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(en) Israel-Palestine, Media, Picking their battles ["The Fence War" in the Hebrew original]*

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 15 Apr 2004 15:26:40 +0200 (CEST)


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It's called 'the separation fence intifada' - an unarmed civil protest - but
hundreds of Palestinians are getting hurt, and so are their Israeli supporters.
["The struggle against the route of the fence takes a new form: 'passive
[nonviolent] civilian resistance' documented by video, with the participation
of Palestinian women, old persons and children, reinforced by Israeli peace
activists*. In spite of that, even these demonstrations are always ended with
massive fire of the IDF [Israeli army] - from time to time in contradiction to
the official instructions, and with already hundreds of wounded. The
demonstrators are sure that the first Israeli [demonstrator] to be killed is
going to happen soon." [The summary of the Hebrew original - I.S.]

WITH EMPTY HANDS
It's become an almost daily routine. Every morning the residents
of villages located on the planned route of the separation fence -
from Elkana in Samaria to the outskirts of Jerusalem - wake up to
the harsh metallic noise of the bulldozers. In the early morning
hours the heavy machinery rumbles into the area, surrounded by
security guards and army and Border Police troops. The villagers
go out to their land in full force: men and women, young and old
alike. They position themselves opposite the soldiers, wave flags,
sing and try to get to the giant machines or sit down on the ground
in an attempt to block them. And then what? Only God knows.
Some speak of December 26, 2003 as the turning point. That was
the day on which an Israeli demonstrating against the fence, Gil
Na'amati, was shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers at the village
of Maskha, in Samaria. "What happened at Mes'ha, and the noise
it created, shook up the Palestinians," says an Israeli who took
part in some demonstrations. "They understood that they had to
organize for a struggle against the fence and that the struggle
could have an impact." Some of the interviewees term this
uprising, which involves a civilian population of all ages, the
"intifada of the fence," as distinct from the more familiar one of
the terrorist organizations, the attacks and the armed fighters.

The Palestinian Authority has played a very small role in the
events of the past few weeks. Although it was the PA that
encouraged the Palestinians to protest against the fence while the
international court at The Hague was discussing its legality in
February, the current uprising started from below.

In some of the events, the Palestinian demonstrators are bolstered
by Israelis, ranging in number from a few individuals to dozens,
mainly from the Anarchists Against the Wall group, and by
international peace activists. When the latter take part, they also
document the events on video. It's clear, after watching hours of
this footage, that the Palestinians may be reverting to the protest
method of the first intifada, but the Israel Defense Forces is
moving forward. Stun grenades and tear gas are often hurled at
groups of elderly women or at high-school girls, and it is common
to see civilians fleeing for their lives from rubber-coated steel
bullets. In one case - the exception, as far as is known - soldiers
used live fire against demonstrators, killing three residents of the
village of Biddu, near Jerusalem; one of those killed was a boy of
11.

"There was a hitch at Bidu, a loss of control," admits a senior IDF
officer. However, there are no reports of anyone having been
brought to justice for the fact that three people paid with their lives
for that "loss of control."

Legitimate struggle

What underlies this new, popular style of struggle, waged without
the use of firearms? According to Ayid Murar, from Budrus - a
village near Ben Shemen, where the route of the fence was moved
toward the 1967 Green Line in the wake of the residents' protests
and diplomatic pressure - the Palestinians have good reason to
stick to a civil struggle.

"Our struggle is not against Jews and not against Israelis and not
even against soldiers - it is against the occupation," he says. "We
don't want people on either side to be killed. The occupation is a
big problem, and the Palestinians can't cope with it alone. They
need the help of the Arab states, of the world's governments, and
in order to get it they have to adopt a method of struggle that has
legitimacy in the eyes of the world. We already feel an increase in
support and interest from all over the world about what is
happening here. Once we were a marginal phenomenon even in
the Arab press, but now we are back in the headlines."

