Demonstrations at 443

Trip Start Dec 10, 2007
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Trip End Jan 10, 2008


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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Aunt Jen and I went to demonstrations in Bil'in on our first two Fridays so I was surprised when she told me we were going to a different demonstration come the next Friday.
"is this also against the separation wall?" I asked her.
"Not exactly," she said. "This one is against the system of Apartheid Roads through the West Bank, specifically the Modiin Road, or 443."
I didn't know much about Apartheid or how it was used in South African, my formal education being very limited in my young, flat life, but Aunt Jen explained that apartheid basically is a systematic form of separation based on race. This 443 highway, she told me, is used to connect Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but it runs directly through the West Bank. Not only was land taken from lots of Palestinian villages in order to build the road, but the people from those villages can't even use the road! It's for Israelis only.
So the demonstration, Aunt Jen told me, is to protest against the road being for Israelis only rather than for all people to use.

My first Friday at this demonstration we got to the village a little early and waited at the main intersection with a gradually growing group of Israeli and international activists, waiting for the Palestinians to be finished with Friday prayer, which is the typical time the demonstrations begin. The intersection was down in the valley; in order to actually get up to the highway we would have to walk on the road from the village main intersection to where it goes uphill, joining 443, but with big cement blocks at the entrance, preventing Palestinians from the village from driving onto the road.

But when we started to walk down the road towards the highway, chanting again against occupation like we had in Bil'in, soldiers were there waiting for us. So Yusuf, the leader of the demonstration cut to the right and began to walk up the grassy, rocky hill towards the highway. Soldiers met us at the top and cut us off there. So for about ten minutes we had a stand off, protesters and soldiers, a few meters from the highway, neither giving way, but no one using violence either. I had been told that at 443 demonstrations, the soldiers didn't use tear gas and rubber bullets as much, but they used their sticks a lot to beat the demonstrators.
The protesters had their flags, did their chants, made their point and began to walk away, back towards the village. The soldiers followed us. So close, in fact, that when Aunt Jen stopped to take a picture of a jeep, she heard a voice say in Hebrew "Pretty picture!" and when she turned around, she saw one of the soldiers looking over her shoulder at her digital camera.
"You wanna take a picture with my friend Flat Stanley here?" she asked him, and I looked at him, smiling as always. He raised his eyebrows, said nothing, and walked towards the jeep.
I guess people were lying about the soldiers not shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at Beit Ur because even before we got back to the road, ending the demonstration, the tear gas started, followed by a few rubber bullets, which of course, was followed by stone throwing by kids, giving the soldiers the excuse they wanted to chase the boys deep into the village.
Aunt Jen and I were taking our time walking (okay, Aunt Jen was walking, I was being carried) back to where the other activists were gathered around the corner of the intersection, and all of a sudden, we found ourselves in between the kids throwing stones and the soldiers shooting rubber bullets.
"Rule number one at a demonstration", Aunt Jen taught me, after a stone bounced off her arm. "Never get stuck in the middle between stone-throwers and soldiers!"
A little while later, we were sitting with a few Israelis on a cement block in the village intersection. Soldiers were still chasing stone throwing boys in the village, but the demonstration was over. We were waiting for a car to take us, respectively, back to Tel Aviv and Ramallah. It was nice sitting in the sun there. All of a sudden, a cloud of gas covered us. A jeep had pulled up right behind us and a soldier shot us with tear gas--we never even noticed it approaching. The Israelis got up and ran down the road. Aunt Jen grabbed me and started to move down the road as well but not fast enough. The tear gas got her, and by the time she ducked around the corner where the Israeli activists had taken refuge, her eyes were tearing up and burning. Thank goodness for the lamination that was covering my eyes! It works better than a gas mask--I never felt a thing!
The next week's demonstration was a lot bigger, lots of internationals and Israelis were called on to join the Palestinians. The bus from Jerusalem made it, but the bus from Tel Aviv was detained and not permitted to come, so there were around 50 less Israelis than there would have been. Aunt Jen left her passport with the guy who runs the little shop at the intersection, asking him to hold it until the demonstration was over.
"Why did you do that?" I aked her.
"In case I get arrested, I may get released without them knowing my identity--could help me from being deported."
"So where's my passport?"
Aunt Jen laughed. "Safe in Jerusalem, Stanley. You can get through checkpoints fine without it!"

Even without the busload of Israelis, the group was big enough to split into two--half of the demonstrators marched towards the highway from the main intersection like last week and the other half of us ran from a road up above through the field, all the way up to the highway itself, and spread ourselves out along the chain link fence that was barring us from getting on the road. Good thing Aunt Jen was carrying me, it would have been hard to run fast enough, especially since we were all expecting to get shot at or tear gassed at any moment.
Soldiers and police were on the road, with the fence between us. "It's forbidden to come onto the road!" they kept saying repeatedly. Some activists were taking picture of the soldiers. Some soldiers were taking picture of the activists. They took pictures of each other taking pictures.
Some people wanted to try to go out onto the highway and block traffic, which would pretty much be a sure-fire way to get arrested. I was glad my passport was in Jerusalem and Aunt Jen's at the shop. But that idea fizzled out pretty quickly.
Aunt Jen, her friend Huwaida and I ran down the hill behind where the soldiers were tear gassing the other group of demonstrators. I guess there was a strong wind blowing back, because the soldiers were choking and coughing and stinging from their own tear gas!
Then, after rubber bullets starting being shot, kids started throwing rocks and soldiers went after them, shooting rubber bullets at them.
But this time, Aunt Jen and I followed Huwaida's lead. We placed ourselves in front of the soldier to stop them from shooting.
"You don't need to shoot at little kids. Do you have a younger brother or sister? That's who you're shooting."
"If you would leave their village, they'd stop throwing stones!"
"Who do you think you're shooting anyway?"
we said to soldiers, who tried to ignore us and shoot around us. Well, Aunt Jen and Huwaida said to soldiers, is more like it. I was just kinda hanging out and smiling.
"If you went away, there'd be no stone throwing," Aunt Jen said to one soldier whose path she was blocking. "You're the one in their village."
"It was my village first." the soldier retorted.
I was a little surprised at that comment, because this soldier was Jewish Israeli.
"Really?" I wanted to ask. "You were born in Beit Ur? Your family comes from this village? Those olive trees you're standing next to, your father and grandfather planted and harvested them?" But instead, I just kinda smiled.
One soldier tried to give chase to the boys, who had run away up the embankment, and Aunt Jen stood directly in front of him, blocking left when he went left and right when he went right.
Finally, he pushed her aside and ran past her, muttering in Hebrew, "What a game!"
I wanted to ask him what game he was talking about, because I never thought that people demonstrating for freedom and equal rights and to hold onto land being taken away from them or kids getting shot at with rubber bullets might be called a game.
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