Budrus: The threat of a good example
In a earlier blog, called Report from Palestine on the 4th Anniversay of the Second Intifada, I introduced readers to the village of Budrus, west of Ramallah. Budrus for the last year and half has been waging a united non-violent campaign to stop the confisication of their land and the construction of the Apartheid Wall on it (see also Green Left Weekly
The village had been successful in stopping construction for a period of time and had shown that a united non-violent campaign could actually win some victories.
The village continues to resist and the Israeli government is threatened by their stance.
Recently one of the leaders, Ahmed Awad, of the Popular Committee from the village was arrested and put under administrative detention (see the Ha'aretz article http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/499602.html). Ahmed is currently under administrative detention, meaning that the Shabak (Shin Bet/Secret Police) do not have to publicly present any proof that he has committed a crime or done anything wrong.
Originally one military judge deemed that there was no evidence to hold him, but another has agreed that he is a "security threat" and placed him under administrative detention for two months. This detention could be extended indefinitely if they chose to do so. In response to Ahmed arrest and the continued construction of the Apartheid Wall, the village invited Israeli and International peace activists to help plan a solidarity action to highlight Ahmed's arrest. The idea that the Israeli peace activists came up with was that to have a demonstration with the theme being "I am Ahmed Awad". The idea was that the Israeli activists would carry no ID and they would voluntarily be arrested and submit their name as Ahmed Awad.
The action, while very symbolic in many ways, was very inspiring because was exactly what the Israeli security forces are trying to stop – fraternization between Israelis and Palestinians, who are working peacefully in a joint struggle against the occupation and the wall. Fraternization between Israelis and Palestinians is a major taboo and is something the Israeli state tries to ensure does not happen.
Awad and Budrus' main crime is that they have been a successful in their non-violent campaign, not only uniting Israeli's and Palestinians, but also stopping the wall construction for a short period. Budrus is a real threat because they offer a real example of how to win and how to do it in a united and non-violent way.
Kate, S and myself left Al Quds around 10 am, hoping that three hours would be adequate enough to get us to Budrus, even if there was some delays. We headed first for Ramallah to catch a serveece from there to the village. The journey from Ramallah to Budrus, is probably one the prettiest ones I have taken here. Lots of olive trees lining the road and rolling hills either side. A half an hour into the journey we hit our first checkpoint. The soldiers did not even ask us to stop fully or check our IDs, they simply yelled "Go Back" and waved their guns at us. Our driver, who had no choice but to obey, turned us around.
As we headed back the way we came, Kate asked whether we were going to Ramallah or another way. Another way, said the driver. I have begun to joke that Palestinian serveece drivers are definitely the font of all knowledge. I can not count how many times we have relied on their knowledge and ingenuity to get us to demonstrations, through checkpoints, to provide information on situations for us and assist us when it comes to the army or other problems.
The previous week when we had left Jenin, we had hit a flying checkpoint and the driver not wanting to wait and miss the small period of time allowed by the IOF to pass through Beit Iba checkpoint, turned us around and took us cross country, through the agricultural fields. There had been heavy rain for several days and the ground was soft and we held our breaths several times, thinking we were going to be stuck in mud. However, after a bit of "bush bashing" through fields, rubbish dumps and river beds, we finally got safely to the other side and continued on our way unabated.
As we approached the village of Ni'alin just outside of Budrus, we hit a permanent checkpoint. At this checkpoint, everyone was hauled from the car and asked where we were going. After some more questioning, the soldiers eventually told the Palestinians they could get back into the car. As we went to do the same, they told us we were not allowed to go. As we started to argue with them, the soldier in charge kept saying, "you know why you can't go".
It was obvious that we were not going to be able to continue in the serveece, so not wanting to hold up the Palestinians and cause them any trouble, we got our bags and paid the driver and said thanks. As the serveece drove off and we were stuck in the middle o nowhere, we again started to argue with the soldiers. I asked one why was he harassing people to which he replied, "I'm not". But you are I said, "you are stopping people going about their journeys, you are making hard for the Palestinians who just want to get home to their families".
We quickly decided to try and make a break for it and just walk through the checkpoint hoping that they would not be paying to much attention to us now as other cars came through. As we started to walk quickly, Kate almost made it when the soldier in charge came running up to stop us. Kate kept trying to get past him but he was having none of it. So we sat down and two more soldiers came over.
For the next 10 minutes we started to debate and argue with them about what they were doing here. Parroting the usual refrain of all the soldiers we have ever encountered, they said," We are just following orders". "But don't you ever question what your are told", we all chorused. "The order was signed by somebody high-up" said the woman soldier, "and they know better then us".
S and I then started to say, "well other soldiers in history have said that too and look what happened". The female soldier confused by our obstinacy kept telling us that they were trying to protect us and when I said we really didn't need or want their protection and that they were harassing us, she said "but I am not doing anything too you". She seemed even more perplexed when I responded, "but you are. You are infringing on our civil liberties and our right to move freely".
Realising that time was getting away from us, we decided to walk away from the checkpoint and see what our next move would be. As we headed down the hill out of sight of the checkpoint, we decided to cut across the fields of Ni'alin. For a half hour we weaved in and out of terraced hills, through the cactus, rocks and olive trees before we finally reached the village. Relieved we had not been seen by the soldiers, we found the main street of the village and hailed a serveece to take us the rest of the way, hoping we would not encounter anymore IOF.
