Sidetracked in the West Bank

A couple of hours before Shabbat descended upon the rugged hills of the West Bank a group of Israelis were hiking in a small patch of trees near Ramalah. They hiked quickly and barely stopped to discuss the beauty of the surrounding nature. Occasionally, their unofficial leader (the one who know the trail) would stop and point out a beautiful vista or note how the hill tops formed perfect concentric circles.The smell of wild growing herbs filled their noses as they moved closer to their destination.

They reached a road separating a small group of Palestinian tents and the village of Nabi Saleh. The Israelis were on their way to join Nabi Saleh’s weekly demonstration against the confiscation of its agricultural lands by the Jewish settlement of Halamish. The demonstration had started a few hours before their arrival and the Israeli army had sealed the village. This was done  to keep Israelis from joining the demonstration which would offset the army’s ability to use force against the unarmed civilians demonstrating. Despite the checkpoints at all entrances, this group of activists were able to join the demonstration because of their knowledge of the patterns of army behaviour in these demonstrations.

Israeli activists are old hats at the ways of the army when it comes to checkpoints designed to discourage entry. They know the roads of the occupation, they know the roads which only the Palestinians use and they know trails through the hills to reach far flung villages under siege by Israel’s occupation. To resist with Palestinians in solidarity, they must know these important bits of knowledge. When Israelis choose to act in solidarity with Palestinians and join demonstrations they cross an invisible psychological border in the eyes of the state. While in the West Bank (and sometimes in Israel) they become second class citizens. They are monitored, harassed and forced to come face to face with the occupation system while in the West Bank not as occupiers but as occupied.This is in no way the same punishment that Palestinians endure on a regular basis. It is the price of solidarity and the braking down of barriers, physical and psychological, between Israelis and Palestinians on the grassroots level.

Once inside the village, the Israelis exchanged handshakes and smiles with their Palestinian friends under siege of tear gas and rubber bullets. No one skipped a beat as if the serene hike through the rolling hills was something of a dream and the burning sensation of tear gas was a rude wake up call.