Journal About the Barta Action
By Doug from Jenin
Barta, Jenin. A crowd of over 100 Palestinians and Internationals protesters gathered today outside the checkpoint Um al Rihan which controls traffic in and out of Barta, a village west of Jenin on the green line.
The situation in Barta is dire. It's divided in two by the green line. On the west side are Palestinian Israelis who have Israeli citizenship but are denied the right to free speech or to vote, and on the east are Palestinians with no rights whatsoever. Those east of the green line - in Palestine - now find themselves nearly surrounded by the new apartheid wall that is stealing their land and water and turning Barta and neighboring villages into slums.
To reach Barta, one must either cross the green line from "48" (Israel) or one must go through the check point at Um al Rihan. To do either is nearly impossible. Without a permit - rarely granted - a Palestinian may not enter Israel, period. Likewise, without a permit residents of Barta cannot pass through the checkpoint to visit family or friends anywhere in Palestine, and only residents of Barta can enter Barta. This apparently goes for Internationals as well. Even those with permits get only limited access to their own village. Food, medicine, supplies and such that are bought on one side of the wall cannot pass to the other. Men and women that once worked outside the wall are no longer allowed to go to work. Women, I'm told, that used to travel to from Barta to Jenin to take sewing classes and receive job training from the Palestinian Workers Union are now not allowed to leave Barta. Forget slums; this reminds me of the Warsaw Ghetto.
After a week of planning ISM sent two busses filled with Internationals and Palestinians from Jenin to Barta to protest the check point. First we headed toward Yabad to pick up villagers waiting to join us. But a few miles outside of Jenin we rounded a corner and suddenly found ourselves facing the Israeli military. Two US-made humvees blocked the road behind a half dozen fully armed soldiers standing ready to shoot. They aimed their US-made M-16s at our windshield and ordered the driver out of the bus.
As the driver talked with the soldiers, we ISMers used this time to get our stories straight. Since Israel doesn't exactly appreciate our presence in Palestine, one of us suggested that we tell the soldiers that we're from the Arab-American University in Zebobde and we're going to have lunch in Tura with friends. A Palestinian woman sitting with us suggested -through a translator - that we say instead that we're from the University and we're attending a wedding with her family in Tura. We agreed, and then we cellphoned a friend in Tura and were told that nearly all the roads to Barta were closed. Apparently the Israelis don't appreciate peaceful protests either.
Instead of being arrested or detained we were told to turn back. We considered going back to Jenin but decided that was not an option. We would get to Barta, even if we had to walk, some were saying. The bus driver said he knew another way and we took off on a circuitous route. Travelling by dirt road we passed through the junk yard for the illegal Israeli settlement, Shaked, on our way to Tura, then to Hulgun, then Zabda, and finally to Um al Rihan. When we arrived we found Palestinians assembling at the checkpoint in front of soldiers who had strung razor wire across the road to keep us back.
We got off the bus with whistles and noise makers (empty plastic bottles filled with rocks) in hand. As we approached the checkpoint we unfurled banners and signs that read "No Justice, No Peace, "Free Palestine," and "The Wall Must Fall," and we gave tentative toots on the whistles. As we got nearer about a dozen soldiers lined up in front of several armoured vehicles and they issued a command in Hebrew, probably telling us to disperse. Simultaneously, our whistles went full throttle and reached a shrill, feverish pitch as the noise-makers rattled and shook, and we began to shout and cheer.
>From the other side of the checkpoint, several residents from Barta tried to pass through to join us but were stopped at the line. Four or five cars, however, passed through and honked their horns. Journalists scrambled to take pictures. We moved closer, the shrill got louder. For a moment Barta was in touch, literally, with the world community. For a moment they actually heard us. I like to think that Barta residents felt embraced by the world today.
The Israelis, visibly nervous, issued a command that they were ready to shoot as they readied their guns. Our Palestinian friends decided that we should turn back, that we had made our point. Quietly and peacefully we returned to our vehicles and returned home.
Barta represents all of Palestine in so
many ways. It's divided, surrounded, cut off, deprived,
threatened, harrassed and abused daily. But its heart and
spirit remain intact. Once again the Palestinians
demonstrated non-violence in the face of violence today,
just as they have for much of the last 56 years.