Murar and his brother, Naim, a former employee of the
Palestinian Interior Ministry, have for years maintained close ties
with Israeli peace activists. They are a salient example of a new
class of local leaders who are taking key positions in the forefront
of the current struggle. Israel, though, looks askance at such
activity. At the beginning of January the two brothers were
arrested within a few days by the Shin Bet security service, on the
grounds that "the intelligence material attributes terror-supporting
activity to them." However, the military justice system itself
rejected this. The military court at Ofer Camp released Ayid
within a few days, stating: "It is out of the question for the military
commander to use his authority to order a person's administrative
detention [arrest without trial] only because of his activity against
the fence. This is a mistaken decision that does not stem from
security considerations." A month later, the military court at the
Ketziot detention camp released Naim, stating that the military
prosecution and the Shin Bet had misled the court by claiming he
had been involved in terrorist activity and adding that protest
activity against the fence does not constitute a cause for arrest.

Even though it is only at Budrus that the protests have succeeded
in getting the route of the fence changed, Ayid Murar is convinced
that this is the right path to follow: "We have to bring the entire
Palestinian people into the struggle against the occupation -
women, children, the aged - and they cannot take part in a violent
struggle," he says. "But they can take part in this kind of struggle,
which also contributes to the unity of our nation. We also know
that a nonviolent struggle puts more pressure on the Israelis.
When you have armed individuals and shooting, one Jeep with
soldiers can deal with it. When the army has to deal with civilians,
it has to bring in a far larger number of soldiers. After all, they
can't open fire at them freely, or at least I hope not."

WHO STARTED?

Ghassan Andoni from Beit Sahour, south of Jerusalem, is one of
the founders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the
organization of volunteers that promotes nonviolent protest and
seeks to internationalize the struggle against the occupation. His
ideas have been gaining popularity.

"I don't agree with the view that the nonviolent protest has begun
only now. It has actually existed since December 2000 and has
taken the form, for example, of dismantling roadblocks by hand.
However, it's true that it is now far more widespread," he says.
"I'm glad it's happening, but it is still too passive, too much based
on reactions. The villagers go out to protest only when the
bulldozers show up and not as part of an overall perception of
struggle against the occupation. The struggle should be
comprehensive and not stop until the fence falls. The real test will
be if every village will continue to be part of the struggle even after
the fence is built. Until that happens, I can't say it is a success."

One of the leading activists in the village of Hirbata is Aziz
Armani, 34, who after years of working in Israel speaks fluent
Hebrew. In reaction to the contention that the current struggle has
not recorded any impressive achievements, he says it has had
"success here and there, though not a great success that we could
flaunt. We are facing a tremendous force, while we are helpless
and have nothing. Still, the main thing is that we feel we are doing
something - if not for ourselves then for the coming generations.
Even if we are able to get the fence moved two meters and save a
few meters of our land, that will be something. I think that this
struggle is giving us a great deal of strength. It doesn't belong to
any organization, not to Hamas or to Fatah and not to the
leadership of the PA; it belongs to the people. Each village has a
council that is responsible and is scrupulous in ensuring that the
demonstrations do not turn violent. We are not fighting the
citizens who live in Tel Aviv - we are fighting the bulldozers."

Israelis vs. the fence

One of the major features of the struggle in its new form is the
cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. At every
opportunity, the Palestinians make it clear that they are interested
in furthering such cooperation because of their desire to influence
public opinion in Israel, and more especially because the presence
of Israelis, they hope, moderates the reactions of the soldiers. One
of the Israeli activists explains that the reverse is also true: The
presence of Israelis also moderates the Palestinian side.

"Our presence makes an important contribution to nonviolence,"
the activist says. "We push in this direction during the
coordination that takes place before the demonstrations. It's true
that if someone throws a stone we don't stop to preach to him, but
there is always someone who will do it for us. Right away they tell
him to stop. There's a feeling that they want to uphold their
promise to us and not endanger us."

The IDF views the involvement of Israelis in a different light. The
IDF Spokesperson's Office told Haaretz Magazine: "Unfortunately
a handful of Israeli activists and foreigners who create
provocations act as agitators and turn the demonstrations into
violent disturbances."

