing the group to separate and begin descending the hill. The settlers then proceeded to fire M-16 assault rifles in the direction of the unarmed farmers before releasing dogs. In the ensuing chaos,  and as Fadi desperately attempted to escape, his tractor flipped over and fell on him, mortally wounding the young man.

Palestinians witnessing the incident ran back towards the scene to offer assistance. The settlers promptly dispersed as they rushed him down the hill to the road, unfortunately he was already dead.

Fadi is of the village of Beita . With a population of only 12,000, this death resonates among all the residents. As Fadi’s father-in-law, Isam Bani Shams says, “This is not our first martyr nor our last, we have been in this situation for sixty-four years. Our village has lost some seventy martyrs.”

On the same date, twenty-four years ago, two men from the village of Beita were also murdered by settlers from Itamar.

In the gathering following the funeral, Fadi’s father, Sleman Abu Zeitoun, sat with his head down. Beside him sat three other men who have had a son murdered by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

Fadi was newly married to nineteen year-old Fida’ Bani Shams who is left widowed and six months pregnant. Her brother was killed at the age of sixteen by Israeli soldiers during the second intifada, and as her father says, “She has lost a brother and a husband so what can I say of her emotions? She is in grief. She is exhausted.” Fida’ sat slouched in a corner of the room, her eyes closed and blankets covering her feet.

Fadi’s sister has had a nervous breakdown since the death of her brother. She does not recognize  her husband or her daughters. Their mother, Mona Fihmeh says, “in terms of how I feel, I have patience, but my back has been broken from the burden.” Mona spent last night praying over her feverish body, and today she sent her daughter to the hospital. Her husband was on the way back from a funeral in Jordan when the accident occurred. He returned to Beita to find that his son had been killed.

Throughout the funeral, political talk arose about the various results of Israeli occupation and apartheid on Palestine. At first, the unemployment rate among Palestinians does not seem relevant to the death of Fadi Abu Zeitoun, but one soon realizes that Israel’s apartheid policies are to blame for both the impunity with which settlers are treated, and the numerous other negative consequences on livelihood.

The funeral of Fadi Sleman Abu Zeitoun | 06/04/12 | photos provided by Beita village

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory  reported that over 90% of complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians to the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment. OCHA’s report on settler violence notes that “the root cause of the settler violence phenomenon is Israel’s decades-long policy of illegally facilitating the settling of its citizens inside occupied Palestinian territory. This activity has resulted in the progressive takeover of Palestinian land, resources and transportation routes and has created two separate systems of rights and privileges, favouring Israeli citizens at the expense of the over 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Recent official efforts to retroactively legalize settler takeover of privately-owned Palestinian land actively promotes a culture of impunity that contributes to continued violence.”

Declared one of the men at the funeral, “every time Israel builds a colony, we will build another Palestinian town; every time they erect a building, we will build a new building.”

“Our steadfastness protects our land,” another proclaims.

Rana H. is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement.

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?

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

Strength on a dark day.

Today in Kufr Qaddoum, our peaceful protest was quickly assaulted by the Israeli military in a way unprecedented in my past month attending protests here. Perhaps because it was the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, the soldiers were double their normal number, and were positioned on the hills above ahead of the protest. They planned the assault of the village that was to come.

Children led the procession holding posters of Arafat’s face and happily marching down the village’s main road.

The first time I saw them, these twins ran into the house in a panic, tripping over their words and finishing each others sentences. The soldiers!! - we saw them! - the jeep! - it's coming! - they're going to shoot us - and chase us - and arrest the boys!- HURRY!! As Palestinians manage to do with all things that might break another's heart and spirit - they laughed. What else can you do for the children?

The kids will be shooed back to their homes in a few minutes as we near the soldiers, so they take advantage of the time they have as part of the demonstration.

We continued down the street to reach the barbed wire that closes off their road. This is the cause of the demonstration. Israel closed their main road because it passes by an illegal colonial settlement. Now instead of a quick drive down to the city, Nablus, they must take a roundabout route of 45 minutes. When we stop in front of the barbed wire, a man talking into a speaker begins to remember Yasser Arafat.

Just moments before the demonstration was bombarded with tear gas from a close range.

The soldiers tried to shout orders at the procession through a loud speaker, but the Palestinian man continued his speech un-phased by the interruptions. As he finished his speech, tension grew, some people knowingly began to move back in anticipation for the usual bombardment. Before anyone could get out of the way, tens of high-velocity tear gas canisters were fired at a time, from close-range. If hit in the head, these are lethal. They’ve also been known to cause paralysis and kill children.

