By Kim Bullimore – The West Bank
I am not American, so I won’t be voting for you come the American presidential elections. However, given that the US Administration has continued to ignore Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and there is a good chance you might be the next President of the USA, I thought i would write you a few words, especially in light of your current visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Today, the Israeli newspapers said that throughout the day you had separate meetings with a variety of Israeli ministers, including the Israeli Prime Minister, President, Defense Minister, Public Security Minister and Foreign Minister. You also made a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial where you laid a wreath, as well as the Western Wall and visited Sderot in the south of Israel .
Throughout the course of your stay, you only managed to allocate one single hour to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories and that hour was spent in the relatively reified atmosphere of the Muqata in Ramallah, with the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. At no stage, did you take the time visit besieged Gaza or visit the apartheid wall or the Palestinian villages it impacted on. Neither did you take the time to go to any of the military check points to see the daily human rights abuses Palestinians must endure or visit any Palestinians who have lost family members to acts of state terror carried out by Israel.
Today, you spoke of the endurance and bravery of the Israeli people, but what of the endurance of the Palestinian people who have for more than 100 years have battled against racism, colonialism, dispossession, apartheid and the destruction of their society? What of the bravery of those Palestinians, clothed only in their belief in justice and love of their homeland, who stand unarmed in civil disobedience, against the fourth most powerful military in the world? What of them?
While you were having tea and coffee with the various Israeli ministers, these ordinary Palestinians that I speak off, once again took on the might of Israel with only their voices and their convictions.
For almost three months now the 5000 residents of a small but beautiful Palestinian village have been holding 3 – 4 non-violent demonstrations a week against the stealing of their land by the Israeli to build the apartheid wall. The village of Ni’lin is just one of many villages who are in this situation and who have chosen to defend their culture, heritage and homeland. In 1948, with the creation of the state of Israel, the villagers of Ni’lin lost more than 40,000 (4000 hectares) of their land. With Israel’s construction of the wall, which was deemed illegal by the International High Court of Justice four years ago, Ni’lin will now lose another 2500 dunams (250 hectares) of its agriculture.
Today, as you went from meeting to meeting with high powered politicians, never taking a moment to see what life under a brutal occupation really means, dozens of Palestinian women from across the Occupied West Bank, as well as female international human rights activists and female Israeli anti-occupation activists stood in solidarity with the women of Ni’lin. They marched with the women to their fields to protest the destruction of their livelihoods and the ongoing illegal and brutal Israeli occupation under which they have had to live for more than 40 years.
Oh if you had only seen it! It was a powerful demonstration! Full of determination and courage! Joined by women from other Palestinian villages, Israel and from around the world, the women of Nil’in showed more bravery then I doubt you could ever imagine.
As we approached the fields of Ni’lin, armed only with our voices, our peaceful demonstration was met with force by the Israeli military. Dozens of Israeli soldiers, many of them no more than 18, 19 and 20 years of age, began to throw sound grenades and teargas at our peaceful demonstration. This, however, did not stop the women of Ni’lin, who continued to march towards their fields. Soon the frontline of women was stopped by the Israeli soldiers who claimed that the area was a closed military zone (CMZ). When the international women and human rights workers with the women of Ni’lin demanded to see the paper which the military must have for such an order to be formally enforced, the soldiers failed to provide one. It was clear that the area was not a CMZ and that the Israeli military was simply trying to intimidate us and to act in an illegal manner.
As the women from Ni’lin demanded to go to their land, the Israeli military commander approached the lead group of women and attempted to prevent them from proceeding further. Not deterred by this, they and the women who accompanied them from Israel and from around the world, stood their ground and demanded to be allowed access to their land.
Clearly worried by the bad publicity the Israeli military had received in the last few days by the release of the video taken in Ni’lin which revealed the shocking shooting of a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man by an Israeli soldier at point blank range, the commander did his best to convince the women to leave. He no doubt realised, it would not look too good, if it were caught on film, his soldiers assaulting a bunch of unarmed women and young girls.
However, unfortunately, the soldiers under his command were not so restrained. Instead, despite the commander telling several soldiers not to fire their weapons at the peaceful crowd, the soldiers ignored him and continued to do so. What this confirmed to us was that the shooting of the bound Palestinian man by an Israeli solider the week before was not an isolated incident.
Instead, the complete disregard by the soldiers for their commander’s orders revealed that the soldiers are very use to acting with impunity and doing whatever they want, including assaulting unarmed and peaceful demonstrators who are no threat to them. Their behaviour today revealed that nothing much has changed since 2005, when Human Rights Watch Report issued their report, Promoting Impunity: the Israeli military’s failure to investigate wrong doing .
At the time, HRW noted "the Israeli military has fostered a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate whether soldiers have killed or injured Palestinian civilians unlawfully or failed to protect them from harm" . According to HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, the failure of the Israeli military to investigate wrongdoing by its soldiers had "created an atmosphere that encourages soldiers to think they can literally get away with murder".
