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15 Million Blind

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mixing thoughts on demonstrations

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Demonstration is a fitting name. They call them peace walks or non-violent protests, but we run from the teargas, and the youth most often come with slingshots. These “demonstrations,” held all over the West Bank, protest the past and present construction of the apartheid wall between Israel and the West Bank. Internationals, Palestinians, and even Israeli’s march together with flags chants and provocations for soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force. ”The goal in Beit-jala is to get to the bulldozers without getting arrested,” I was told most recently.

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Palestinians suffer great injustices; their land, their families, their ways of life are trespassed by Israeli occupation on a daily basis. Jewish settlements and housing demolitions grow hand in hand as more and more land is colonized by the Israelis. Arabs suffer violence, oppression, and arrest for peaceful and aggressive resistance alike. And all of this, you can find at a demonstration. Their cause and effect is symbolic. Both sides provoking an assumed response.

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When people see my equipment, I’m herded towards the demonstrations, they’re unavoidable. Press is everywhere, Foreigners are everywhere. Their cameras keep the people safe, while secretly hoping for a soldier to step out of line and respond in violence. As I see it, any still image of violence, acts as a symbol, an ambassador of all the violence and oppression suffered by the Palestinians under Israeli control. But in the setting of the demonstration, those acts feel provoked. As an Israeli soldier, what else can you do in the face of a shouting mob, hurling rocks, threatening to interfere with construction, or tear down the walls.

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I have mixing emotions about demonstrations, but my strongest and most consistent reaction is the one I feel when the adults stand by and watch as the youth hurl stones at the soldiers and the settlements. You can’t call something non-violent if people are hurling stones. I understand their frustration, their anxiety, their desperation, it’s all justified in my opinion. But when you respond in even the smallest forms of violence, you affirm any perspective of the Palestinian people that sees them as a danger and threat to the Israeli population.

Young_demonstrations-005.jpgphotos taken during demonstrations in Beit Jala and Beit Omar

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Hani Amer, A Home Imprisoned.

I spent the last night in the home and hospitality of Hani Amer; his home is now completely surrounded on four sides by walls built by the Israelis.

Since the 1970’s the town of Mas’ha in north-western West Bank has lost over 7,000,000 square metres to the Israeli colonization of their land. Hani Amer, 53, lives with his wife and six children in a house at the western tip of Mas’ha, adjacent to the Jewish settlement of Elkana. Hani Amer’s story of loss started in 1991, when part of his house was demolished because it was ‘too close to the asphalt’.  In 1994 the restaurant he owned was demolished. In 2003 and 2004 his nursery and agricultural shop were confiscated and demolished to make way for the wall.

Young-Hani-Amer-001.jpgRefusing to leave his home to accomodate the expanision of the settlement,  Hani’s home is now completely enclosed by high barb-wire fencing and a 8 meter high 40 meter long concrete wall 20 meters from the house.

Young-Hani-Amer-001-4.jpgTo the north of his house, several fences block him from the Jewish Settlement of Elkana, built in the 1980’s. Hani says the settlers throw rocks at night, frightening his children and keeping his family awake. A shattered solar panel on his roof is evidenced of the attacks, and the soldiers that patrol the wall have banned him from making any repairs to his home.Young-Hani-Amer-002.jpgThe Elkana settlement seperates many of Mas’ha’s agriculture population from their farming land near ‘Azzun ‘Atma. Hani used to take a donkey 10 minutes work, but must now drive for an hour around the settlement and through two checkpoints to reach his land.

Young-Hani-Amer-003.jpgA small yellow “farmers gate” is Hani’s only access to the outside world. When it was first installed, Israeli soldiers monitored the gate at all hours and only allowed Hani in and out during 30-minutes in the morning, midday and night. He’s now been given the key to the gate, but the soldiers change the lock every couple of months, and Hani has to wait to get a new key from them.

Young-Hani-Amer-004.jpgFamers from Mas’ha wait at a checkpoint to access and farm their own land. Permits allow them access to their land through the gate during 30-minute windows in the morning, midday, and night.

