"The Wall must fall, must fall, must fall!"
"The Wall must fall, must fall, must fall!"
Once again, the organisers underestimated the number of people who would come to participate in a protest against the monstrous Wall which the Sharon government seems bent on erecting. After six buses were filled up, nearly two hundred more people arrived at the rendezvous point in the commercial center of the French Hill Neighborhood. Fortunately, the big Palestinian taxis of East Jerusalem - vans capable of taking nearly twenty passengers each - were happy to come at very short notice and take up the extra load. But still it did take time, and it was a matter of rather complicated logistics to keep the whole unwieldy column moving as a single convoy, through the circuitous road by-passing the big army checkpoint at the approaches of A-Ram. Meanwhile, there were frantic calls from our Palestinian partners up ahead, asking us to hurry up and telling that the hundreds of youths they had gathered together were chafing at the bit and eager to start.
In fact, when we arrived at the designated starting point we found that the mass of Palestinians has ser out already. From some three hundred metres down the street there come the rhythmic thudding of a half-a-dozen giant drums, and the sound of chanting in which the word "Jidar" (Arabic for "Fence", similar to the Hebrew "Gader") was clearly discernable. We had to scramble out of the buses, grab the signs and banners ("The Wall is strangling A-Ram, the Wall is strangling all of us" and "No need of walls, we have a partner for peace") and hurry to catch up.
The pundits who make self-satisfied statements about Israelis and Palestinians being "too alienated from each other to ever live together" and draw the conclusion that "a civilized divorce is the best which could be hoped for" should have seen the merging of these two groups. At one moment there were two distinct groups - some two thousand Palestinians forging ahead, five hundred Israelis quickly caching up with them. The next, the two flowed smoothly into each other and became a single mass, above which flew in profusion and in no particular order Hebrew and Arabic and English signs and flags and the emblems of Israelis peace groups and Arab parties from Israel and the main factions of the Palestinian political spectrum all side by side, Gush Shalom and Fatah and Hadash and Ta'ayush and Yesh Gvul and and the Israeli Women's Coalition and the Palestinian Islamists (only a few of them, but quite distinct) and KM Azmi Bishara's Balad Party (Bishara was there in person, as were his colleagues/rivals Muhammad Barake and Ahmad Tibi) and a sizeable block of the red flags of the Palestinian People's Party (former Communists) and among them a solitary flag of the Italian Communists, flown by a visiting delegation. And the Ecumenical Accompaniers of the World Churches have all gathered here from the various towns and villages where they fulfill various tasks, and people from the International Solidarity Movement and the Christian Peacemakers, and some of the Japanese who recently seem to crop up at virtually every peace demonstration...
There was a considerable presence of Palestinian women - young and old, some dressed in demure traditional clothes while others were clad in the latest of western fashions. Palestinian signs varied greatly, from enormous well-prepared printed banners bearing whole manifestos ("Yes to freedom of Education, Worship, Medical Treatment & Movement in Our City of Jerusalem, that the Apartheid Wall will block") to a "Fuck Sharon!" hastily scrawled on the back of packing carton and held aloft by a grinning boy. A group of girls were marching under a hand-drawn banner, "Break the Wall", with the letters on a white background drawn alternately in black, red or green - the Palestinian national colours. They were, it turned out, from "The Bridge Academy", an institute which stands to suffer a mortal blow from the Wall. "Half of us are from A-Ram here, the others from Beit Hanina across the highway. Until now we went back and forth without even thinking about it, but if they build the wall across the Highway we will not be able to meet each other again, and our school will lose half of its pupils...".
The highway of which the 17-year old Tagrid spoke was the Jerusalem- Ramallah Highway. The government plans call for erecting the Separation Wall right in the middle of it, so as to create "a Palestinian lane" on one side and an Israeli one on the other, and in process completely cut off from each other the Palestinian neighborhoods on either side. And out route of march took us to that very highway. A specially-made cardboard replica of the government's planned Wall was straddling the center of the road, and to the side was a truck draped with Palestinian national flags and fitted out as a podium.
The rally begins. "This Wall, if we don't stop it, is about to create an Apartheid regime much worse than anything South Africa has ever known" said Catherine Rottenberg of Ta'ayush. "The Wall about to be built will separate a mother from from her child. It will divide between worker and workplace, between the pupil and school, and cut off the ill from the hospital and the dead from the cemetery. And the Wall will also cut off all of us, Israelis and Palestinians alike, cut us all of from the possibility of achieving a just peace".
"We are sending a message from here to Mr. Sharon, the prime Minster of Israel" called Sirhan Salaymeh, Mayor of A-Ram and decades-long interlocutor of Israeli peace activists. "Here is the message: we don't stand alone, Mr. Sharon, we the inhabitants of A-Ram whom you want to cut off and separate from out city of Jerusalem, we the Palestinian People which you plan to imprison in enclaves and bantustans. We stand together here, Palestinians and Israelis and internationals, together confronting your dirty scheme - and we will foil it! The Popular Committee Against the Wall represents the the whole range of social and political forces in A-Ram, and it is determined to maintain and extend the struggle in all possible ways". Then Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom: "Had the government built a fence or wall along Israel's legitimate border - the Green Line, the 1967 border - it would have acted within its rights, though I think even that would have been an enormous waste of resources: making peace and ending the occupation would in my view put an end also to the suicide bombers' motivation, and mae a wall completely unnecessary. But as things stand, the Sharon Government arouses the enmity of the whole world by its relentless blind arrogance, by pushing forward the plans to build a Wall of Hatred which cuts into the Palestinians' living flesh, makes their life into hell and steals their land piece by piece. This week, the mad project of this Wall brought Israel to the dock at the International Court in the Hague, for the first time in the coutry's history. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians, will continue paying a heavy price for this Wall, for the settlements and the occupation - but in the end the Wall will fall, as the Berlin Wall fell which also seemed impregnable, and the two peoples could live side by side in peace in prosperity".
There were quite a few more speakers - many groups and factions had taken part in organizing the rally, and each had its own representative on the podium. The lively audience responded lively, with boos and catcalls whenever the Wall or Sharon its builder were mentioned. And then it happened: the crowd anticipating what was intended as the dramatic climax of the rally, falling upon the mock cardboard Wall in the middle of the road, pulling it down and tearing it to pieces. It was started by the Palestinian youths, but their Israeli contemporaries were not slow in joining in, and the call "The Wall must fall, must fall, must fall!" burst from a thousand throats.
Everybody knew, of course, that with the real Wall it will be far more difficult and messy. And still, we all also felt that something of enduring importance was achieved today, there on the highway outside A-Ram.
For more information: Adam 056-709603, Irit 053-826631, Hulood 067-469738, Mayor Sirhan Salaymeh 067-2348808/02-2348808 Gush Shalom/The Committee Against House Demolitions/The National Union of Arab Students/Hadash/Yesh Gvul/The Women's Coaltion for a Just Peace/Ta'ayush - Arab Jewish Partnership
For more on the Wall please see: www.stopthewall.org www.palsolidarity.org www.gush-shalom.org Petitions against the Wall: