8 May, 2010 — The Only Democracy?
Our ten hour ordeal with the occupation forces started at 8:30 AM as we gathered in the small village of Al-Walaje. A tiny store with an elderly women who insisted on making me coffee and not charging me. Idyllic setting except for the heavy bulldozers now carving the hills to separate the remaining people from their lands via an apartheid wall that is planned to completely ring the village. This village, that already lost much of its lands, is in the unfortunate position of being near the Green line sitting on rich agricultural lands and the Israelis want the land but do not want the people that come with the land. Israeli military has already demolished homes in the village (most were rebuilt) and fined others for building without permits (which are not issued in this village). The heroic villagers inspired so many including Internationals and Israelis to join them in their popular resistance. Today’s even started as we came through the woods and sat in front of the bulldozer.
As the soldiers gathered their forces around us, you could feel the soldiers preparing themselves for attack. We remained calm and peaceful. They dragged us one by one forcefully from the bulldozed lands. They picked the four of us for arrest for no obvious reason. George from Canada, me from Beit Sahour, and two brothers from Al-Walaja (Dia’ and Nafez). They were particularly brutal with the two brothers using pepper spray repeatedly, hits with clubs (twice), and once with the rifle butt especially on Dia’. Dia’ could not see for a long time. They took us down the hill with full military escort and demanded our ID cards on the way (I and Nafez had them, Dia’ and George did not carry them). At the bottom of the hill sits a checkpoint for cars (mostly settlers) crossing into Jerusalem (from the illegal settlements of Har Gilo, Gilo, and Gush Etzion complex of settlements). There we were told to sit and wait as two private security guards were brought to supplement the four soldiers guarding us.
Half an hour, an hour, two hours passed by. We spend time talking to soldiers explaining why they are wrong to punish people trying to defend their lands. I finally asked to go to the bathroom. They refused. I insisted and finally they escorted me to an outhouse (portable type). Other followed. Time passed. Officers came and said for us to sign a paper claiming all it said was that in our detention we were not beaten or mistreated. We refuse to sign. Finally, they receive the green light to arrest us officially so we are driven through Jerusalem and on to the investigation offices near Qubbit Raheel (Rachel’s tomb). Along the way, Dia’a nd Nafez comment that this is unusual for them to enter Jerusalem (forbidden to them since the Oslo accords). Al-Walaja is in the area of the area that they consider Israeli territory (the Gush Etzion complex of colonial settlements). Al-Walaja sits even partially on land annexed to Jerusalem, yet its residents are given Greed ID cards like me meaning West Bank Palestinians not allowed into Jerusalem.
We arrive at our destination and are locked up in a metal container. Two more hours pass by. Only some time soldiers come in and we talk to them. In all three we talk to three Arab soldiers including Marzouq and Madi (I nicknamed them M&M of the Israeli Occupation Army), three Ashkenazis, one Sephardic woman who never smiled and seemed out of place, and one Ethiopian. Some are cold and distant, others argumentative but not knowing much, and yet others slightly more open and listen to what we had to tell them. I was proud of the Al-Walaje brothers using calm logic to explain: What would you do if some came and uprooted trees that your grandparents planted for you? How would you react if your source of life and livelihood is taken? But most of the nearly 40 soldiers and police officers we encountered along the way only uttered few words of orders and refused to engage with us. To them it seemed like a routine job. As they hauled us from one place to another, they would be chatting or texting on their mobile phones or joking with each other about things (I really have to take Hebrew classes).
The “investigator” finally arrives. We are finally allowed to make the call to a lawyer. The lawyer advises and we follow his advise. Each individually is taken to see the investigator. We are asked to sign other papers and again we refuse (in Hebrew). They force us to put our thumb on a separate form that merely has our names, ID numbers etc on it. Handcuffs are added and mobile phones are taken from us. As each one is returned to the container, we brief each other. We wait. The handcuffs are hurting. I notice it says on mine ‘Hiatt-Made in England’. I think to myself, “This whole mess was made in England (Balfour declaration and all that)!”
An hour later, we are told they will take us to court and that each of us is to call a relative or friend to bring NIS 2500 (about $750) to the court in Jerusalem to use as bail. The phones are returned to us to make the calls. We are then ordered to get on the van to go (we presume to court). But then they change their minds. We don’t know what is going on. We are told not to use the mobile phones but we do when we are alone. My family manages to gather the money and as my wife is on the way nearly an hour later, the lawyer sends a message that we need to wait as they are negotiating with the judge. Yet another hour. We are then ordered on the van. They take us to Talpiot police station where they fingerprint and photograph us. Dragged like criminals with handcuffs in this now rich neighborhood. Old Jewish woman stares at me on the way out and I wish I am allowed to speak to her to tell her our stories. On the way in the back of the van, I tell the fellow inmates that this was an Arab neighborhood before the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Many Arab houses still stand taken over and converted into everything from residential villas to bars. We go back to the container holding pen. The handcuffs still hurting.
It was now nearly 5:30 and we were starving (no food and many of us have left home without breakfast and held since about 9 AM). We had asked for food on occasions. Finally they bring us some bread, each a slice of cheese and a small packets of jam (I guess because we have been in handcuffs for four hours at least and that is a formal arrest). We devour it quickly and wonder whether this is a sign of us staying longer or that we would be released soon. Another half an hour and we are dragged (this time together) in front of a new investigator who asked us to sign a release form that says that we are told to stay away from the Wall (yes it says “the Wall” on official Israeli documents) for 15 days and if we don’t we will be have to pay each NIS5000 (about $1200). A friend from Al-Walaje was kind enough to come and cosign to ensure that we will follow the stated orders.
George’s situation was not clear. They insisted on seeing his passport. A friend finally brought it after George was threatened with immediate deportation if he did not get the passport. The lawyer and us tried to persuade them to let him go. They asked me to translate for him at first that he must reappear at the same place Sunday and we thought they were releasing him with us. But alas, it was not to be. I hope he will not be deported anyway (their words are always not to be trusted).
The three of us were released but the soldiers did not give us our ID cards. In our jubilation at being released, we also had forgotten to ask about them (they had them for the 10 hour ordeal). So I came back with my wife and she was allowed into the checkpoint and an hour later, I had the ID cards. We had visitors from Jenin staying overnight with us and I was supposed to work with my technologist at the University today. But here I am way past midnight still writing this note and uploading a video. Tomorrow (Friday) there will be a demonstration in Al-Masara and the lettuce festival in Artas and other work to do. Life goes on in the land of Apartheid. La luta continua. Stay tuned.
Read a Ma’an news account of the arrests.
PS Here is a video of me from last week in the same village of Al-Walaje explaining to soldiers a bit of the reality.