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Three Fridays in Jayyus at the wall

Three Fridays at Jayyus near the wall
In “The Mending Wall” Robert Frost wrote,
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'
Israel is constructing a barrier to segregate the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Berlin wall was 4 meters high in most places. This wall is 8 meters high. In some areas the wall is concrete, in some razor wire or electrical fencing. There are pillboxes, control and observation towers, concrete roadblocks and trenches along the barrier. Checkpoints can stop both pedestrian and vehicular traffic for hours without any explanation except”security”.

Section of the wall near Jerusalem

Observation tower
Contrary to Israel’s statements, the route of this wall is not along the green line (the armistice boundary declared after the 1948 war). The segregation wall is within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Every year the United Nations publishes a map with the current cadastral locations of the barriers and the accepted green line. The map clearly shows the completed and planned routes that snake through Palestinian villages and impede movement. The wall is not built on Israel land. It is on the land of those who are occupied. It includes a “buffer zone”, or additional confiscated land that is needed to protect the wall that “protects” the citizens of Israel. The reasoning is as circular as the wall itself.

Route of the barrier curving around Jayyus' land
Continuation of the barrier route - upper left snaking through the land
The International Court of Justice declared the wall to be “contrary to International Law” in 2004.
Jayyus is a small village in the Qalqulia district of the West Bank, Palestine. The segregation wall circles Jayyus; 70% of the arable land is behind the segregation wall. From Dec. 9 to Dec. 20 in 2004, Israeli bulldozers uprooted about 750 olive trees for the wall and the buffer zone. The six artesian wells that have provided water for Jayyus are on the “wrong side of the wall”…for security reasons? Farmers must obtain permits to visit their land. Permits are scarce, for security reasons. So a 65 year old farmer may access his land but cannot bring young sons to help with the work. The old Ottoman Land Law of 1858 is in force. If a farmer does not work his land for three years it is confiscated by Israel. Some farmers have not been able to obtain permits in three years. Is it security or a land grab of fertile productive land?
So Jayyus has joined a long list of villages that are staging non-violent protests against the wall and to resist the Occupation. Every Friday the list of villages demonstrating against the Occupation grows, and more and more Palestinians gather at the wall or a roadblock to demand access to their land, their livelihood, their dignity,and their human rights. As the number of protesters grows, the question becomes more apparent, “Is this wall making you safer?” Did the wall around Gaza provide security?
On Friday the menu of local demonstrations was: Burqa, Jayyus, Nai’lin or Bi’ llin. This MPT team member chose Jayyus. When we arrived, the army was patrolling the village and stopped us before we reached the starting point.

Soldiers approaching as we enter village
Asking for identification and passports
After a discussion we ignored their questions and met the other internationals gathering in the center of the village.
Street of Jayyus

Beginning the protest
The army jeeps blocked the main road out of the village toward the gate in the wall.

Israeli soldiers
Some of us were able to slip past the block and some Palestinians took side streets to bypass the block. The soldiers found themselves surrounded by protesters, chanting in Arabic. They were obviously unnerved when they found themselves in the center of the demonstration and in close quarters. It was too confined to allow them to use tear gas, concussion grenades or the usual methods of crowd dispersal. They broke ranks, retreating down the road toward the wall and leaving some of the soldiers stationed outside the village.
As we walked with the soldiers who were headed out of the crowd, a group of neighbor women came out of the houses to see what was happening. I linked arms with a Palestinian woman and smiled (because I have so little of the language and that is the only way I knew to communicate.) Soon there was a line of women with me following the soldiers, in djellaba or thawb and head scarves. The chant, “No, No, to the Wall” in Arabic rose up behind the military. The soldiers were anxious. As they spotted the army jeep positioned in the road they stopped and turned to face the crowd.

Face to face

Most of the soldiers are very young men, some in their late teens. As they turned, they were toe to toe with a line of women old enough to be their mothers and grandmothers. The look of surprise and confusion on their faces “was priceless”, to quote a US commercial. I spoke quietly to the soldiers near me, explaining that we were not a threat,. We were standing in front of them in peace and pointing out that we could have been their mothers. I hoped I could reduce some of the tension and anxiety so that we could make our statement peacefully, without tear gas and bullets. The soldiers were uncomfortable with the situation. When that became apparent, more women, both Palestinian and international, reinforced our position. It was a feminist’s dream come true. Women empowered had brought soldiers to a standstill. After about thirty minutes and some jockeying for position, the soldiers tried to move their line forward. The women and the crowd standing behind us did not move. There was a crush of bodies but no movement on either side. We stood for a while longer.

