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“Hope—stronger than the Israeli weapon,” –Mahmoud, Mayor of the Al Mas’sara Committee Against the Wall

On Friday 17 July the MPT summer team joined local villagers, Israeli activists and other internationals in Al Mas’sara, south of Bethlehem, to protest the Separation Wall, settlements and Israeli-only roads that surround this area of the West Bank. Approximately 50 protestors, including a group of Canadians on a peace and justice pilgrimage, attended the demonstration, where local villagers gave speeches directed at the demonstrators as well as the 35 Israeli soldiers present at the event.

Marching to the closed military zone that houses the nuclear weapon

Soldiers lined up behind barbed wire fence

The demonstration lasted about and hour and no one was injured. Although the army threatened to arrest everyone present if ‘they did not leave in five minutes’ no one was arrested and protestors left on their own terms fifteen minutes later. One brave woman crossed the barbed-wire fence to visit her father’s home, which lay on the other side of the closed military zone that housed the nuclear weapons the soldiers were ‘protecting’, demonstrating her resistance to the occupation of her village’s land. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has had a devastating impact on this woman on numerous occasions. Her husband was murdered by Israeli soldiers, her son is in prison serving a 27-year sentence, and her home was also demolished by the military (pictured below).

This woman bravely crossed the barbed wire

Al Mas’sara is a village of one thousand people dependent on Bethlehem for trade. This small village is surrounded by Israeli occupied land—in the form of restricted nature reserves, settlements, closed military zones, Israeli-only roads and the Separation Wall—and Al Mas’sara farmers have been separated from 1/3 of their land. Ninety percent of the homes in Al Mas’sara are under demolition orders from Israel, with seven houses already demolished and three soon to be destroyed.

After the demonstration, MPT met with leaders from Al Mas’sara’s Committee Against the Wall where they learned that villagers have been protesting every Friday since November 2006, when the Wall was first being constructed in the Bethlehem area. MPT also learned that Al Mas’sara has a sister city in Trieve, France and every year French volunteers come to the village to help teach the children in Al Mas’sara and 9 surrounding villages because the Occupation has prevented them from reaching larger cities, such as Bethlehem, for basic education. To learn more about this solidarity project between France and Palestine please visit http://www.alshmoh-center.org/

Demonstrators get face-to-face with soldiers in Al Mas'sara

Mahmoud, Mayor of the Al Mas’sara Committee Against the Wall explained that nonviolent demonstration and resistance was the only acceptable way for his village to fight against the Israeli Occupation, and that the hope of the Palestinian people was stronger than any Israeli weapon. Mahmoud also explained that the goal of the Committee is to unify Palestinians through nonviolent popular resistance as well as unify the Palestinian people with Israelis and internationals and show the international community the effects of Occupation and the situation on the ground.

Mahmoud explained that Israel plans to annex Bethlehem, which is rich in resources such as water, olives and grapes and is often considered the twin city of Jerusalem because of its religious and cultural history. A combination of settlements, Israeli-only roads and the Separation Barrier would cut Bethlehem into 5 cantons, taking 87% of the land for Israelis and leaving Palestinians only 13% of their own land. Included in these plans is the construction of an Israeli-only road that would connect Nokdim (UN Map Noqedim) the settlement that Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, lives in with Settlements to the west of Al Mas’sara.

(Above: Israeli activists stand with Palestinians when the army threatens to arrest protestors.)

On 1 May 2009 seven villagers were arrested for nonviolently demonstrating against the Separation Wall, it cost $22,000 United States dollars (85,800 Israeli Shekels) to get them out of jail, one villager still remains in jail to this day.

Speech given in Arabic and English

The speech was translated into Hebrew by an Israeli activist so that the soldiers, to whom part of the speech was specifically directed, could understand.

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