By Kim Bullimore
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
Four weeks ago, Y, the brother of one of my Israeli friends was shot in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). He was attending the weekly demonstration against the Apartheid Wall and the illegal Israeli occupation in Bil’in village in the Occupied West Bank.
Y had marched, along with other peaceful demonstrators, towards the apartheid wall. The IOF, as usual, began to violently attack the peaceful and unarmed demonstrators by firing teargas, sound grenades, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition.
Y and a group of others were separated off from the main section of the rally and targeted by the IOF. It was here that an IOF soldier took aim at his head and fired – deliberately, methodically and in violation of international law.
The IOF then began firing a constant barrage of teargas making it impossible for medical aid to get to Y immediately. It was only after sometime that other demonstrators were able to get to him and drag him to safety and to get medical aid for him and two others (both Palestinians) who had also been shot by the IOF in the leg and thighs.
My friend’s brother is not the first person to be shot or injured by the IOF at Bil’in or in the OPT. Every week, the IOF open fire on peaceful demonstrators throughout the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Every week, the IOF shoot, with impunity, unarmed Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Every week, they take directly take aim at innocent people, in direct violation of not only international law but also Israeli military regulations and Israel state law.
In 2000, a report issued by the Israeli based Physicians for Human Rights revealed that the IOF consistently violated their own regulations on a regular basis. According to IOF regulations, a solider must only use a weapon in the event of immediate "danger to life," and when it is impossible to effectively defend one’s self from the assailant other than by the use of the weapon. In their report, PHR noted that the IOF "used live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators, and that based on the high number of documented injuries to the head and thighs, soldiers appear to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense".
PHR’s analysis of fatal gun shot wounds in Gaza revealed that approximately 50% were to the head revealing that IOF soldiers were specifically aiming at peoples’ heads. In addition, PHR noted that there were numerous head and eye injuries as a result of "rubber and rubber coated steel projectiles" [ie. Rubber coated bullets] revealing the "frequent misuse of these weapons, such as firing at a range of less than 40 meters and firing at the upper part of the body". PHR went on to note that events on the ground revealed that the IOF were not following their own regulations. Instead, they were "allowing soldiers to fire when they are not acting solely in self-defense". PHR noted that while the IOF could construe stone throwing, for example, as a "danger to life", regulations state that soldiers must only use weapons to strike the assailant and not others, and should not cause loss of life to others or grave bodily harm. IOF regulations also prohibit soldiers from opening fire on and towards women and children.
According to PHR, while the IOF use pure rubber bullets or "non-lethal" weapons for riot control against Jewish citizens in Israeli, it use "rubber coated steel bullets" in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These rubber coated steel bullets can be just as lethal as live ammunition. While there have been no deaths reported as a result of pure rubber bullets, there have been dozens of deaths recorded in the OPT, as a result of "rubber coated steel bullets".
Y was lucky.
The rubber coated steel bullet, while penetrating and fracturing his skull, did not penetrate deeply enough to kill him, He has, however, continued to suffer debilitating headaches, nightmares and post-traumatic stress. Despite all of this, Y is determined to go back to Bil’in. He is determined to rejoin the non-violent demonstrations. He is determined to oppose the occupation and dehumanization of the Palestinian people that is being carried out by the Israeli government in his name.
My friend K, along with his brother Y, are just two of the many hundreds of Israelis, both young and old, who have taken a stance against their government and the illegal and brutal Israeli occupation. They are just two of the young Israelis, who each and every week, go to the Occupied Territories choosing to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The solidarity between the Palestinian residents of Bil’in village, internationals and the anti-occupation and anti-Zionist Israelis who each week trekked to the village has become an inspiring model for joint popular struggle, not only in Palestine but also around the world. The importance of this joint struggle was recounted by Basel Mansour, one of the leaders of the struggle against the wall in Bil’in. In speech in September to mark the Bil’in’s partial victory of succeeding in getting the Israeli high court to move a small section of the wall, Mansour praised their Israeli partners in the struggle saying:
"You came to us without considering the consequences — the Zionist occupational government attempts to implant the deceptive and distorted idea that the Palestinians are your enemy and want to kill you. By way of this shared journey, we proved the opposite and together we demonstrated the truth — that Israelis can stand beside Palestinians and live with them in peace and security, and even struggle with them against injustice and occupation, on the fundamental basis that this occupation is an enemy of humanity".
You succeeded in overcoming the army’s roadblocks in order to arrive here through a difficult mountainous path and were vulnerable to its shooting attacks. In this way many of you were wounded by bullets that originated from the unmerciful occupation army — and not from Palestinians, who the occupation attempts to distort and portray as vicious animals that want to devour Israelis or throw them into the sea.
You were braver than your fearful government. You participated in the struggle actively and in every way — morally, physically, in the courts and in the media. In the battlefield, you were on the frontlines, calling with us for freedom, in your belief that only the manifestation of justice will guarantee the creation of peace and security for our two peoples, and not the building of walls and the expanding of weapons warehouses.
You have been real partners — awake with us late at night, in confronting the almost daily invasions of village homes by the army; together with us you opposed many attempts to arrest, and you yourselves were injured and arrested — and you conveyed the true picture to the Israeli society. You disputed the positions of the government and the army in every arena — until the entire world was a witness to this special connection that was created on the land of Bil’in, that united the conversation and the meeting between cultures, creeds and religions. A connection like this must be victorious, history must immortalize it.
Honorable audience, one of the biggest difficulties in this campaign was how to organize and manage the connection with the Israelis in solidarity, after the Palestinian people have always suffered injustice from the Zionist occupation. This was done while Palestinians aspire to lives of freedom, respect, and culture, and the mobilization of the most amount of Israelis possible and international representatives to stand up to the injustice. Once the Israelis in solidarity understood all of this, they became dedicated to the work and became real warriors that earned the trust of all. They contributed much by revealing the true face of the occupation — its tactics, its lies and its organized terror against Palestinians — in opposition to those that attempt to normalize and whitewash the occupation.
