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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Solidarity Demonstration in Beit Ommar

The staff of Bustan Qaraaqa first became interested in the work of the Palestinian Solidarity Project (PSP, linked above) in Beit Ommar because of the organic farm projects being conducted by the locals of the village with the support of PSP.

We went down to meet them on Wednesday 19 August to compared notes on their cistern and our recently built cistern. They displayed an impressive commitment to organic farming techniques, and we made plans to return on friday morning to see the land confiscation issues that they were currently facing. We were interested in seeing firsthand the difficulties the local farmers are facing with recent settlement buildup nearby.

Four members of Bustan Qaraaqa's staff joined the group in the most recent Green Intifada action. All told there were about 40 demonstrators there including members of international NGOs, Palestinian Nationals, and concerned Israeli Citizens alike.

Beit Ommar is a suburb of Hebron that is being chipped away at by a settlement which continues to creep closer to the houseline of the village. The fence that surrounds the houses in the settlement is further surrounded by a security fence that cuts directly into currently used Palestinian farmland. The security fence is now less than 100 meters away from the nearist Beit Ommari house.

Every friday the families of the farmers gather at the gate to the security fence where the children fly flags, and the men of the families who have all been arrested many times argue and raise their voices when the first dusty Hum Vee with state of the art suspension screams over a rocky hill and skids up to the gate.

Technically you can't be within 50 meters of the fence on the palestinian side, further adding to the frustrations of the farmers whose farms not only reach right up to the edge of the security fence, but are also partially located on the other side. Farmers who want to work their land on the other side of that fence have to go through a lengthy permit process which disables them from adequately maintaining their crops.

Touching the fence is cause for live ammunition against Palestinians, though not internationals. This doesn't stop the old farmers from grabbing hold of the razor wire each friday while he prays and wails about what has happened in front of the soldiers, and our little crowd. But he backs off early, in fact none of the Palestinians stay very long at the gate itself when the settlement police join the soldiers at the gate.

But the settlement police bring a harsh tone to the demonstration. These are angry men who are ideologically committed to the settlement and scream absurd obscenities about the white internationals being part of the holocaust. They even manage to lighten up the soldiers mood a little bit by being so off the wall. But they are not joking, and they have the key to the gate.

Last friday we backed off the gate before they managed to unlock it, and retreated to a safe distance. However as soon as the settlement security officer unlocked the gate the soldiers pursued us at a quick trot down the dirt road up to the edge of the village. An older soldier grabbed a young local beit ommari boy by the arm, but he quickly slid away with a twist and bolted away with remarkable determination and speed.

We were trying to get between those soldiers and the Ommaris when they grabbed one of our staff, seemingly out of nowhere.

An Israeli friend on the scene told us later that our staff member was singled out because he had untwisted a bit of tangled up razor wire, and did not stop when the four original soldiers apparently told him to. He writhed and fought and tried to run as best as he could while the other demonstrators helplessly watched the struggle unfold, but there were too many of them. They eventually carried our staff member back up through the gate one soldier for each limb before binding him hand and foot with those little plastic ties that lock into themselves and must be cut to be taken off. As they carried him off, one of the soldiers who thought our staff member was a Palestinian national declared that he would now serve a two year sentence for what he had done.

The soldiers were young, and not unfriendly. They had the air of people who were doing their jobs. One of the soldiers asked if our staff member wanted a hat to get out of the sun. He kindly provided a wide brimmed green military cap. This enraged the the settlement officer who became immediately furious, and began to scream at the soldier. Before long he was beet-red with anger and ripped the cap from our man's head.

He was taken to Kiryat Arba where he was charged with being in an illegal area, and destruction of a security fence.

Eventually our staff member, an American from Brooklyn (not a Palestinian national), was released under the condition that he did not go to any other Palestinian district except Bethlehem for 15 days.

Internationals recieve a slap on the wrist. That's why we stood between them and the Beit Ommaris.
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