Taking Back the Land

By Kim Bullimore in Ramallah

Today, for a few hours, Palestinians took control over an illegal Israeli settler outpost on the outskirts of Ramallah. Replacing Israeli flags with Palestinian ones, Mohammed Al-Khattib and other members of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, accompanied by Israeli anti-occupation activists from Anarchists Against the Wall and international activists from the International Solidarity Movement and the International Women’s Peace Service, non-violently took over the site for more than 3 hours.

The illegal settler outpost, which is made up of a number of cargo containers, was set up two months ago on privately owned Palestinian land which straddles Area A and Area C of the Occupied West Bank, when Israel occupation forces withdraw from a checkpoint on the land to a nearby military based. Area A is supposedly territory fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority (including full security control), while Area C, except for its Palestinian civilians, falls under the control of the Israeli military.

The military checkpoint had been set up at the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada in 2000. In place of the military checkpoint, the Israeli occupation forces installed permanent road blocks which prevented Palestinians from using the road which connects the Palestinian village of Ein-Qinyah and Ramallah. Prior to taking control of the illegal outpost, the Palestinians, Israeli and international activists were able to use a bulldozer to successful remove the illegal road block which prevent Palestinians from using the road.

Once on the site, Palestinian activists were able to erect at least a dozen Palestinian flags signaling that Palestinians had reclaimed a section of Palestinian land occupied by the illegal settlers. It was a full hour before the Israeli military in the nearby military outpost realised that Palestinians had successfully taken back their land. Once they realised what had occurred, Israeli occupation soldiers advanced on the unarmed demonstrators and began firing live rounds from the road between the military base and the illegal outpost.

When the occupation soldiers arrived at the illegal outpost, once again firing indiscriminately on the unarmed demonstration, the Israeli anti-occupation activists and internationals moved to the front calling in Hebrew and English for the military to remain calm and non-violent. The Israeli occupation forces, however, continued to fire on the unarmed demonstrators hitting a journalist’s car when protestors attempted to find cover from the military aggression.

The occupation soldiers quickly moved to remove the Palestinian flag from the main cargo container, however, in an act of defiance it was quickly replaced once again with a Palestinian flag by the Palestinian non-violent activists.

For the next hour, the non-violent demonstrators continue to remain in control of the land, despite the presence of the Israeli military. When armed illegal Israeli settlers from the nearby illegal settlement began to arrive and attempted to intimidate the non-violent demonstrators, Israeli ISM activist, Neta Golan and Mohammed Al- Khattib stepped in front of them, non-violent preventing them from continuing to harass the other non-violent demonstrators.

In an attempt to remove the non-violent, peaceful protestors from the reclaimed land, the Israeli occupation forces declared the area a Closed Military Zone (CMZ).

Declaring an area a CMZ is a regular tactic used by the Israeli occupation forces in order to increase their attempts of martial control over an area. Anyone in such an area is deemed illegal and can be arrested. However, as was the case today, the Israeli military apply this martial control selectively, applying it only to Palestinians, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists, not to illegal Israeli settlers. As one international activist wryly noted today, while the Israeli occupation forces frequently use rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas to try and intimidate Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists and enforce a CMZ, their preferred tactic in relation to illegal settlers seems to be to try and "scare" them with handshakes.

Despite the area being declared a CMZ, the non-violent anti-occupation activists remained in the area, moving to the section of the illegal outpost which was located in Palestinian Authority controlled Area A, where supposedly the Israeli military has no security jurisdiction. Illegal Israeli settlers, who were armed, continued to physically intimidate the non-violent, unarmed demonstrators. When Israeli ISM activist, Neta Golan attempted to prevent the continued harassment, she was violently arrested by the Israeli occupation forces who attacks the non-violent demonstrators with rifle butts and batons*

In the third hour of the protest, the Israeli military called in an armoured bulldozer to re-install the road block which had been successfully removed earlier in the day by the demonstrators. The Palestinians, Israeli anti-occupation activists and internationals attempted to block the movement of the armed bulldozer by standing and later sitting in front of the bulldozer as it attempted to make its way up the road located in Palestinian Authority controlled Area A. The non-violent demonstrators were able to block the bulldozer for approximately 45 minutes before being violently dispersed by the Israeli occupation forces. One Palestinian activist, Adeeb Abu Rahme from the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall was arrested.*

Protestors remained on the scene for another hour in an attempt to gain the release of the two detained activists. During this time, more armed illegal settlers began to illegally amass in the CMZ but were not arrested or violently harassed by the Israeli military, as the unarmed Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists had been. The Israeli occupation forces then escorted the large group of illegal settlers up the hill to where the non-violent demonstrators had been sitting peacefully, allowing the illegal settlers to abuse and physically intimidate the anti-occupation activists. The armed illegal settlers, including settler children between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age, attempted to intimidate the Israeli anti-occupation and international activists by verbally threatening them, while also attempting to physically attack the Palestinian non-violent activists. The unarmed demonstrators, however, refused to be intimidated and stood their ground demanding that the Israeli military remove the illegal settlers. After 30 minutes realising that the Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists would not be intimidated and would not leave, the Israeli military finally began to try and politely convince the armed, aggressive settlers to leave. When the illegal settlers finally began to disperse, the unarmed demonstrators voluntarily decided to end the demonstration.

Mohammad Al – Khattib said the demonstration symbolised the refusal of Palestinians to accept the illegal Israeli policy of road closures and separating Palestinians from their lands. During the action, speaking to both local and international media, Khattib called on all Palestinians to begin to mobilise to open the illegal closed road, calling for "resistance to barriers, settlements and the apartheid wall". Similarly Abdullah Abu Rahman from the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall said that the idea of the action was "to send a message to the Israeli army and settlers, this land is our and [we] will never leave".

* Neta and Adeeb were released by the Israeli military later in the day, after being taken to an illegal Israeli settlement police station.

-Kim Bullimore is currently living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service (www.iwps.info). Kim has a blog www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com and writes regularly on Palestinian and Israeli issues. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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