Friday, August 8, 2014

"Talking scares them more than stones"

On Friday August 8th, ISM members went to Al Masara for a demonstration against Israel's bombing of Gaza, and to support a Palestinian boycott of Israeli products.  

Hassan, the organizer of the Popular Resistance Committee, told us a bit about his village. Al Masara wages non-violent protests against the Israeli occupation, and has been doing so in 2006. The protests began when the Israeli Army began building the annexation wall between its villages and the Ephraim settlement. 

In the beginning, Al Masara had no support but as time went by, the village's activists were joined by many international and Israeli friends. 

One thing that distinguishes the protests against the Israeli annexation wall in Al Masara from protests in other villages, is the strict adherence to non-violence from the participants. In Al Masara, rock throwing is not allowed. Hassan is very strict about this, and has made it very clear to the shebab. Anyone in his village who throws rocks at a demo is made to leave. In many villages, while armed resistance is not employed, people often do throw rocks. In Al Masara, it is forbidden, and the rule against is enforced. 

Hassan and his people march up to the soldiers, and talk to them. They have also done other creative things, like organizing a volleyball game or barbecue in front of a line of heavily armed troops with riot shields and automatic weapons. Many Israeli activists come to Al Masara, and they are welcome. Hassan emphasizes that he has no problem with Israelis, but with their government. Hassan said "we have no problems with Jews or with Israelis. Our only problem is with the Israeli government, occupation, and army". 

Al Masara's tactics do have an effect on the soldiers. In his words, "talking scares them more than stones". Hassan and other Palestinians talk to the Israeli soldiers, in Hebrew and Arabic and English. 

Hassan said he often tells them "we are not in Tel Aviv, we are in Al Masara". 
The resistance has not been without costs. Israeli soldiers have arrested Hassan sixteen times in the last eight years. They have also thrown teargas and soundbombs at the peaceful protesters. I remember being in Al Masara in 2010. Despite the non-violent nature of the protest taking place, soldiers threw sound bombs at the demonstrators. Hassan also says that the soldiers try to provoke Palestinians into throwing stones. I could see why that is. It must be easier for soldiers to face a barrage of stones, so they can gun people down or gas them, and feel good about "defending" themselves from "danger". Hearing people appeal and talk to them makes it a lot harder to do that. 

In Hassan's words, "non-violent struggle is more difficult than shooting guns or throwing stones". It is difficult to not only organize but enforce peaceful resistance, especially when people are hurting so badly from the occupation.

Hassan stated that his village's non-violent struggle initially faced derision and ridicule from many Palestinian political groups. He was not very popular in prison with fellow inmates.
"In 2006, Hamas and Fatah and Islamic Jihad were laughing at me. In 2007 and 2008, they started taking me seriously. In 2009, they said 'Hassan, we respect your struggle'".

One of the reasons why Al Masara's struggle has been gaining respect is the fact that it has succeeded in some major ways. In 2007, combining non-violent activism with appealing to the Courts, Al Masara managed to get the wall being built on its territory stopped. There have also been other victories. 

The Israeli Army announced to the village in 2009 that twenty dunums of land would be confiscated. Al Masarans brought the land's owner, but they refused to hear his case. After many protests and actions, the High Court told the villagers that they have three months to "prepare the land", or it would be taken. Israeli and international activists joined the Palestinians, who planted many olive trees and did many things on the land that was to be taken. In the end, it was not taken from the village.
In 2009, the decision to confiscate it was rescinded. Another similar case was in the land of Herodyom, where Palestinian and Israeli activists worked together to plant olive trees. 

In Hassan's words, "when you use your brain and the courts, you can do many things". Hassan has a lot of support from his village for his approach, which is unique. He also now has support from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, and you can see a picture of him and Mahmoud Abbas. To him however what matters is his people, who have stood behind him since the beginning.

Hassan said he doesn't want to hurt the Israeli soldiers. "If you hurt someone, what is the aim? Our aim is to return our land". His words and tactics and those of his people, often embarrass and shame the soldiers, and help some of them see how senseless and stupid the occupation is.

The tactics employed by the people of Al Masara work, and this has been acknowledged even by the Israeli soldiers who come out every Friday to confront his people.

As an IDF commander once told him: "Hassan, I understand you. We were in Beirut. and didn't accomplish anything". This is in reference to the war in the 1980s when Israel went into Lebanon to try to eradicate the PLO. That was unsuccessful, and later Israel was forced to withdrawn from South Lebanon after a guerrilla war waged by armed Lebanese groups.

 Hassan is an optimist, and he believes the Israeli society is capable of change.
"One day, Israel will understand this language. Day after day we have more Israelis. You can make change there also".
Hassan is grateful to internationals, including ISM and EAPPI, for their work. 

"Only in Al Masara, you stand face to face with the soldiers. You must use your brain, you must use your words...If I can return the land by speeches, struggle and Courts, why not?"

We watched Hassan today, as he spoke to fifty heavily armed Israeli soldiers, who peered out at us from plexiglass shields. He also spoke to the two snipers who were positioned on the roof. He appealed to their humanity, asking them why they are in his village and why they come so heavily armed to confront peaceful demonstrators. He told them he does not want to hurt them, and neither does anyone else. He told them their families must miss them, and that it would be better for the soldiers to spend time with them. Some of the soldiers were smirking, others looked devastated. Hassan's words at them seemed to me to be more effective than any rocks could be.

After a 1 hour chat, Hassan and others in the protest left. Before leaving, he told the soldiers that the Palestinians, not they, decide when a protest ends. He also urged them to free their minds of the occupation, as he and his people have. Then we walked away, leaving them behind us.

As a Christian, I believe that love is the only response to enemies that God allows. Jesus clearly said it in the Gospels. 
Hassan isn't a Christian, but he treats the soldiers- who help enforce an occupation of his village and people- with love. 

Having seen what the occupation does, I can understand why many Palestinians do choose to respond by throwing rocks. Unlike rockets and other methods of killing that target civilians (attacks that I unequivocally and always condemn), rocks target heavily armed soldiers and do relatively little damage. They are nothing in comparison with rubber bullets or live ammunition or even teargas or sound bombs.

However, the approach at Al Masara is the one that I as a Christian most support. I also believe that in the end, peaceful resistance will prove to be the most effective.

Hassan and his Mom. One day in 2009, in an attempt to end the protests, the Israeli Army arrested all of the male organizers in the village, as well as most of the men who took part in the protests. 
Hassan's Mom got in touch with Israeli women and the village put on the biggest protest ever up to that point. Soon after, many of the men were released.

Palestinians and internationals marching towards the soldiers. The protest today was very small. At other times, hundreds come out.

Hassan talks to the Israeli soldiers (1)

Hassan talks to the Israeli soldiers (2)

Snipers on the roof. Hassan made sure to ask them what they are doing, pointing guns at his people.

A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldiers.

Hassan and other Palestinians speaking to the soldiers.

The audience (1)

The audience (2)

The concrete strip shows where the wall was going to be built, but was cancelled. 

Some videos of Hassan, and later another Palestinian man, addressing the soldiers.

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