One evening during the intermediate days of Pesach, I got a
phone call from Yonatan Pollak, who sounded distraught. Pollak,
21, the son of the highly regarded actor Yossi Pollak, is considered
the Israeli leader of the struggle against the fence (though as an
anarchist, he disowns that description). Tall, charismatic,
confident of his path, Pollak, despite his young age, has
participated in numerous protest activities and does to the soldiers
- who encounter him on an almost daily basis - what a red flag
does to a bull.

"I called because within a few days there were two incidents in
which Israeli demonstrators were almost killed - Itai Levinsky and
me," Pollak said. "I called because if anything can stop the
deterioration, it's publicity in the media. Let's leave the political
aspect aside for the moment and talk about what's happening on
the ground almost every day. There is a gradual but relentless
escalation on the part of the army toward civilians taking part in
demonstrations, which fundamentally are nonviolent. I spend a lot
of time in the territories, and I've seen how riots and
demonstrations are suppressed plenty of times, but what's
happening here is something new. The feeling is that there are no
procedures. They fire rubber bullets and throw tear gas freely, and
they fire at the feet and at the head.

"Three Palestinians were already killed, at Biddu, and the day
when an Israeli will be killed is approaching, too. If course, it's not
worse for an Israeli to be killed than for a Palestinian, but it
illustrates the escalation of the use of force. At every
demonstration I talk to the soldiers via a megaphone and tell them
that this is a quiet demonstration of Palestinians, Israelis and
internationals - and the bullets whistle past my ears. At first we
thought the cameras would deter them, then we thought the
presence of Israelis would be a deterrent, but now there is nothing
that deters the soldiers. I tell you: Someone is going to die out
there."

Maybe it's time to stay home for a while?

Pollak: "I am a political person and I go to demonstrate. It's
inconceivable that the state's response should be that I have to sit
at home. Even if the army is convinced that what we are doing is a
provocation - though from my point of view, of course, the
provocation is the building of the fence on Palestinian land - in a
democracy you can create provocations without being shot at."

Are you afraid?

"Very much. That's why I'm talking to you. But that doesn't mean
we are going to stop the demonstrations. We will continue, but I
don't think that's a reason for any of us to die."

Yonatan's older brother. Shai Carmeli-Pollak, a television director,
has been filming the demonstrations against the fence and some
of the footage documents a dramatic event in which Yonatan was
the principal protagonist - the event he was referring to when he
said his life was in mortal danger.

The event took place on March 29, at Bitunia, adjacent to
Ramallah. Soldiers and demonstrators met on a dirt road at the
entrance to the village. An army Jeep tried to move forward and a
group of demonstrators, with Pollak among them, attempted to
block its progress. The driver, however, accelerated and moved
forward. Two of the demonstrators managed to jump aside, but
Pollak, who was in the center, found himself on the hood of the
Jeep.

The presence of the "hitchhiker" didn't perturb the soldiers. The
Jeep kept going and even speeded up. For 50 long seconds - all of
them documented on the video - the Jeep drove along with Pollak
draped over the hood, grabbing at whatever he could find and
holding on for dear life. A viewing of the film suggests that the
vehicle was traveling between 30 and 60 kilometers an hour. It
went a few dozen meters, did a U-turn and then returned to its
starting point, where it slowed down, and Pollak was able to jump
off.

Is driving a Jeep with a demonstrator straddling the hood - and an
Israeli, at that - part of the IDF procedure for dispersing
demonstrations? A senior officer says in response that "we view
this event as a hitch, a serious departure. The event was
investigated and the driver is being dealt with by Central
Command and will face trial."


Bullet in the eye
Itai Levinsky says that he will return to the struggle after he
recovers. It was Levinsky who, last December 26, saved the life of
Gil Na'amati after Na'amati was shot by an IDF sniper near
Maskha. While the soldiers ignored the demonstrators' pleas to
summon an ambulance, Levinsky organized a quick evacuation of
the bleeding Na'amati in a Palestinian car, and at the checkpoint
an Israeli ambulance joined them. Na'amati lost a great deal of
blood and arrived at the hospital in serious condition. The doctors
told his father, Uri, the head of Eshkol Regional Council, that if
the evacuation had been delayed they would probably not have
been able to save his son's life.

