Today I found a video on YouTube, posted by the Israeli army. Its title: “What “Non-Violent” Palestinian Protests Really Look Like”. The introduction to the video says: “Every Friday, Palestinians protest in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] in different villages. They are free to demonstrate non-violently, as IDF officers explain to them every week.” The video shows stone throwing Palestinians and a soldier who tells them to stop.
It is a fact that some Palestinian protests are violent. Stone and sometimes Molotov cocktails are part of it. It is also a fact that the Israeli occupation is violent. People are killed and injured. Teenagers are arrested out of their beds during the night and farmers are beaten up by settlers with almost no legal consequences.
EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) does not support any violence and does not agree with it, neither do I. Therfore, we regularly observe a non-violent protest which is held in Al Ma’sara. The small village near Bethlehem is home to about 900 people. It is affected by common impacts of the occupation, such as loss of land, due to land confiscation for the wall and for Israeli settlements and demolition orders for buildings due to very restrictive building permit conditions. That’s why on Fridays at around 12:30 about 15 to 30 people gather to voice their indignation.
The protest is not only supported by Palestinians but also by Israeli people and some internationals and not only by men but also by women and children. Their intention is to pass the exit of the village and to walk to Al Ma’sara’s agricultural lands.
Repeatedly on Fridays between 12:00 and 12:15, the military shows up with a few jeeps and a dozen fully armed soldiers block the exit of Al Ma’sara. We never know what will happen next, we only know it is non-violent because it has been non-violent many times before. On most of the Fridays, the protesters are not allowed to walk to the main road. So they stand in front of the soldiers and talk to them in English and in Hebrew:
You need to understand: We are human beings. We have children. We have the right to live, same as you.
Since the soldiers can’t cover their ears while standing there, they are bound to listen:
Why are you armed? This is not a battlefield. This is Al Masara, a village. We are peaceful, let us access our land.”
If a shepherd with his herd wants to exit during the protest, he can. If a family car wants to enter, it can. Only the protesters are withheld from reaching the road that leads to their land. Protesters and soldiers exchange glances. They even recognize each other.
I know him, he was here last time. But here, this one is new.
The soldiers sometimes react with a slight nod or a gentle shake of their heads. Once in a while, they even wave goodbye at the protestors when they leave. Peaceful. Non-violent.
A short time ago, after one of the non-violent protests which we observed, the army came back in the middle of the night. A large number of soldiers raided the house of one of the protesters and arrested him. His mother quoted the officer saying to the family:
You play with us in the day; we play with you at night.
The protester was released one day later and the non-violent protests continue.