I am currently volunteering for PNN, and my first assignment was to wrote a story about a Palestinian nonviolence protest I went to. Here it is:
Umm Salamuna / Al Masra nonviolent resistance in the southern Bethlehem streets
30.05.09 - 12:56
Bethlehem / Cassie X for PNN - Al Ma'sara, which lays to the south of Bethlehem, is a village on the frontline of land confiscation and settlement expansion. The village itself is the size of 22,000 dunams, with 20,000 dunams set to be confiscated for settlement construction. Farmers are losing their lands, and then they are forced to lose them for the construction of illegal settlements on their land which is their only source of income. That is why every Friday in Al Ma'sara and Umm Salmamuna they march. They march under the banner of nonviolence. This is my first protest here in Palestine, and I was impressed by the support of the international community displayed by protestors there from Germany, Holland, Norway, South Africa, France, Italy, the United States and Canada. I traveled in a cab towards the village with two women from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. Deborah was a priest from South Africa who had come to Palestine on her three month sabbatical. "I came here because I saw the important role that the international community played in South Africa with the end of Apartheid," she explained. "This is my attempt in some way to pay that back, except the occupation here is much worse than I had expected." As we neared the village we came up to a flying checkpoint, which was a way for the soldiers to control protesters from getting to village on Fridays. We quite easily got through the first one, but then we pulled off the street and had to meet the protest part way because they had set up another one just down the road. As we were getting out of the cab one of the women said, "that's just not right." We stood under the difficult eye of the second checkpoint, until we heard the chanting and saw the crowd come around the corner with Palestinian flags waving. There was a young girl there who must have been about 12, and her father had been recently arrested at a similar protest a few weeks ago. He has been randomly pulled from the crowd and taken for no real reason. As the crowd came towards us we joined in. There were flags and posters reading, "No to the Occupation Flu" and "Jaffa my City." Our crowd of around 60 Palestinians and internationals approached a barbed wire barrier thrown across the road with some15-20 Israeli soldiers standing behind them. We marched straight up to the barrier, chanting, "The Wall must fall" and singing in Arabic. What struck me as we sang, made speeches, and took pictures of the soldiers, is that even though they had the guns, we at this moment had the power. There were speeches made in Arabic, English and French. There were speeches about peace, about how the Israelis cannot erase the Palestinians and the Palestinians cannot erase the Israelis; how the new Israeli government cannot change the law whenever they want. One of the protesters from the United States named Matthew was a US army veteran who had served on active duty in Iraq from August 2002 to August 2004. "When I was in Iraq, I questioned the mission and the rhetoric. I became aware quite early on that there were no WMD's in Iraq, and that Iraqi democracy and freedom had nothing to do about why we were there." Now an active anti-war protestor, Matthew, approached the barrier and the soldiers with a picture of himself in uniform. "My intention is to express to them that I know how they feel. I don't know what it is like to grow up in an Israeli militarized state, but I do know how it feels to be on the other side of the constant wire." He says that they usually acknowledge the fact that he has served. He hopes that him standing there will at least help those who are questing what they are doing. There were Israelis in the crowd who spoke to the soldiers in Hebrew. Two village women crawled over the barbed wire holding Palestinians flags and holding up their hands in a peace sign. Their weathered faces looked back upon the crowd and broke out into smiles of defiance. This was their land. Another protestor was engaged in an exchange with a soldier, after which he turned to the crowd and said in English, "The soldier says that this land is for him, but I say he is foreigner here. The colour of his skin is different from the land. My skin shows how I melt with this land."
As we concluded our protest the atmosphere was one of tension but also one of hopeful defiance. Next Friday they would be back, protesting as they have for years. As agents of nonviolent resistance, the moral power rested with them. I felt a new lightness as we walked back to our vehicles to head to Bethlehem City. Although there had been no direct results from this protest, I had seen the passion of a people who were not afraid of using their voices and they would continue to do so.