Almost three months later, on March 12, it was Levinsky who
ended up in hospital. "I went to demonstrate at Hirbata," he
recalls. "The army's reaction was violent to the extreme this time.
They simply fired rubber bullets like crazy, even though most of
the people quickly lay down on the ground among the rocks.
Naturally, when you're lying down, there's no difference whether
they fire at your head or your legs, because it's all at the same
height. I was standing in front and talking to the soldiers via the
megaphone, to make them understand that there were Israelis
there, too, which sometimes makes them calm down a little. It's
scary, but what can you do?"

This time, though, the megaphone and the Hebrew weren't an
insurance policy. Levinsky took a rubber bullet between his nose
and his left eye.

"Suddenly I felt terrible pains around the eye and nose," he says.
"My eye was injured, but luckily wasn't blown up, and the left side
of my nose was completely shattered. I lay on the ground but was
in total focus. A Red Crescent ambulance took me to the
checkpoint, and from there I got to Tel Hashomer [Sheba Medical
Center]. I was hospitalized for 10 days and had an operation on my
nose, and because my vision is still pretty much of a mess I'll need
eye surgery, too. The truth is that I was really lucky, because a
rubber bullet that enters the eye can reach the brain. It's total
chance that I'm alive. For both me and Gili it's pure luck that we
weren't killed."

Film shot at the Hirbata demonstration - though the actual instant
when Levinsky was wounded was not photographed - reinforces
his version of events. The soldiers fire massively at dozens of
people who are lying on the ground and seeking shelter amid the
rocks.

"At about 6 A.M., as soon as the bulldozers started working, the
villagers started to demonstrate," relates Raz Avni, 23, a former
kibbutznik who now lives in Tel Aviv. "We were about six Israelis
that day. The soldiers were standing in a row across from the
demonstrators and there was a lot of cursing, pushing and
punching, and then the soldiers suddenly pulled back quickly,
turned around and started firing rubber bullets. I was next to Itai.
He said through the megaphone, `This is not a violent
demonstration. Don't shoot.' Suddenly he shouted. I looked at him
- he was lying on the ground and his eye was bleeding. I called the
Red Crescent medics, who come to every demonstration. It took
them a few minutes to reach us, because the shooting continued.
They put a dressing on his eye and evacuated him to the
ambulance on a stretcher."

Levinsky, 20, grew up in Ramat Efal and Holon and now lives in
the lower-class Hatikva neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. He did
not do army service. Until recently he worked in construction. He
plans to go back to the demonstrations as soon as his health
permits. One day during Pesach, Uri and Gil Na'amati - whose
shattered knee is still in the rehabilitation process - drove from
their home in the south of the country to visit Gil's rescuer, who
was afterward wounded himself.

"What is left to say?" Uri Na'amati summed up. "It's
heartbreaking."

Provocateurs

As in every quarrel, here, too, the dispute revolves around the
question of who started it. How does happen that demonstrations
whose organizers term them nonviolent evolve into events with
dozens of wounded, mainly from massive use of rubber bullets? A
senior IDF officer finds it difficult to accept the pastoral
descriptions of a nonviolent intifada: "I don't know of any quiet
demonstration where the people stood and sang, but which ended
with rubber bullets fired by us," he says. "We have set ourselves a
clear line that distinguishes a demonstration from a disturbance:
The moment an attempt is made to attack equipment or soldiers,
it's a disturbance, and then our response ratchets up. The mission
as defined for us by the political echelon is to enable construction
of the fence, and as fast as possible, and if a bulldozer is burned
every day the fence won't get built. The instructions to the forces
in the field are clear: The first means they are allowed to use is
stun grenades and tear gas. If that doesn't help, we recommend
that the instigators be arrested and that a complaint against them
be filed with the police, because that often disperses things. Only
if we have gone through that procedure, and the soldiers are on
the receiving end of stones - and from our point of view stones are
a mortal danger - the next level is to fire rubber [bullets], with the
authorization of a battalion commander at least, and the firing has
to be aimed at someone specific, a chief instigator who we didn't
succeed in arresting."