These people were always willing to take upon themselves whatever was asked of them by the Popular Committee, and more than this, often taking the initiative, offering ideas and suggestions. In this way, they demonstrated that they were true fighters — not only fans or friends, or cogs in the machine of the occupation. They are heroes in the nonviolent campaign of the brave".
For the past two and half years, the villagers of Bil’in and their Israeli partners have been one in their struggle against apartheid and occupation. Today, they continue their struggle. Not only in Bil’in but they have now mounted a new joint campaign which has become known as "443".
This campaign is an audacious attempt to highlight the apartheid nature of the Israeli state by blocking and shutting down illegal Israeli bypass roads.
443 is just one of the Israeli bypass roads. It runs between the city of Lod, through the occupied West Bank, connecting Lod to a number of the illegal Israeli settlements built in the Occupied West Bank and eventually to Jerusalem. On this busy highway, only Israeli plated cars are allowed to travel. No green plated vehicles allowed! (Israelis have yellow plated cars, while Palestinians from the OPT must use green plated cars, similarly Israelis carry blue ids, while Palestinians carry green ids). These roads are usually are constructed as overpass roads above Palestinian roads and Palestinians are prevented from traveling on them, supposedly in the name of "security".
Bypass roads such as 443 are constructed on stolen Palestinian lands, where Palestinian olive and fruit groves and villages once stood. These ancient groves and villages are destroyed in order for the apartheid road to be built.
In late October, the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall and the International Solidarity Movement and other internationals joined forces again with the Palestinian leaders of the anti-wall and anti-apartheid struggle in Bil’in. They along with Palestinians from surrounding villages began the first action in their new campaign – to shut down 443 for the first time. Armed with the element of surprise and carrying a long pipe barrier and banners saying "Caution Apartheid Road", more than 70 demonstrators were able to make it onto the apartheid road close it down for an hour.
Despite being attacked by the IOF and Israeli border police, the demonstrators were jubilant. Over the next few weeks, word spread around the villages near 443 and more and more people came to join the Internationals, Israelis and Palestinians from Bil’in village.
Three weeks after the first demonstration, I was able to make it to 443. On the day I attended more than 120 peaceful demonstrators came to participate – the majority from the surrounding Palestinian villages. This time, however, we did not have the element of surprise and as we marched to bypass road amongst a sea of Palestinian flags, the IOF were already stationed at the entrances leading up to the highway. Barbwire and barriers had been erected to prevent us accessing the bypass road above us. Many of the demonstrators remained at the road blocks determined to confront the IOF. After some time, the IOF dressed in military riot gear began advancing on the peaceful demonstration. As I looked up to the bypass road, I could see Israeli snipers with their guns trained on us. Some of the IOF began to pick up rocks and began to hurl them down at us. Some of the young Palestinian men came to check if myself and the Israeli activists were okay. We assured them that we were.
As we fell back to the tunnel that ran under the apartheid highway, the IOF began firing of more teargas and sound bombs. The noise was deafening as it echoed through the tunnel. As I approached the tunnel cautiously, I could see teams of IOF soldiers running up the hillsides, weapons raised, hunting the young unarmed teenagers who had joined the demonstration to demand an end to the occupation of their homeland. We paused as the soldiers ran by. They ignored us, to intent on finding their young quarry. As I made my way into the village, a local woman welcomed me and asked me to come up on to her balcony, worried that I would not be safe on the street. It is always hard to refuse Palestinian hospitality, but even more so in situations like this. So from her balcony, I could see the IOF gathering and the Israeli anarchists arguing with them. I soon discovered that a young boy from the village had been detained, along with one of the Israeli activists. For an hour, the IOF and the Israeli anti-occupation activists refused to budge, each holding their ground. The activists attempting to negotiate the release of the two detainees more worried about the young Palestinian boy as they knew that the situation would be more dire for the young boy, then for their comrade. As this took place, the sound grenades and tear gas exploded through out the village behind me. The IOF continued to terrorise the village, despite the fact they were in absolutely no danger.
After an hour and half, it was agreed that the Israeli activist and the young Palestinian boy would be released but they would have to be first taken to a nearby settlement. As the detainees were driven away in the border police jeeps, the Palestinians and the Israeli activists made final plans for the day and for upcoming actions.
Over the next few months the campaign around 443 will intensify, bringing more and more Palestinians and Israelis into joint struggle together. This more than anything else is a threat to the Israeli Zionist state. Israelis and Palestinians working collective, with respect and in solidarity with each other is a powerful weapon, one that the Israeli state tries repeatedly to undermine through fear campaigns and demonisation of the Palestinian people.
It is in this joint struggle that the real seeds of peace can be found. Real peace will come not through the machinations of Olmert and the Israeli state or by Abbas and the selling out of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance. It will only come when Israeli apartheid and occupation ends and justice for the Palestinian people is enacted. Real peace will not be found in the hollow words bleated at Annapolis or Sharm el Shaik or at any of the other fake peace festivals. The real seeds of peace are being planted today in the fertile lands in Bil’in, Umm Sulummuna and elsewhere throughout the Occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian people and Israeli anti-occupation and anti-Zionist activists come together, as brothers and sisters in struggle. As the joint Palestinian and Israeli struggle for justice and human rights flourish, so will the prospects for a real just peace.
-Kim Bullimore has been working and living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the past 8 months. She has a blog www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com and is a regular contributor on Palestine-Israel issues to the Australian based Green Left Weekly, www.greenleft.org.au.