`You are guarding a ghetto!'
[Report of the joint Palestinian-Israeli Qalqilya action, including comment on the new racist law, and news about the court case of two newly- arrived internationals]
“Kodem Kol - Hachoma Tippol" (first of all – the wall must fall!) chanted peace activists at a demonstration against the Apartheid Wall that was called jointly by the public organizations of Palestinian Qalqilya, the Israeli Gush Shalom and the international ISM.
The town of Qalqilya was offered this week by Sharon to be transfered to Palestinian control. But there is no suggestion of removing the walls and fences which surround the city on nearly all sides, leaving only a single narrow exit. "Once a thriving commercial center for its entire region, our city has been reduced to destitution." said Qalqilia Mayor Ma'aruf Zaharan in his speech.
This morning, Zaharan and hundreds of his townspeople marched from the town center up to the Wall, holding flags and banners, accompanied by a sizeable contingent of internationals. On the way some youngsters managed to decorate the wall with various kinds of graffiti. Finally, they arrived at a point on the southern side of the city - the predetermined rendezvous, where a barred gate makes it possible to see the other side. There, an Israeli contingent arrived - veteran activists who had been involved since 1967 (even before) rubbing shoulders with energetic young anarchists. We also had internationals with us, from such disparate countries as the US, Denmark and Poland - including a Vietnam War veteran turned peace activist, who last night piloted a jet plane on its flight from the New York to Tel-Aviv. "Tonight I am due at Ben Gurion Airport to take her back, but the hours in between are mine to do with as I choose" he said .
Within moments of alighting form the bus, we spread out in a long line facing the wall with banners: “The wall – a ghetto for Israelis, a prison for Palestinians”/The Green Line – Border of Peace"/"Where there are walls there is no peace". The Palestinians with their waving flags were clearly visible, some twenty metres on the other side. They heard the greetings in Arabic made to them on the megaphone by historian Teddy Katz, and answered in kind.
Sandwiched in between was a large force of soldiers, brought in to ensure that these two bodies of demonstrators would find no way of coming together. The young Itay Rotstein of Tel-Aviv took the megaphone to address them directly: "Soldiers, did you give any thought to what you are doing here? Do you realize that you are guarding a ghetto - yes, a ghetto? Do you realize that you are holding tens of thousands of people prisoner, preventing farmers from cultivating their land, preventing merchants from having customers, driving a whole population down to poverty and misery? Can you look yourselves in the mirror?". The soldiers looked on impassively, making no overt reaction. For their part, Rotstein's fellows burst out chanting: "Not a fence but a ghetto, not soldiers but prison guards" and "Refuse, Refuse, Refuse!"
"There is a semantic debate about whether to call this thing in front of us 'wall' or 'fence', since physically it is a bit of both" said Uri Avnery. "But as to its function, the best term might be 'noose'. A strangling noose around Qalqilia, around all Palestinians, around the neck of all of us in this country and this region, a direct threat to all our hopes for peace."
Towards the end of the demonstration, the military commander on the spot relented to the extent of allowing a single Palestinian to cross the closely-guarded gate and present greeting to the Israeli participants. He gave his consent to that radical step only reluctantly, first declaring it "a security risk" (which declaration was greeted by jeering remarks from the demonstrators).
The young woman was allowed to spend only a few minutes on the Israeli side, before being escorted by soldiers back into her beleaguered city - just long enough to say a few words, hand over a hastily-scribbled message of thanks and solidarity, and receive and enormous cheer from everybody present.
Photos from the Qalqilya demo can be viewed on the Gush Shalom website at http://www.gush-shalom.org/actions/q_fence_eng.html
On the way back to Tel-Aviv, we listened to the news and, yes, our little action got mentioned (and the evening TV news of Channel-II gave considerable coverage of the action from the Palestinian side of the Wall). But - as we also heard on the radio broadcast - this was also the day that the Knesset definitely voted into law a regulation which makes it from now on impossible for an Israeli citizen to bring a Palestinian marriage partner over to live in Israel - a measure which will force especially Israeli Arabs to choose between leaving the country or living a clandestine life.
P.S. Back in Tel-Aviv the Gush Shalom bus went straight to the District Court where some 25 demonstrators filled the benches during the hearing of two internationals who upon arrival yesterday were denied entry and detained pending their appeal. The Judge, Tzippora Baron, expressed surprise how these hardly arrived detainees got so many friends together. The decision will be handed down later in the week. Meanwhile David Watson and Michael Shake - both "recidivist internationals" - remain at the far from comfortable Airport Detention Cells. They are defended by Advocates Gabi Laski and Yoni Lerman.
-- A map of the separation wall: