Where Protesters Are Peaceful And Soldiers Violent
Beit Dukka – Where Protesters Are Peaceful And Soldiers Violent
On Sunday we set off to Beit Dukka, another village near Biddu, because we’d heard that the army had began work on the wall there. It was meant to be covered by the court order that stopped the work in the area, until the court makes it’s judgement over whether the work is legal (which is now expected tomorrow - Thursday). Apparently the army are claiming that while the land they are working on belongs to Beit Dukka, it falls under the jurisdiction of West Ramallah, not North West Jerusalem, so it isn’t covered by the court ruling.
We arrive at Beit Dukka at around 1pm, and head out of the village, about 150 Palestinians from Beit Dukka and the neighbouring villages, 10 internationals, and Arik, an Israeli Rabbi, to the hill where the work is currently taking place. There are two Caterpillar drillers working on the land, guarded by two soldiers and 4 private security men. They seemed not to be expecting any kind of protest and we quickly walk up the hill, and sit down in front of one of the Caterpillars, stopping the work. Soon more soldiers and border police turn up, until there are around 20 of them. There are arguments between the village council and the lawyer representing them and the soldiers as to whether the court ruling applies to the area the work is taking place. The soldiers insisting they must see a paper from the court before they stop work. The lawyer, and Arik, who works for an organisation called Rabbis For Human Rights, arguing that the work is certainly against the spirit of the ruling.
The soldiers, fed up of negotiating, give us 5 minutes to move from the area. The shebab (boys and young men from the village) are asked, by the village council, to return down the hillside, and the women, children, old men and internationals sit down in front of one of the Caterpillars.
After 5 minutes the soldiers carry out their threat to move us, pushing and shoving the group sitting in front of the Caterpillar down the hillside, which is terraced, with drops of up to five feet, hitting people who refuse to move with wooden, and plastic coated metal batons and throwing concussion grenades towards the demonstrators and groups of shebab further down the hillside.
When we are about 10 meters from the site of the work, a Palestinian grandmother, who the land belongs to, is left sitting in front of the Caterpillar. The soldiers form a line across the hillside, above the demonstrators, hitting anyone who attempts to move up towards the Caterpillar. Other soldiers then drag the woman out of the way of the work and down the hillside, and the Caterpillar begins pounding the ground again.
20 minutes later the soldiers tell us we must move further down the hill, and when we refused the soldiers charge, again begin pushing, kicking and beating anyone who refuses to move. This pattern is repeated throughout the afternoon, the soldiers instructing the crowd to move further down the hillside, charging with batons, fist and feet when they refuse. Throughout the whole afternoon the demonstrators remain peaceful, not a single stone is thrown by the shebab, despite the soldiers doing their best to antagonise them.
At around 5pm we leave the hillside, just as the work is stopping. We leave the soldiers standing in a line across the hillside, laughing and talking to each other as we return to the village. Many of the demonstrators are injured, a man has a fractured arm, luckily he managed to get his arm above his head before he was more seriously injured, another man, son of the woman who refused to leave the front of the Caterpillar, was seriously beaten by several of the soldiers as he refused to move at one point, as were several people who attempted to defend him.
The next day we arrive in the centre of the village at around 7am. The Palestinians demonstration is finally ready at 9:30, after several, increasingly urgent sounding calls from the mosque (they’re not reknown for the time keeping, a 5 minute cup of tea often can last several hours, and include at least one meal!). Just before we set off along the road toward the hillside an army jeep pulls up in to the village centre, then quickly speeds away, they’re obviously not wanting to be caught by surprise today. Several transit full of people leave from the centre, and the rest of the demonstrators, overall around 200 Palestinians and 25 internationals and Israelis, sets off along a path.
The army have blocked the road with a humvee (personnel carrier) and a jeep, stopping the transits from getting to the site of the work. But the rest of the demonstrators follow a path to behind the army vehicles, and the soldiers soon find themselves with demonstrators on both sides of them. Despite firing concussions grenades at the protestors, they are unable to stop us all and soon realise they won’t stop us reaching the site of the work. They attempt to drive through the crowds, but are again unable to prevent the demonstration reaching the single Caterpillar that is today working on the hillside.
Again we sit down in front of the Caterpillar, stopping it working, a group of women from the village sitting on the front of the digger. For about 15 minutes the soldiers stand above us on the hillside, at one point snatching the Palestinian flag from the group of women. While this is meet with loud shouts from the crowd they remain peaceful, and soon another flag is given to the women.
The soldiers then give us an ultimatum, we have 15 minutes to leave, or they will remove us with force. Then a familiar pattern starts again. Today they use teargas, as well as concussion grenades and batons, again often targeted at the shebab, further down the hillside, rather than the protesters in front of the work. Again they move us out of the way of the Caterpillar, which begins working. They then spread out across the hillside, forming arbitrary lines we’re told not to cross, moving them further down the hill when they feel like it. Throughout the day they pick out certain young men from the crowd, taunting them, trying to provoke a reaction, again they are meet only with shouting, flag waving and a defiance not to move. Again the demonstrators leave at around 5pm, leaving the soldiers laughing and talking on the hillside and the protestors nursing injuries.
We were back in Beit Dukka again today, there was no demonstration yesterday, and only around 50 people gather there today. Many of the villagers are out of the village, either at school or at work. They can’t be protesting every day, as the Israeli army well knows. We arrive at the site to find the caterpillar already guarded by soldiers, who instruct us not to even step onto the mountain. The villager leaders again go and speak to the council. They are apparently now refusing to stop work because the court papers said work must stop in “Beit Surik and the other villages”, and don’t name Beit Dukka specifically.
However it seems the village has papers that name Beit Dukka as one of the villages that the work must stop in. (This is all a bit unclear, all this is carried out in Hebrew and Arabic). The end result is that the Caterpillar stops work, and the Army agree to leave the hillside, however insist that the demonstrators must leave first. The villagers drive off back to the village. We internationals decide to enjoy a walk through the olive, almond and peach trees back to the village. Halfway up the hillside opposite the site where the work is taking place, we stop by a spring, one incidentally that will be annex by Israel if the wall is completed as planned. And soon we hear the familiar sound from across the valley; we look across to see the soldiers still on the hillside, and the Caterpillar starting work again destroying the Palestinians land.
- Biddu. 10th March 2004