Article 14 of the UN Basic Principles:

“In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary.”

Tear gas landing among us. Fired at high velocity, a hit to the head is lethal. Otherwise they are known to break bones and/or cause burns or wounds.

Israel is denying Palestinians the Human Right of peaceful assembly and association (UDHR Art. 20-1) by reacting to peaceful forms of protest with violence.

After the first assault of tear gas,  a group of soldiers began to make their way into the village. The soldiers arrested a Palestinian man, 30 year old Hazzem Barham, who was lying down suffering from the tear gas and being attended by a Red Crescent volunteer. They denied him medical attention.

While documenting the arrest of Barham, soldiers then targeted a US activist and arrested him.

Barham and the US activist were taken to the illegal settlement of Ari’el where they are being charged with throwing stones – a charge completely discredited by the video footage taken during the demonstration. The US activist later tells us that within the police station, Barham has been subjected to gross humiliation by both soldiers and settlers inside Ari’el – including being spat on, taken photos of and made to crouch down with his head between his legs.

A video of the two arrests taken by a colleague:

They fired several rounds of tear gas, including several about 200 metres away from the protesters, right in between civilian homes. A few minutes later a young boy emerged vomiting, and in a second was picked up by men, passed to a Red Crescent worker, and brought to the ambulance where he was treated with an oxygen mask. He appeared to lose consciousness when lying in the ambulance.

Soldiers began to chase the procession deeper into the town. They fired several tear gas canisters, and we began to run.

But as people ran, countless more began to be fired, following the protesters as they ran. They continued to shoot tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at a crowd that was running away. We were choking and running as fast as we could for a single breath of air.

A Red Crescent worker unconcious from severe tear gas inhalation is brought into the mosque which shortly after is hit with tear gas. (The same RC worker that is helping others in the previous 2 pictures)

Many of the protesters ran to the mosque nearby, the place injured protesters are always taken for treatment because it is the safe-haven during the protester. Six were treated with tear gas inhalation, and three were hit with tear gas canisters. Tear gas began to be fired in rounds from an adjacent mountain, and even hit the mosque.

It was two hours of this before the soldiers withdrew, followed by a crowd of villagers to ensure that they left.

At the end of this assault, much worse than I’ve seen in my time visiting Kufr Qaddoum, it seemed that everyone at the protest went to the city council centre and was fed a traditional Palesitnian meal, msakhan, served by the tons! Out of context this is a sad day. We lost two protesters, many were injured, the town is littered with tear gas canisters, sound bombs, and rubber-coated bullets. Kids ran to me and showed me live ammo bullets they had found afterwards. But in reality, the procession left smiling and ready for the next moment because after years of having their road closed, they are finally fighting for their rights. I know that Palestine is strong because her people do not consume themselves in self-pity, but in courage, passion, and an unwavering joy for life.


Deir Istia: another martyr

I spent the days before Eid in an incredibly beautiful village named Deir Istia.

We just heard word that this afternoon, Deir Istia has gained another martyr. Father of five, Abdullah Mutaled Al-Mashni was run over and killed by an Illegal Israeli settler while going home from the olive harvest on his donkey. The settler is presumed to be from the nearby Illegal settlement Revava – founded on Palestinian land in 1991 and occupied since.

Hopefully we will get more info and write something in depth once things settle down a bit.

Sorting through the olives.

For a few days I worked with a very kind family with a powerful story in relation to their land – but I’m not quite ready to publish it, so for now I’ll share the nice side of their story, their beautiful home, their children, their land, their village.

A kind of underground oven over charcoal; a lid is put over the barrel and is covered with earth and left to cook for hours, even over night.

Deir Istia has been beautifully maintained thanks to several organizations dedicated to preserving and restoring historic buildings. The village has been alive since the christian era in Palestine, and has been quite well documented since the 1300s when it was a village prescribed to send lentils and other produce to Hebron.

Buildings in the Old City of Deir Istia

The window-like shapes in the wall were used to hold oil lamps/torches. The roof on this room is in the process of being rebuilt to resemble its original state.

Above, there is a room like this atop each of the four entrances to the old city. The elders of the village used to meet in these rooms to make decisions for the village.

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

Beautiful Burin

I’ve been in Nablus now for about 4 days, leaving at 7 every morning to pick olives in solidarity with farmers in Burin, a beautiful village nearby. Burin is the 2nd largest village surround Nablus, in terms of land, but has a population of only 4,000 meaning that most of their village is green farm land. The houses in the valley are surrounded by olive, lemon, almond, apple and fig trees, that climb up the side of the hills surrounding Burin. At the hilltops live Illegal Israeli settlers.