Discussing strategy

A military jeep came up behind us as though to plow through the line. They revved the engine. The women did not budge. After standing in from of the soldiers for an hour we sat on the road. There were piles of stones in the road and on either side. Photographers were scrambling over the rocks, filming and photographing the contrast of Palestinian and international women against a background of guns and olive drab uniforms. I was holding hands with the woman next to me and we all smiled up at the soldiers. The sweat was dripping off them. The leader of the demonstration brought us bottles of water. We took a drink and I offered it to the soldier. He was again confused and refused the drink.

Seated in front of the army
The demonstration lasted about three hours. There were no rocks thrown. The head of the village took the loudspeaker and declared that we had expressed our resistance to the wall and the occupation and we should reconvene in the village municipality. I believe the Palestinians felt they had controlled some part of their day and had been able to show their disapproval of the segregation wall.

View of the army from below

I felt so proud to have been with those women who were strong and determined to change the lives of their community. This one day was radically amazing because it worked. The protest was peaceful and effective.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall that wants it down.

Three Fridays in Jayyus at the wall

The first demonstration at Jayyus was so successful that we were anxious to return the next week. Our hopes and expectations were high. Four of us arrived at the designated time to find that the demonstration was already in progress.

The demonstration had begun after mid-morning prayers, 45 minutes before the announced time. For the second week, the Israeli military seemed unprepared for a demonstration. The demonstrators moved toward the gate in the fence unimpeded. There were no soldiers on the road or in view.

The fence has electrical sensors that detect movement but guards were not present. The area around the gate seemed deserted. The previous week the demonstration barely moved past the village limits. This week they arrived at the gate that had been closed to them for so long.

This gate is the most relevant symbol of the occupation to the people who have been denied access to their own property. It is a barrier to a decent livelihood. The people can view their confiscated olive groves and citrus trees but not approach them to cultivate or tend the land. Their fertile land is lying fallow on the other side of the fence. For years they have been forced to stop at this point. However, on this warm, November, Friday afternoon, there was the possibility of something different. Someone climbed the fence. Someone else broke the lock. There was damage to the razor wire. They stepped over the line and onto the military road. Their resistance to years of occupation and humiliation targeted the gate, the closest part of the apartheid wall.

After the gate had been opened and damaged, the soldiers responded and there was violence. The demonstrators were forced back toward the village amid gunfire and tear gas.

Gate at Jayyus opened by demonstrators

Damage to the gate

We knew none of this when we arrived. The story was later pieced together from a variety of participants and videotape. When we got out the car, we saw demonstrators running back toward the village. There was a curtain of tear gas behind them and the high whistling sound of the of tear gas canisters flying over head. We walked toward the road and soldiers appeared, firing what we hoped were rubber coated steel bullets. Amid the chaos, men and boys began picking rocks off the ground while running from the bullets. There was an exchange; tear gas and bullets from the Israeli army versus rocks thrown by Palestinians.

Army advancing into the village

Israeli protesting the wall

A woman opened her door for two of us, so we could avoid some of the heavy gas. A young boy, about 9 or 10, was pacing between the inner hall and front of the house. He was sobbing and speaking to the women around him. We all had onions to cut the smell of the tear gas, but he was picking at his nervously, like a child picking a scab, peeling the layers, and wringing his hands. He couldn’t be comforted. I asked what he was saying and understood that he was terrified of the soldiers. The trauma of events around him was too much for him to handle. We left the house and looked for the rest of our group.

Military vehicles poured into the village from all directions and the Palestinians took cover in their homes.

Army going house to house

The soldiers began selecting young men for questioning, trying to decide who should be charged with throwing stones. They examined their hands closely, as though there would be traces of frustration and resistance remaining.

Soldiers questioning young men

A curfew was declared. All of the internationals went to the Municipality offices. Members of the Palestinian Parliament were meeting with the village council to discuss an upcoming UN visit. The United Nations is examining the amount of damage done to Jayyus by the wall.

Municipality offices

The mayor had food prepared for all the internationals and Parliament members. The Israeli Army would not let him bring the food to the Municipality offices, so we were asked to come to his home to eat. Palestinian hospitality should never be refused. As we were all walking toward his home, a man stopped us and asked for assistance. He had three women in the car who were returning home to the village from work. They were unable to pass the military and asked for international accompaniment. Two of us squeezed into the car to accompany them.

