Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bethlehem Demo

Yesterday, on Friday, some ISMers went to a protest in Bethlehem.  There were 5,000 people marching, protesting the war on Gaza. The protest was very loud and very angry- it was clearly anti-Israel and pro-Hamas. The slogans mostly were '"Allahu Akhbar", but also once in a while people would yell: "Mowt Amrikiya, mowt Israil"- death to America, death to Israel. 

Having spent only a few weeks in the West Bank, I can see why people could get angry enough to be wishing death on the country where the soldiers and settlers who oppress them come from,  and the country that gives them billions of dollars a year to buy weapons. As horrible as the action of the governments of the US and Israel are, I couldn't ever wish death on anyone... I believe everyone is redeemable... so I did not join in. I definitely joined in yelling "Allahu Akhbar" (God is greatest) and "La illaha i Allah" (there is no god but God). These are some things I hear people say here everyday, and not often enough in Winnipeg.

The crowd was full of men, women, and children of all ages. In addition to chanting, there was also loud Arabic rock music playing from a big truck.

Despite the very angry and loud nature of the protest, it was initially peaceful. People marched from the city centre (where the church of the Nativity is) to the guard tower, where the army was waiting. I was a fair distance away from the front, but from where I was I could see that no one was throwing any rocks.

Suddently there were some loud pops, and the soldiers sprayed the crowd (which was only marching and chanting) with a very large amount of teargas, more than I'd ever experienced. It was scary. I was not at the front, but all of a sudden the people who were- men, women and kids- were engulfed in a big cloud of white smoke. I had never seen anything before like that in my life.

The cloud then began to move towards us and everyone began to run. I inhaled a bit and my eyes stung but otherwise I was ok. The IDF shot it from some kind of vehicle, in large bursts. Some of those at the front had to be taken away by ambulances, though later they would be OK. Teargas, when fired in large quantities, can be fatal for children, the elderly, and people with health issues.

For most others, it is very painful and it feels like one is choking to death. Being teargassed is a terrible thing to go through, but it is rarely deadly. Using teargas against peaceful demonstrators is a criminal act. People who are not threatening or attacking anyone are subjected to a chemical assault, for daring to oppose the occupation.

After that attack happened,  five youths began throwing rocks at the army. Like at Nabi Saleh, they moved away to the sides to not endanger the others. Amazingly, the soldiers initially ignored them, and gassed the crowd again. 

After that, most of the crowd left, and some 20 angry shebab began to throw rocks at the soldiers, who began to shoot rubber bullets at them. More ambulances came. The youth began burning tires and throwing rocks, and were met by more rubber coated bullets.  The clashes lasted some thirty minutes. Fortunately, no one was killed.

It was vicious. What gets me most angry is that most of the people were being non-violent. The protest was very loud and angry, but the people marching were not trying to attack the army. The soldiers targeted people who weren't trying to hurt them. Palestinians who express peaceful opposition to the Israeli Army face arrests, beatings, teargas, and sound bombs. Those who throw rocks face rubber coated steel bullets, and live ammunition.

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