Friday, August 26, 2005

Non-Violent Resistance - in Practice

For several hours this afternoon, I was participating in a non-violent demonstration against construction of the Annexation Wall through the village of Bil'in. Bil'in is a Palestinian village that will lose slightly more than half of its land if/when Wall construction is completed. I volunteered to be an "arrestable," which means someone who is in the front lines of the demonstration, actively participating in the main action. I, and several of my fellow arrestables, had filmy Israeli flag blindfolds over our eyes, UN posters attached to our shirt fronts, and strips of tape over our mouths. We marched with a large group of sighted people and then played (extremely clumsy) catch with a ball wrapped in a Palestinian flag. I think that the message was something like, "Israel ignores UN rulings, tries to shut everyone up instead, and inevitably ruins Palestinian lives" although I never actually heard it said.
After about twenty minutes, someone decided that the message had been conveyed, and we got to take off the accessories. I was now able to actually see the demonstration (people without glasses could just see through the blindfold), which was *completely* non-violent. There was chanting and milling around, and one older Palestinian villager yelling at the soldiers' commander (not in a threatening way, or in his face), and that was it.
There was maybe fifteen minutes of this, when, without any provocation that I (or any of the other demonstrators I've asked) could identify, the soldiers began throwing sound bombs among the demonstrators, including me! After a few more minutes of milling around, the soldiers suddenly took off after a young Canadian activist, again for absolutely no reason that anyone can find, except that she had dark skin and probably looked Palestinian. A woman from my training class, who has many years of experience with demonstrations in Europe, immediately called out for other ISM members to surround the young woman to protect her from the soldiers.
My fellow trainee immediately followed her own advice, and around four more of us joined her as quickly as we were able. I'm told that often this is often sufficient to effect a "dearrest," but this time, thinking they had identified a Palestinian activist, they surrounded us and attempted to drag us away from the intended victim. The rest of us held tight, but there were simply too many soldiers. They tore us off, one by one; I'm rather proud to have been the second to last removed, just before my friend was dragged away. I lost my shoes and my camera (which my friend actually had the presence of mind to grab while being dragged off!), and got dragged along the ground for a few yards and then dropped. My friend got the same treatment, but the Palestinian-looking woman targeted for arrest was detained for two hours until she convinced the soldiers that she really was a Canadian citizen. If she had been a Palestinian, the story would, most likely, have ended quite differently.
Around 15 minutes later, a Palestinian youth apparently snuck up near the demonstration and threw a stone at the soldiers. Some six soldiers rushed after the kid, and around ten of us rushed after them. This was followed by a long period during which a handful of Palestinian kids slung stones at the soldiers without any hits, or near misses, while the soldiers shot (mostly the less dangerous type of rubber bullets) at the kids. I'm told they hit one youth in the leg and stomach. We activists stayed close to the soldiers, took pictures and video, and urged them to stop shooting at the kids. From my point of view, which isn't shared by most of my fellow activists, rubber bullets are a proportionate response to slung stones. The critical issue is that the soldiers' presence is a priori illegal, in support of actions that violate practically every section of the Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. The closest parallel is probably aggravated robbery, in which force is used to accomplish a theft. The fact that the victim attempts to defend him/herself is not considered a defense for the robber, to put it mildly.
At any rate, the action is over, and with only limited casualties. There was the kid shot with rubber bullets mentioned above. Another, older woman from my training class (only six people) was shot in the back of the head with a tear gas grenade (not the kind that blows up); the Red Crescent gave her three stitches, a tetanus shot, and some help with her preexisting back pain, and refused payment as usual. A handful of folks (activists, I think) were apparently treated for tear gas inhalation, and an Italian activist tripped, cut himself on Israeli barbed wire, and was given a few stitches by the Red Crescent. Six activists were temporarily detained (including the young woman mentioned above), and one was arrested, but I don't have any corroborated details regarding the arrest.


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