As we reached the intersection where they lived, a military jeep and a line of soldiers blocked the road.

Military vehicle patrolling the village

Soldiers in Jayyus

The army after the demonstration

We got out of the car to ask for permission to pass and allow the people to reach their home safely. Without discussion a soldier announced that we were both under arrest. He said it was a closed military zone and that we were in violation of a military order. As the other woman was escorted at gunpoint into the back of a military vehicle, I asked if the Palestinians could be allowed to go home. After more negotiation, the Palestinians were freed and both of us were taken to the military area behind the damaged gate.

A young Palestinian man was also detained and was handcuffed. About ten soldiers were milling around the road watching us. After a time they blindfolded the Palestinian and forced him to sit in the ditch on the side of the road. We repeatedly questioned the soldiers about the need for the blindfold and eventually it was removed. The handcuffs that held his hands behind his back were moved to his front.

Another group of three internationals joined us as we stood along the military access road, waiting for some decision about our fate. They had been in a car with the Palestinian Parliament members, leaving the village. It was stopped: they were taken out of the car and charged with being in a closed area. They explained they were trying to leave the area, but reason had no effect. At about 6 at night, when it was quite dark, the Palestinian was taken back toward the gate. When questioned, the soldiers said they would release him an allow him to go home. We were held there by the army for a little more than the legal limit of three hours.

All five of us were then taken to the Qalqilia checkpoint and told we would probably be released there. It was dark and chilly and we waited again. A police car pulled up and the Israeli soldier and the policeman sat in the car and talked for about thirty minutes. We were not released.

Qalqilia checkpoint tower at night

We were then all moved to the Ariel Settlement police station. Each one of us was interrogated and pressured to sign statements. At first they wanted us to sign documents in Hebrew, even though we couldn’t read the Hebrew. There were threats of deportation, arrest and jail, and fines. They had our passports and we were in “their system”. There was pressure to give statements and efforts to force us to incriminate ourselves. Some people signed “release papers” that stipulated they would pay a fine of several thousand shekels if they were asked to come in to the police station or court for additional questions, and failed to appear. We were told we had to sign or wait for a judge who wouldn’t be available until Sunday.

The two of us were held for about twelve hours. We were allowed to call a car to take us home a little after 3 in the morning. It was an unpleasant experience but nothing compared to that experienced by Palestinians on a daily basis. We had the privilege of being internationals and the option of leaving the country. The young man from Norway even had an embassy car arrive to take him home.

We hoped that the Palestinian that had been handcuffed at the side of the road got home safely, as the soldiers had promised.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall that wants it down.

Week three at Jayyus

The military was prepared for a demonstration in Jayyus by the third week. The main entrance to the village was blocked by the army. No internationals were allowed to enter by the main road and it was declared a “closed military area.” This was an attempt to deny the Palestinians the support of the international community or observation by those outside the community. Approximately fifteen internationals were able to find another road into Jayyus. The army commander that was in charge during the first demonstration was again in command on the third Friday.

Israeli Army vehicle in Jayyus

Although the day was not as peaceful as the first week, those in attendance reported that this army commander’s behavior was more restrained than the commander on week two. At lease one injury was reported; a tear gas canister struck an international in the eye.

The farmers of Jayyus cannot access their land. The wall is separating them from their means of survival. Resistance to the wall will continue in Jayyus.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall that wants it down.

Below are some links with more information on the segregation wall. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/07/israelandthepalestinians.middleeast2




A Demonstration at Burqa

Burqa, a village to the northwest of Nablus, began weekly demonstrations against the
"re-incursion" of Israeli settlers onto a hill to the west of their village. An illegal settlement was abandoned and demolished by the Israeli army in 2005, but in recent months two settler families returned. They set up house trailers as an outpost, a precursor to another settlement. Because of these settler families, the Israeli army is denying the owners of the land access to their fields.

View from hills over Burqa

Last week the fall MPT team joined IWPS, International Women’s Peace Service, at the first demonstration in Burqa. We joined the villagers and other internationals on a long winding road up the hill. Farmers intended to plant some olive trees on their land but the army was assembled to deny entry.

Village center before the demonstration

There were soldiers above us on several hills and a line of jeeps and army down the road. A roadblock of large boulders had been placed across the road to stop any traffic. The army was well prepared for any attempt to reach the fields.