For more then two hours, the women of Ni’lin and their supporters tried to get to their land. As the women’ of Ni’lin argued their right to go to their land, the international women and Israeli women who accompanied them demanded that the Israeli military refrain from attacking unarmed women. Throughout the two hours, it was a constant battle to prevent the soldiers from pulling the pins on the teargas bombs they wore on their belts and carried dangling from their fingers. Every time it became clear the soldiers were about to throw their bombs, groups of international and Israeli women would place themselves directly in their path, trying to reason with them and to ask them why they felt threatened by unarmed women and little girls.
The soldiers, however, were still determined to use force against us. At least half a dozen times during the course of the demonstration, the chemical weaponry was hurled amongst our unarmed group of women. The teargas was potent and stronger then anything I had experienced before.
The purpose of teargas and other such chemical weaponry is to cause psychological distress and panic. Normally one can expect their breathing to be impaired and their eyes and nose to stream with mucus. However, today, the teargas thrown by the Israeli military burned the skin all over. One Jewish Israeli woman was hit in head with a tear gas bomb and the powder from it spilled all over her neck, face and arms (luckily her long sleeves protected her somewhat). Where the chemical power reacted with her skin, she experienced a terrible burning sensation. As we tried to clean the powder from her skin with alcohol rubs (we could not use water as it causes the reaction to increase), another young Palestinian woman collapsed nearby, retching and desperately gasping for air to breath. So overcome by the chemicals she was unable to breath properly and started to go into shock. As we called for a medic, one of the young men from the village, who had been standing on the hills behind us observing the demonstration with the other men, came running down and picked her up and carried her to waiting ambulance.
The tear gas was nothing like I had experience before, even though I have been assaulted with teargas many other times by the Israeli military. Even after the initial impact of the teargas, my skin continued to burn for hours. Normally, showering will remove any residue of the teargas powder from your skin, but even after two showers (3 hours apart), the burning sensation had not subsided. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the Israeli occupation forces to use the Palestinian population as guinea pigs to test out prototype and newly developed weaponry, including chemical weapons . Today after being assaulted with the burning teargas, many of us wondered if this was the case.
When the soldiers became more aggressive and began to push and shove the peaceful women, who refused to leave their land, throwing some of them and us to the ground, a number of Palestinian and international men who had been observing the demonstration from a distance attempted to intervene. Jamal, the father of the 14 year old girl who had shot the film which had made international headlines the week before of Israeli soldier firing point blank at the bound and blindfolded man was quickly arrested when he tried to protect some of the young girls from being assaulted by men twice their size. Victor, a 23 year old Canadian national, who had been shot twice previously by plastic coated -steel bullets by the Israeli military, while attempting to take supplies of food, milk and medicine into Ni’lin when it was placed under military siege, attempted to photograph the assault against us. He also was quickly seized and beaten by the Israeli occupation forces.
Today, you told the Israeli media if you became President of the USA, you would not force Israel "to accept any kinds of concession that would put their [Israel’s] security at stake" . Well, today in the name of its "security" the Israel state assault 150 unarmed women and girls and arrested two men who witnessed this assault. Today, the Israeli state in the name of "security", assaulted its own citizens – Israeli Jewish women and girls – who stood in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters, both Muslim and Christian, because they believed what their government is doing is wrong and has nothing to do with security. Today, the Israeli state in the name of its "security" beat and assaulted women from many countries from around the world, including Sweden, Germany, Britain, Canada, Eastern Europe, Australia, Spain and your own country, the United States.
But despite all of this and the failure of so many world leaders, including yourself, to denounce the brutality of the Israeli state and its armed forces, the women of Ni’lin and their brothers and sisters throughout out the occupied territories, in both the West Bank and Gaza, will not cower. They have taken to heart the words of another famous American leader, Martin Luther King Jnr, who said many years ago that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed". ".
As you continue your campaign for the American presidency, the people of Palestine will continue to campaign for something much more important – freedom from oppression, injustice and racism. They will not cease in their struggle against colonisation, dispossession and racism and they will display a bravery and conviction that no longer exists in your world, the world of so-called "real politics".
So while you may waive and deviate from the beliefs you once professed so many years ago in relation to the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, the Palestinian people will not waiver in their convictions. They will continue, as they have done for the past 60 years, to remain sumoud (steadfast) and to demand freedom from their oppressor, the Israeli Zionist state. And one day, they will be a free people once again.
In solidarity with the struggle for a Free Palestine and an end to the Israeli occupation and apartheid,
-Kim Bullimore is currently living the Occupied West Bank, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service (www.iwps.info). She has a blog www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com and is a regular writer on Palestine-Israel issues. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
 Associated Press, (23 July, 2008) Obama arrives in Israel, vows to ‘plunge’ into Mideast peacemaking. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1004474.html
 Human Rights Watch (June 2005) Promoting Impunity: the Israeli military’s failure to investigate wrongdoing. http://hrw.org/reports/2005/iopt0605/
 Human Rights Watch (22 June, 2005), Israel: Failure to probe civilian casualties fuels impunity http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2005/06/22/isrlpa11148.htm
 Rapoport, M., (11 October 2006) Italian probe: Israel used new weapon prototype in Gaza Strip
Ravid, D.,(23 July, 2008) Obama in Sderot: Nuclear Iran would be game-changing, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1004747.html