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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



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