The films shot at many demonstrations show that there is a large
gap between these instructions and their application in the field.
Time after time the camera records massive firing by many
soldiers at the same time in the general direction of
demonstrators, who are sometimes dozens or hundreds of meters
away. One thing is certain: The firing is not aimed at a lone
"instigator." As for the stone throwing, it's difficult to decide
which comes first: the stones or the rubber bullets. The
impression is that things change from village to village and from
event to event.

"In some cases two or three children throw stones from a distance
of 100 meters, and it's obvious that this is symbolic and can't hurt
anyone," says Dr. Kobi Snitz, who teaches mathematics at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and has taken part in a
number of demonstrations. "Sometimes three hours of an
encounter go by without one stone being thrown, and then
suddenly the soldiers lose it - they're standing out in the sun for
hours, you know - and they start throwing stun and tear-gas
grenades, and then all hell breaks loose. [Some] villages have a
committee that tries to keep the children under control, but it's
hard."

Snitz says the escalation is the result of deliberate policy - if not at
the political level, then at least at the decision-making level in the
army: "There are now demonstrations of hundreds and thousands
of people every day. Whoever takes 10 soldiers to a site like that
tells them, `No matter what happens, [demonstrators] don't get
close to the bulldozers,' knows what the result will be."

What do you expect the soldiers to do - let the bulldozers be
torched?

Snitz: "A properly run state understands that when there is
resistance at a certain level to policy, either it heightens the
violence and crushes the resistance or it sits and listens. Naturally,
I think the soldiers should refuse to do what they are doing, but
beyond that, every major in the field can [inform his superiors] via
radio - when he's facing this number of people - that the mission
he has been given is impossible to execute unless they want the
whole thing to blow up. The problem is that he then ruins his
chances of promotion. I often talk to the soldiers in the field and
many of them say that they're there because `I have no choice,' or
`What do you want me to do,' or `I know there's something
wrong, but what can I do?' When senior officers describe serious
events as `hitches,' they are effectively transferring responsibility
to the individual soldier."

Legal battles

In the past few weeks the "intifada of the fence" has also been
keeping the High Court of Justice busy. As part of the effort to
play the game according to the rules of Israeli democracy, a
number of villages have filed petitions to the court against the
route of the fence. Most of the cases are still pending. The lawyer
in the majority of the petitions is Mohammed Dahla, an Israeli
citizen whose office is located in East Jerusalem.

Dahla sums up the results of the legal battle to date: "Roughly
speaking, I can say that in more than 70 percent of the routes with
respect to which petitions have been filed to the High Court,
interim injunctions have been issued prohibiting the continuation
of the work. In another 15 percent the court allowed the state to
work without limitations, though noting that if the petition is
accepted the state will have to restore the status quo ante and
compensate residents. And in the other 15 percent of the cases,
the court allowed irreversible work to be carried out."

In some cases Dahla filed the petition together with Palestinian
villages and Jews from nearby communities who support the
moving of the fence from the villagers' farmlands to inside the
Green Line. In one such case, a joint petition was filed by
residents of Beit Suriq, a village situated across a ridge from the
Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, and by 30 residents of the
suburb. A far larger number of residents of Mevasseret Zion, more
than 600, signed a petition supporting the moving of the fence
inside the Green Line, and 50 of them joined the residents of Beit
Suriq in a demonstration.

An interesting development in this case occurred when the
petitioners added the names of several retired IDF generals from
the Council for Peace and Security, among them Assaf Hefetz,
Avraham Adan, Shaul Givoli and others, who have recently visited
various parts of the fence route and reject the defense
establishment's claim that the route was established with security
considerations in mind. This connection between a group of
security-conscious veterans and Palestinian villagers is little short
of surrealistic against the backdrop of the current intifada, but has
arisen due to the struggle against the route of the fence.

Last week, at the height of the army's encirclement of a house in
Biddu, the residents called Dahla, who rushed to court and was
able to get an interim injunction against the demolition of the
house.

