Thursday, June 15, 2006

When it's a duty to protest


Viking marauders went to Valhala, Israeli officers go to Tzahala, an exclusive estate north of Tel Aviv first. But on Saturday night last week their rest was interrupted by these young people who demonstrated outside the home of air force general and chief of staff Dan Halutz, to protest the shelling of Gaza and death of Palestinian civilians.

They came at less than 24 hours notice, but there were Gush Shalom peace campaigners, supporters of the Israeli-Palestinian initiative Ta'ayush, Young Communists, and Anarchists Against the Wall.

The police moved in with clubs and dragged away some young militants. But the media reporters were more excited when one of them recognised a young black-haired woman, who had made no effort to draw attention to herself: Dana Olmert, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's daughter would have preferred to demonstrate as herself rather than her father's daughter, but Yediot Aharonot placed her photo on its front page with the caption "Demonstrating against Papa". But the sign she was carrying got into the front page, too: "Stop Murdering Civilians!"

Meanwhile in Westminster...

"When Injustice is the Law, to protest is a duty!", said one improvised hand-written placard carried by a demonstrator outside Horseferry Road Magistrates Court, in Westminster. Inside the court, five campaigners for Palestinian Rights charged under the Serious Organised Crimes and Police Act pleaded not guilty.

They are accused of taking part in an illegal demonstration opposite Downing Street on March 14th 2006. That was the day that Israeli armed forces stormed the prison at Jericho, demolishing the wall, killing one prisoner, and taking away others whom they wanted in Israel, including the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The raid, which some Israelis saw as a reckless election stunt by acting premier Olmert, was made easier because British officers who had been overseeing the Jericho jail under an international agreement were suddenly withdrawn, less than a half-hour before the Israeli army moved.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denied in the Commons that there had been any collusion with the Israelis. The demonstration in Whitehall that evening was deemed illegal because although the organisers had notified the police, they had not given 24 hours notice.

The police took names of those taking part, and five were charged. The defendants are: Mike Cushman , Wilf Dixon, Betty Hunter, Aqil Shaer and Ruth Tenne. Some are members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, some of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

Betty Hunter, General Secretary of Palestine Solidarity and one of the defendants, said:
"We did not have 24 hours notice of the Israeli army's attack on the prison. It is necessary to be able to respond to events quickly if protest is to be visible and appropriate, especially since the British media soon forgets about atrocities committed against Palestinians. It is shameful that our government is more concerned with curbing our right to protest effectively than in fulfilling its responsibility to uphold international law."

She added, "I liaised with the police about the demonstration throughout the day of the protest, and we all behaved peacefully and dispersed in an orderly fashion. These charges show that the British government is seeking to erode our civil liberties."

The Serious Organised Crimes Act, introduced by Labour last year, starts by talking about serious crime and even money-laundering (watch out the City of London! Only joking.) Then incongruously it moves on to giving police stronger powers to curtail or ban demonstrations. Thus it is that while the government can connive at an organised criminal act of war, outraged citizens who respond with a peaceful demonstration are being treated as serious criminals!

Orwell could not have bettered this Newspeak. Welcome to Blairland!

...and back in the West Bank

Matan Cohen, a 17-year old from Tel Aviv, spoke for some time, without a note in sight, and answered questions, at a meeting in the Red Rose club, Finsbury Park last year. A friend interviewed the young man from Anarchists Against the Wall for Jewish Socialist.

Then we heard that Matan had been struck in the eye by a metal-lined rubber bullet fired by Israeli Border Police, while taking part in a demonstration, and was in Tel Hashomer hospital. His friends blocked a Tel Aviv road with a sit-down protest, and a few of us protested at the embassy in London. What next?

I've recently been in touch with a young guy who was at that London meeting and has been working in Ramallah. I asked if there was any news about Matan.

"Matan is doing OK. He's looking into suing the army at the moment, and although he hasn't been going to demos again yet (understandably) he is still active and was visiting friends in Budrus recently when the IOF rolled in for no aparent reason other than abuse:

He is still due to get some more surgery on his eye. He only has
partial vision in the eye, and it is unlikely he will ever regain full vision".

So I looked up that report from Budrus:

On Friday the 26th of May 2006, about six jeeps belonging to the border police unit and gunner unit that is currently serving in the Macabim division drove around the village of Budrus firing in every direction. The forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sound bombs. Almost every point in the village received a gas attack and there was nowhere to escape to.

We and an international friend were on the roof of a building visiting some friends.

After a few failed attempts to communicate with the Ramallah area District Coordinating Office (DCO), Matan called Dov Chanin, a Knesset member from the Hadash party. Eventually, a decision was made by the commander of Macabim division to remove the forces from the village.

As the forces were on their way out they shot two tear gas canisters into the house we were in. We sat in a small room with around five children, aged 2-10. The house was dense
with tear gas and the children were crying. It was very difficult to breathe.

The father of the family decided to take the children outside. He, his wife, and a family friend went outside with the children.

The soldiers shouted to us "Get out of the house or we will blow it up!". We went down the stairs - everyone who went was beaten by the commander (a Druze Border Police officer) and thrown against the wall with his or her back to the soldiers. We were forced to our knees and ordered to put our heads down.
"You will be humiliated this evening," they said to us, "You came to say a Sabbath blessing in the village? We will say a mourning prayer over you".

Matan was recognized as the guy from Beit Sira who had been shot in the eye with a rubber-coated steel bullet (one soldier even apologized to him a little), and I as a participant of demonstrations in Bil'in. To our non-Israeli friend,
they claimed I throw stones in Bil'in.

Our IDs were checked. The international was interrogated in English and at one stage a rifle was aimed at his head, with a canister containing a number of rubber-coated steel bullets that fire simultaneously. I shouted at them that they should point the rifle away and got another beating.

They asked us if our mothers know what we're doing. I asked them the same and they said "Of course!". I said that she probably isn't very proud. They asked "Who?" and I
said "Your mother". I got kicked twice and they shouted at me not to talk about their mothers.

When Matan told them there was an order from the commander of Macabim division that they exit the village, they got very angry and pushed his head against the concrete wall of the house, at a point with barbed wire.

Throughout the entire incident, the soldiers refused to identify
themselves. After about half an hour they got into their jeeps and drove off. They left the village at about 9pm.

The trauma suffered by the children of the village is clearly visible on their faces and is evident by their nightly crying. These are innocent children whose streets are flooded every few days with dozens of soldiers who turn their village into a war zone.

The so-called IDF is a terrorist organization.

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At 7:35 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Quite powerful post.

I could picture these incidents in a documentary movie.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Charlie... all your posts about Israel/Palestine are most appreciated.


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