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Friday Report: what happened in palestine this week…

May 23, 2009

Protest at Bil’in:  (see my other articles or their website for details about the village and their struggle http://www.bilin-village.org/ )

The demonstration on Friday was fairly tame for until the end.  There were between 75 and 100 people there, medium sized.  We walked up to the front part of the wall (which is actually still a fence at this point, its under construciton), I stayed by the metal shields that they made after Bassem was shot and killed–for the people who go up to the front…the guys use them when they try to open the gate in front of the fence.

Theres an area between the gate and the ‘wall’ (fence) that we used to be able to get into and be face to face with the soldiers.  Then a week or two after I started going the soldiers used so much force on the people who tried to go in there that we stopped going, and the soldiers put a TON of barbed wire around the gate so we cant open it…but the guys still try.

So anyways they just shot a lot of teargas, no teargas cannon though–which was good, its the one that shoots out over 30 canisters at the same time…you look up into the sky and see dozens of this canisteres with smoke trailing out behind them falling at you from everydirection (in that case, dont run, haha…just huddle down and hope for the best, and hold your breath…)

After about 2 hrs the men from the village decided to end it since the soldiers shot a couple rounds of rubber coated steel bullets.  As usual, all the older Palestinians and most of the internationals (besides us) went back to the village.  But the hardcore press and the boys stayed.  And this is the more dangerous part because its all the young boys with slingshots and less people to see and report what the soldiers do.

So I stayed back, but I was waiting for my roommate-a photographer, who was up in the front with the boys taking pictures.  They were shooting lots of teargas, sound bombs, and rubber coated steel bullets.

When my roommate came back he said it was like the time we were up in the front of the demonstration, at the end again, with two chinese journalists I met the day before…and we were huddled behind this little wall with bullets whizzing past us, all freaking out. So the end of this demonstration was pretty intense again.

Nobody injured except by teargas…but in Ni’lin, the other village nearby that does weekly demonstrations, two people were shot;  one with live ammunition-not critically,and the other in the head, from 10 meters (way closer than the one that killed Bassem) with a tear gas canister.  Hes still alive somehow but in critical condition.

Ni’lin is the more dangerous demo to go to, because unlike Bil’in, the demo doesnt leave the village.  The soldiers block off the exits then move into the streets.  So the stone throwing and shooting and teargassin is going on all around you.  So you are much more at risk of being injured or killed, and of being arrested. 

Other than Bil’in, this week was a little tense because Abbas announced a new government on Tuesday.  There was a unity talk in cairo on monday and Hamas (Gaza) Fatah (west bank) sent low-ranking delegates, and Fatah announced they had made a new government (which meant they assumed the talks would fail) and would announce it the next day.  The meeting ended after an hour.  Hamas was mad because they had no say in the government and it was like Abbas didn’t even care about trying to make the unity talk work. 

All the major political parties in the West Bank boycotted the elections are are not loyal to this government.  One reason is Salaam Fayyad who was the previous PM and was appointed again.  (The previous government was an emergency government in response to Hamas winning the 2005 elections, being deemed illegal, then staging a coup in Gaza, and Palestine becomming divided which made a national election impossible)

This government is a ‘transitional’ government, in theory it will be disolved as soon as theres “unity in Palestine”–something thats probably not going to happen soon. 

So anyways most Palestinians don’t trust Fayyad, and think hes the US and Israel’s puppet.  The other reason they boycotted the election was that most people think the PA (Abbas is the head of it) is corrupt.

The reason it was tense is because theres around 14 security forces (or armies..ha) in Ramallah who are all loyal to different people, only one is loyal to the President himself.  So since everyone thinks this government is illegal Abbas was worried that the other security forces might revolt or something.  So the presidential guard was all over Ramallah for a couple days after the election.  THe biggest military presence Ive seen in Ramallah so far.

But the tension has died down now…so I dont think there will be any kind of civil war.  Inshallah.

One last story about trying to go to the beach at the Dead Sea:
My Palestinian friends and their uncles were going to the dead sea and they invited my roommates and me along.  First of all, the dead sea is technically a border of the West Bank but there are large ‘corridors’ all over the WEst Bank which are under Israeli control…part of the gradual eating up of Palestinian land, and to allow settlers to travel through the West Bank with no Palestinians around.

Soo…all Palestinians can go to Jericho, near the dead sea, but if you turn right instead of left to Jericho, to head to the dead sea, you enter Israeli controlled areas and they may or may not let Palestinians through the checkpoints.  And there are a LOT on the way to the beaches.

So their uncles were in the first car and we were in the second (we should have put an ‘international’ in each car to make sure we got through, but we didnt)…so we made it through two checkpoints, and had one more to go to get to the first public beach where Palestinians are allowed *think Jim Crowe laws here*

At the third checkpoint they wouldnt let them through so we stopped there (the road was right along the dead sea).  Sooo…we park near this checkpoint with all these soldiers with guns, and walk down a run down path to the shore (this is not really an organized beach…its a beach for Palestinians who can’t get through the checkpoints)

It takes like 20 minutes to make it down this hill without falling…about halfway down the hill theres a sign with a warning on it about how this beach has lots of mosquitoes with WEST NILE VIRUS…and we shouldnt “remain past dusk or sunset”..ahaha…THIS is the Palestinian beach.

And down by the shore it smells horrible.  I thought it was maybe sulfur springs/pools because they have them around the dead sea, then my friend said it was sewage from the Israelis–I cant verify that, but he seemed pretty confident (And the Israelis do practice dumping sewage from their settlements and bases in the WEst Bank, sometimes straight down the hill onto Palestinian villages…)

Either way it was not a pleasant beach.  And as the sunset, we hiked back up the hill while soldiers with their guns watched us from the checkpoint towers…haha…not comfortable at all.

Anyways…it was a first hand view at discrimination and the occupation in the West Bank.

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