Young-Hani-Amer-005.jpgHani doesn’t profit much from his crops, but he loves the land and it provides for his family. His wife and children brother help to tend the crops and make the land fruitful.

Young-Hani-Amer-001-3.jpgHani prepares a meal for his family while sitting on a roof overlooking his land.

Young-Hani-Amer-006.jpgHani says his home is like a prison. Shortly after the wall was erected the soldiers locked the gate for a week while one of Hani’s sons was outside. Friends and neighbors threw food and supplies over the gate to the seperated family to keep them alive. The Israeli’s have threatened his life and the life of his family, as well as offered to pay to move them to Austrailia. Hani says, “It is easy to kill me, but to break my will to stay is impossible.”

Young-Hani-Amer-007.jpgFrom the roof of Hani’s home, he can barely see the buildings of his home town of Mas’ha.
The wall secludes him from his people and his only view is of the luxurious houses of the Elkana settlement.

 

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Wall construction in Beit Jala

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Demonstration in Ni’lin

I’m stepping into two kinds of new territory. The first is this land, Palestine; and the second is politics. For excuses I won’t explain, I’m not political, or I haven’t been, and as a result have been mostly uniformed and therefore un-opinioned on the subject of the Palestine/Israel conflict. In Journalism we call that being objective.

Yesterday I went to Ni’Lin for a demonstration. As I was told, a demonstration, a peaceful, non-violent display of Palestine’s opposition to Israeli occupation. The history is on wikipedia. But in short, in 1948 this land was 15,000 acres, and now it is 4,000 acres, due to the construction of the wall 2 miles east of the green line in 2008, and the walls that surround Nili and Na’ale, Israeli settlements constructed in ’81 and 88. These demonstrations have been held since the beginning of the construction of the wall, every friday.

So I arrive and am led to a field with a man under an olive tree, shouting over a megaphone in Arabic. His words, I’m sure, speaks for Palestinian freedom from Israeli occupation.

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He speaks, they pray, and I follow as we step over rocks, cacti, and expended teargas grenades onto a dirt path that leadI s to the wall of the West Bank. They march, about 40 in number, chanting, waving flags—it’s a ritual dance at this point.  Boys, men, angry youth, waving their flags, putting on uniforms of headscarves and gas-masks.

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At the wall, Palestinians wave flags, shout, throw rocks over the wall and at a small tower jammed with IDF soldiers. They climb ladders, peer over the edge, and place palestinian flags on top of the wall. The skies streak with teargas grenades from the IDF, and the group scatters into clumps. 

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The dance goes on, more rocks, more shouting, more gas. It comes in waves, 4-7 grenades at a time infecting the area, burning the fields.  We gather, and then flee, gather and flee. It stings their eyes and chokes their lungs. There is no official surrender, but as the hours pass, the numbers dwindle, and we return to the city. I follow a man, who seems in charge. 

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I know his face from a youtube interview I saw just the night before. I find a peace team from Michigan and he takes us to a room, long, and tiled with pictures of protests, wounded, martyrs. He shows us video, from two years before, when the wall was being built through his field, over his olive trees. He, Mohamed, takes us through the video, translating the parts where he’s begging the soldiers to stop, to have peace.  He’s carrying his son, less than 2-years old, and the soldiers are yelling at him to move. They make a move, he collapses, his child cries.

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I talked to a man today, a recent political prisoner of Israel who works with the Stop the Wall Campaign. I told him I wish they didn’t throw rocks.  He said they haven’t always. They’ve tried many kinds of peaceful resistance, but after so long, you don’t know what else to do. The government isn’t organized enough to fight back, they have no outlet. As I see it, In the small town of Ni’lin, their best chance at opposition is this wall of pictures. There’s a reason I was escorted to that field of olive trees without question, there’s a reason I was in this room. Palestinians and Americans, adults and children are injured and killed in these demonstrations, and each time, a photograph runs around the world under headlines. And they hope that people will respond to the image of injustice.

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