Last month, settlers from Yitzhar burned 200 olive trees while Burin’s villagers were celebrating a wedding

Unlike Palestinians, who must submit to checks constantly and randomly by Israeli soldiers and police, these Israeli settlers are free to carry arms, despite their violent reputation. For the crimes they’ve committed, none have served more than a few weeks, even for murder. More often they get off without charge. Israeli soldiers are supposed to protect the Palestinians from these settlers, yet they often watch as the crime is committed, and will arrest Palestinians for retaliating or complaining. Even though Israel politically claims to distance itself from these fanatics, the workings of their entire state seem to support them.

A few months ago, settlers descended and burned hundreds and hundreds of olive trees. The earth is just black and bare. Almost every man I have met here has served time in prison, without charge, or with a ridiculous charge (like cleaning the streets of garbage!).

finishing breakfast in the olive trees

At any moment, these Israeli settlers can descend into the village, heavily armed, and harass & attack the Palestinians who are not allowed to carry arms. If they do, they are called terrorists and are blamed. If they do, the whole village will face army violence. The soldiers are supposed to protect the villagers, but they don’t. Palestinians shouldn’t have to ask permission to the Israeli authorities to farm their own land. Palestinians shouldn’t have to be constantly aware of settlers descending or arbitrary arrests. Palestinians shouldn’t have to have us internationals follow them to the groves, because if Israeli settlers or soldiers come, they will be treated more violently, more illegally, and less humanely if no one is watching.

Harvesting Olives as a State of Resistance: For the settlers of Yitzhar, a burning Palestinian olive tree signifies exactly what a burning cross signified to the Ku Klux Klan in the US of the 1950s — in either case, the message is racial intolerance, and the purpose is ethnic cleansing. “The settlers use fear, they intimidate people to leave their homes … they say ‘we cut down the trees because a Palestinian touched this and made it dirty. This is our land and we can do whatever we want,’” Najjar said.

The Survival of Olives: Olives have been cultivated in Palestinian land for thousands of years.  Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, with the remainder for pickles, table olives, and soap.  The harvest is worth around 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the fragile Palestinian economy, struggling under the burden of occupation.  Up to 100,000 families depend upon the olive harvest for their livelihoods to some extent, according to the UN. Olives are also symbol of Palestinian culture and a connection to the land.  Olive picking contains a strong political dimension; particularly in villages which are vulnerable to settler attacks and interference from the Israeli military…

Settlers chase woman with wild boar, causing both her legs to break

Rana H.

Oct 21, 2011

Early Thursday morning, a Palestinian woman in Beit Furik was picking olives when a settler began to chase her, and set loose a wild boar after her, causing her to fall and suffer broken bones in both her legs.

Muhaya Khatatba was in her olive groves with her two sons, aged 14 and 17 years old, when a settler descended from above the hill and began to chase her. “I was with my kids picking olives, when a settler saw us, and took advantage of us the fact that we were all alone.” Then the settler released a wild boar after her. She beckoned to her boys to run ahead of her, and as she ran, she tripped on some rocks and broke her leg. She struggled to begin running again, using one leg, and fell again, breaking the other leg. Unable to stand, her boys ran back to pick her up and ran with her to meet other villagers. She broke one leg in three places, and the other leg at the ankle.

Khatatba says that when she saw the settlers she was very frightened because of the violent attacks on residents of Beit Furik in the past few years. “But the fear I felt for myself is nothing compared to the fear I felt for my sons,” she says. “And I’m not concerned only for myself, but for all the people of Bait Furiq. They can’t go to their olives. We want a permanent solution. We want someone to stand by us.” Khatatba is only thirty-five years old. Her husband cannot join them in the harvest because he is obliged to a full time job. She has never gone into her trees without permission from the Israeli authorities, and Thursday was one of the four days she was permitted. Now her permission time has run out despite that many olive trees are left.

Beit Furik is very close to the Itamar settlement, considered illegal by international law. Itamar has a wide history of brutal attacks and harrassment to the native Palestinian population around them. The settlement was formed in 1984 and has grown from 300 residents to over 1000.

In the past, settlers have reportedly damaged Palestinian property, obstructed access to their farm land, stolen olives, attacked, and even shot at local Palestinians. For example, the murder of a Palestinian taxi driver who was shot and killed by an Itamar resident in 2004, or the murders of 3 Palestinians in their home in 2007, including a 10-week old infant. In both cases, the settlers who committed the crimes did not serve time in prison.