Soldiers behind rocks blocking the road

View as we walked up the hill

Soldier prepared to fire, blocking any movement

The peoples stopped at the bottom of the final hill and announced their intentions over a loudspeaker. The soldiers were anxious and lobbed concussion grenades as we approached. There was no warning or provocation. The group backed down the hill a bit and organizers began to make more speeches over the loudspeaker. There was no possibility of advancing any farther. The soldiers directly above us made that very clear, gesturing with their rifles.

Before the tear gas

Observing the soldiers as we walked away presented a living definition of the cliché “itchy trigger finger.” At the conclusion several young boys threw a few stones from the road in the direction of the soldiers. They were so far below the level of the army on the hill that there was no danger to the military. It was a small futile gesture, an expression of frustration, but that wasn’t the issue. The tear gas was handy and it was used liberally. The tear gas blanketed the hillsides. Everyone scattered. There was no planting that week. The farmers will return again.

Second Burqa Demonstration and Background on the Situation

At the second Burqa demonstration, an MPTer and an IWPS [International Women’s Peace Service] met other internationals and the villagers in the center of the village. All then proceeded up a long steep and winding road to where the demonstration had been the week before. The stones blocking the road, laid by the Israeli soldiers, were a bit further up the road. The number of jeeps (5) and about 40 soldiers was more than double the previous week. Well armed Israeli soldiers with military jeeps behind them
block the road leading to the illegal outpost on confiscated Palestinian land.

Armed soldiers stand at the front and left of the demonstration

Israeli soldiers stand armed to the front and right of the village demonstration

As the demonstrators sat down on the road, a villager read a prepared speech and then the about 100 men, old and young, began the Muslim mid-day prayer on the road. The demonstration ended shortly after this.

Journalists here included Reuters. They get out the news,
but also serve as protection for the demonstrators.

Villagers sit in protest in front of the armed soldiers

Village protesters recite the mid-day prayer

A watchful boy prays

A couple young men threw stones, even though strongly forbidden to do so by the older men present. They were so far from the soldiers that their efforts were futile. These few stones resulted in rubber bullets, 15 to 25 tear gas canisters and sound grenades were shot or thrown. Three men where injured – two from the tear gas inhalation and one who was targeted with one or more rubber coated steel bullets and a tear gas canister. This targeted man was a gentle young man who had asked to take a picture of the IWPS woman. When he was visited in the afternoon, he had bandages on his shoulder which showed serious burn damage. He was in some pain.

Tear gas forced the demonstration back and caused injury to three

Young man injured by a tear gas canaster and rubber bullets.

Following the demonstration, a member of the village council offered to take the internationals to the homes that were invaded at night by the Israeli army, about two weeks earlier. The stories of the house incursions were similar. Sound bombs were exploded outside the home to wake up the families inside. Four soldiers from four jeeps entered the house, took the man in the house out with a gun to his head, then back into the house to sign and put figure prints on a blank piece of paper. The men were often then beaten. All of this happened in about 2 ½ hours. No one knew of any reason that these fifteen families were targeted.

The village councilor pointed out to the internationals the destruction that had been done to the village. Some of the actions seemed to have been recent and other in the last few years. Settlers had placed fire into the inside of ancient olive trees totally ruining them even if they were left standing. Village wells had some poisonous or distasteful materials put into them. Settlers burned wheat fields.

The councilor took us to an adjoining hill to view the recently re-established illegal Israeli outpost. This had been an area thick with olive trees. After the abandonment and destruction of the settlement in 2005, the farmer who owned the land was encouraged by the village council to develop it. He built some beautiful stone terraces and foundations for homes, and planted a variety of trees. Returning Israeli settlers polluted his well, damaged his building and water tank, burned his hay and pulled many of his trees up by their roots

Settlers damaged the property of the Palestinian landowner.

Damaged Palestinian water tank
Trees that had been planted by settlers before 2005
ring the land of the Palestinian farmer.

View of the outpost from former settlement.
Nablus can be seen in the distance. The village is lower left.

As the councilor drove the MPTer and IWPS woman home, he told them of his village. In 1948, this village had a population of 11,000, half Christians and half Muslims. Now it has a population of 5,000. Christians who have greater access to outside help fled. He showed us the older part of Burqa where Christians had lived and to where some return to visit their three churches.

He then told the two women about his experience in an Israeli prison. He said he had his jaw broken in three places, but was given no medical attention. He was held for 51 days, 49 of which he was handcuffed. He lost 20 kilos and could only drink liquids when he got out of prison. When he left the prison, he used a stick to pry open his mouth. One wonders who could commit these atrocities against another human being? What happens to their humanity?