Within 15 minutes we reached the village, but it was 1.20pm and the demonstration had started dead on time at 1pm. As we made our way to the fields, we could hear teargas and sound grenades being fired and saw groups of boys, villagers and internationals running.
As we moved up too the hill where the internationals were, we were told that around 50 Israeli activists and 30 Internationals had joined 100 villagers. Usually, village demonstrations are always lead by the Palestinians with Internationals and Israelis at the back of the rally, however, because the idea of this rally was for the Israeli activists to be arrested to highlight the arrest and detention of Ahmed for non-violent resistance, it was the Israeli activists who this time led the march. The demonstration we were told, had been peaceful and the demonstrators wearing signs in five languages, saying "I am Ahmed Awad" had successfully made it down to the bulldozers.
Once the IOF had started firing on and attacking the non-violent demonstrators, the shabab (Palestinian boys) began to take up positions with their sling shots and rocks. As Kate and I moved down the street to the open field we could see IOF arguing with some of the women from the Israeli human rights group, Maschom Watch (Checkpoint Watch). Kate began filming and I began to take pictures. A few minutes later teargas began exploding around us, as the IOF began firing on us and Kate narrowly missed being hit.
We moved back up the hill and for the next half hour, the young women in the village began chanting at the soldiers to go home. As we moved cautiously back down the street, we could see that some of the Israeli activists who had been detained were coming back up from the valley where the bulldozers were. The villagers began to move out into the field, with the young women of Budrus once again taking the lead. For a half another we stood there watching the soldiers and the young women slowly moved out into the field.
The television media, which had been down in the valley, suddenly began to make their way back up to the flat area where we were. Seeing the media and hoping their presence would deter the IOF from attacking, the young women and the rest of the village began to move calmly and slowly towards the soldiers. The shabab had stopped throwing stones sometime back, when asked by leaders of the village and the non-violent peaceful demonstration once again began to move out onto the field. The soldiers confused as to what to do, with the media present but also around 100 demonstrators advancing on them, at first held fire. Clearly rattled by the advancing, peaceful, chanting crowd, the soldiers knelt and began to take aim, firing teargas and sound grenades directly at demonstrators.
As we began to run back, one Israeli activist wearing a prosthetic leg fell. As she fell, she landed on an exploding sound grenade, while another landed next to her and exploded. As we rushed to assist her, we could see that the explosion had burnt a huge hole in her clothing and that she had sustained burns. We picked her up and carried her to the ambulance. All the while the IOF continued to fire into the crowd.
As we were retreating to the ambulance, the IOF began to fire on the ambulance. Several of us were hit full force by tear gas canisters fired at high velocity. D, one of the ISMers was hit in the stomach, when suddenly I felt a huge whack on my upper thigh. I initially did not realise what had happened, but within seconds I could feel my skin burning and gas began to explode around me and knew I had been hit by teargas canister. Everyone around me began running and the ambulance drivers tried to maneuver up the hill to get out the fire of the IOF.
When we were finally out of range of the IOF we began to take stock and see how badly people were hurt. The woman who we had carried to the ambulance, luckily only sustained minor burns. D and I, despite being hit by the canisters were reasonably okay. We had copped the teargas full on and like everyone else our eyes and noses were streaming but within ten minutes this had subsided. I was in some pain and limping from being hit full force by the teargas canister, but while there were some abrasions caused from the velocity and heat of the canister, my skin was not broken and there was no bleeding.
I now, however, have a massive round deep purple bruise around 10 –12 cm across in diameter and it has of course been quite tender. In the days following, my body has started to ache all over, no doubt in reaction to the trauma of being hit with such force. Despite "creaking" a lot and aching, I am fine and will recover with no problems and I am extremely grateful that I had not been hit in the head or back with the canister or by a rubber bullet which were also being fired (recently one activist had been hit with rubber bullet in the upper thigh and it had penetrated 4 cms).
For the next hour and half, a stand off between the village and the IOF continued. The IOF armed with rubber bullets, live ammuniation, teargas and sound grenades to continued to attack an overwhelming peaceful demonstration. Kate had sought refugee in the house that I had been given refugee in at the last demonstration at Budrus. The soldiers, however, also raided the house and commandeered the roof from which they continued to fire teargas and sound grenades at us.
In response to the full frontal attack on the peaceful demonstration by the IOF, the shabab once again began to amass behind a half built house to defend their village and began firing a constant rain of stones at the soldiers on the roof. The soldiers armed with high tech weaponary and boys armed with stones continued their standoff for about another half hour before both sides decide to retreat slightly. At this stage, the village leaders decided it was time for us to pull back all together. Several of the ISMers agreed to stay in the village over night in case there were any further incursions.
41 Israelis had orginally been detained by the IOF. As we gathered back at one of the village leaders house, the phone call came through that most of them had been realised and only four were being officially arrested. A half an hour later, those who had been released were soon back at the house. They had been split up and some taken to the local area command and then released, while others were detained down in the olive groves.
Budrus' campaign to stop the wall will continue. Budrus’ campaign is one which frightens both the Israeli military and the Israeli state. They are a threat because they have successfully forged ties with Israelis, something which is taboo and which Israel does everything in its power to prevent. They are a threat because their campaign has been overwhelmingly been non-violent for the most part. They are a threat because they have united activists from all Palestinian factions and from Palestinian civil society. But most of all they are a threat because they have shown that a small Palestinian village can take on the Israeli state and military and win.