The markedly stone-free protests in al Ma’asara are nevertheless violently suppressed by the Israeli army. “We see the soldiers here with their guns, their boots, their shields and their helmets protecting the wall – but we know the real problem is the wall that is in their minds,” protest leader says.
About 200 Palestinian, Israeli and international activists attended this week’s Friday demonstration against the wall and settlements in the village of al-Ma’asara, south of Bethlehem. The larger-than-usual crowd gathered at noon in the village center to commemorate seven years of popular struggle in the village – seven years of weekly marches toward the land where the separation barrier is planned to run.
Construction of the fence in this area was in fact halted about four years ago, leaving behind only a patrol road that scars the landscape and a massive gap in the separation barrier. But protests against the yet un-canceled plans and ongoing land grabs by nearby settlements continue. Demonstrations in al-Ma’asara are marked by the almost complete lack of stone throwing but have still been consistently oppressed by the army, which always tries to stop activists from reaching their land and sometimes also uses tear gas, stun grenades and arrests to deter villagers from showing their dissent.
The larger and more festive procession this week took the usual route from the village center to the land using the village’s main road, only to find it blocked by soldiers at the entrance to the village – as the army does every week. Activists tried to break through the row of soldiers with their hands in the air and after failing to pass sat down on the ground in front of the soldiers.
A border police officer stated he was declaring the village a “closed military zone,” giving demonstrators five minutes to leave the area. “You are standing on occupied land in a liberated Palestinian village – so it is you that have five minutes to leave,” answered Hassan Brijieh of the popular committee in the village.
“We see the soldiers here with their guns, their boots, their shields and their helmets protecting the wall – but we know the real problem is the wall that is in their minds,” preached popular committee member Mahmoud Zwhare. “We call upon you, soldiers, to open your minds and see that people from all over the world are rejecting Israeli war crimes. There are Israelis here amongst us who are choosing peace and justice. You can do the same.”
Zwhare was followed by Rabbi Brant Rosen from Chicago, leading a small group of Jewish solidarity activists, who said that to him joining these Palestinian demonstrations was no less than a mitzva, a sacred calling, which echoes the very basis of Judaism in that it is siding with the weak against oppression. Meanwhile, outside the village in the nearby settlements of Gush Etzion, a mirror tour was taking place: a group called American Jews for a Safe Israel showed its support for the soldiers and occupiers.
After about an hour and a half the demonstration ended and while activists were returning to the village, soldiers followed them in. At one point a couple of kids from the village threw stones at the invading jeeps and were answered with a few tear gas grenades fired on the main road. The whole incident ended shortly and back at the village center popular committee members stated they would continue with their struggle.