"This is an interesting process," he says. "It is reviving the popular
uprising. Willy-nilly, the residents are getting involved in this
because they are simply losing everything they have. They
understand that if they don't act, they will end up living in a
ghetto, without their lands or a source of livelihood. The decision
on an unarmed uprising is a strategic one. We can see that in
these places there is no use of firearms, not only when it comes to
soldiers but also in regard to the nearby settlements or Israeli
locales located across the hill. Maybe it's because of their location
- these are places [whose residents] have worked a great deal with
Israelis - or maybe it's because of the cooperation with the
left-wingers, or maybe it's because they understand that the
important war is the one for Israeli public opinion."

However, that battle is so far not succeeding. Three and a half
years of intifada, and some 37 years of occupation, have made the
Israeli public and its establishments blind to developments on the
other side, leaving them unable or unwilling to take note of
subtleties. True, the IDF doesn't view the demonstrators as armed
gangs, but disperses the protesters with a force that they perceive
as a way to persuade them that even nonviolent protest is useless.
The media ignore the demonstrations almost totally, and because
this is a daily struggle that is also dangerous, no more than dozens
of Israelis are taking part in it, joined occasionally by activists from
movements such as Ta'ayush [the Arab-Jewish Partnership
grass-roots organization] and Gush Shalom. "The message that
Israel is sending the Palestinians who are trying to protest
nonviolently is that we don't want any such protest," says one
Israeli who participates in the demonstrations. "It's that we prefer
a violent struggle and that we are not willing to accord legitimacy
to any type of resistance by them. For years we have been asking
them why they don't follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi, but
when they do just that we respond with rubber bullets and tear
gas. What we are doing now is shooting the Palestinian peace
camp."n

Olive trees and rubber bullets
"A demonstration by Palestinians against the construction [of the
fence] is a loaded business with plenty of emotions - land, work,
olive trees - and when Israelis, internationals and the media join
in, it becomes even more complex," says a senior IDF officer who
is responsible for the sector where most of the events in the past
few months have taken place. "That complexity finds expression
in the way we can allow
ourselves to respond, morally and in terms of values, and also
taking into consideration how it looks to the world and to Israeli
society."

The turning point, the officer says, was the shooting of Gil
Na'amati. "That event was investigated by the chief of staff, and
afterward clear instructions were issued. The most significant
thing that changes when Israelis are in the field is the rules of
engagement [for opening fire]. We try to make use of a great deal
of police intervention
and to address the subject through the courts. I've heard that the
Palestinians call it a 'peaceful demonstration,' but it seems to me
we have a conceptual gap here. When the Palestinians throw
stones, they regard it as a quiet demonstration. And I'm not
talking about one stone. It's important to point out that at one
demonstration, in Beit Lakiya,
there was also shooting; we arrested the squad that did the
shooting, though it's true that this was the only case.

"I don't say there are no hitches. A soldier is out there for hours,
being cursed. Not all of them are icemen and sometimes even
commanding officers lose control. There is friction, it's not sterile.
As part of the verbal friction our people also say things they
shouldn't. Some of them call the soldiers 'Nazis' or 'sons of
bitches,' especially if they're Israelis, and the soldiers lose their
cool and call them 'collaborators.' The instructions are to try to
end the incident with as few as casualties as possible, and in many
cases the way to put an end to the story is to seize the chief
instigators."

How do you define an instigator?

The officer: "Someone who calls out things through a
megaphone, agitates, tries to reach the [construction] equipment.
In most cases, the moment we try to arrest those people, the event
turns violent, with stones and things. You have to remember that
it's in the participants' interest for the demonstration not to occur
quietly. They want the event to be talked about, for people to say
that there was a demonstration at which such-and-such
happened. We try very hard to restrain ourselves, but you have to
remember that when it comes to mortal danger, there is also a
matter of subjective feeling - standing among hundreds of
Palestinians at Bitunia, which is on the outskirts of Ramallah, is
not like walking through Tel Aviv. You feel threatened.

"There is no doubt that the situation of the recent period poses a
dilemma for us. If you're fired at, there is no dilemma, it's a
black-and-white affair, you know what to do. In events of the kind
we are talking about, which are now occurring almost every day,
there's a lot of gray."

By Aviv Lavie - haaretz.com 16-04-04 weekend supplement edition.
====================
* [As described in the body of article - The Anarchists Against
The Wall are the core of this involvement. I.S.]



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