ACRI Interns Blog

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The Right to Protest and the Right Color Identity Card | Jesse Rothman

     Israeli security forces disperse a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, 2010. Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills.org

 

Over the past year, new grassroots protest movements have erupted around the world. These protests have swept the globe, from Tunisia to Egypt to India to the United States to the streets of Israel. These protests are both following and leading a change in the way that people – particularly young people – think about and do politics. In Israel, the summer’s social protest shook up the political system and the expectations and hopes of Israeli citizens.

 

I didn’t arrive in Israel until two days after the “Million Person March,” but the effects of this earthshaking summer are obvious. In Jerusalem, I have attended meetings in which groups of ordinary citizens sat down to discuss the type of society they want to build and how to do so. I have been to a number of the demonstrations that are still happening throughout the country against the growing economic inequality. Constantly, people are organizing and continuing the efforts of citizen-led democracy. The government and large industry are reeling, trying desperately to respond to their constituencies’ demands. As journalist Nehemia Shtrasler wrote in Ha’aretz in early October: “Until recently we used to say that according to the Israeli system of democracy, we vote just every four years, while the rest of the time the government doesn’t give a hoot about the citizens. We would even say that the public was actually apathetic and that there was no limit to the extent that local consumers could be exploited. None of that is true anymore.” The protest has created a sense of possibility that the economic model could change here, that society could become fairer, that citizens could determine their own destinies. Watching the Israeli protestors and activists, I can’t help but be caught up in the excitement, in the energy, in the hope.

 

However, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, only twenty miles east of Tel Aviv, villagers are not celebrating a re-awakening of democratic hope; rather, they are being denied their very right to demonstrate.

 

Last week, I was in An Nabi Saleh for the launching of a B’Tselem report on the protests there, where I learned about the village and the demonstrations that have been happening for the last 18 months. An Nabi Saleh is a small village of 550 people north of Ramallah. In early 2009, Israeli settlers began to renovate the land around the al-Qaws spring, which is privately owned by a resident of Nabi Saleh, without permits. All complaints to the Israeli army were dismissed due to “lack of evidence” and “offender unknown.” In January 2010, the Israeli army claimed that the spring was an archaeological site, and declared it a closed military zone, which limited the Palestinian villagers’ access despite the fact that the land is privately owned by one of them. Despite the fact that the Israeli Civil Administration ordered the settlers to stop building around the spring, local settlers continued the construction in the area. Currently, the settlers have free access to the spring, while Palestinians are not allowed in groups or on Fridays (when the demonstrations occur).

 

In response to this, in addition to filing petitions to the High Court of Justice, the local Palestinian villagers began to hold weekly demonstrations on December 15th 2009. In the beginning, demonstrators walked along the main road out of the village, where the Israeli army would stop them. Eventually, Israeli security forces began to prevent protestors from leaving the village at all.  

 

Since the beginning of 2010, 78 Palestinians have been arrested or detained in matters relating to the protests. Some were arrested for throwing stones, some for disrupting soldiers in the performance of their duty, however 35 arrests took place on days when no demonstration was happening, and at least 12 arrests occurred in the middle of the night. Moreover, some of the arrests were for violating Legislative Order 101, which effectively renders almost every demonstration in the West Bank illegal. This order was not enforced for more than ten years, but in January 2010 the army began to enforce it again.

 

The army rightfully and legitimately monitors these protests, for fear of rocks being thrown (Palestinian youths have, with some regularity, thrown rocks after the protests are dispersed). However, the army denies the villagers’ right to protest by preventing protestors from reaching the spring that is at the center of their struggle and forcibly preventing them from leaving their village during their demonstration. Additionally, the army does not allow people from outside the village to join the demonstrations. Moreover, prior to demonstrators reaching Israeli security officers and certainly prior to any stone throwing, the army regularly declares the protests to be an “unlawful assembly.” Immediately after this declaration, Israeli soldiers take crowd control measures; these measures include the firing of tear gas and stun grenades. One B’Tselem observer saw the army shoot 150 canisters during one protest. Because the protestors are not allowed outside of the village, such quantity means that the whole village is affected by the tear gas. Sometimes on Fridays, soldiers prevent villagers from leaving their homes, effectively instating a curfew.    

 

In Nabi Saleh, I saw strings of stun grenades and tear gas canisters strung from fences like Christmas lights. Every week, villagers pick up the used canisters and string them up as stark symbols of their struggle. 20 miles west, Israeli social protestors are shaking up the country and providing new hope for a just society. Yet, the protestors in the West Bank, who also seek to influence Israeli policy through demonstrations, are treated as violent prior to any outbreak of violence. All this seems to suggest that the right to demonstrate for political change, the ability to affect the political system as citizens, and the possibility of democratic hope in this country – only belong to those who have the right color identity card. 

 

This year, ordinary people around the world have re-kindled hope and begun a process that could change the destiny of their political communities through demonstrations. Palestinians, including the villagers of Nabi Saleh, should also be given the chance to change their destiny through peaceful demonstrations.

 

 

 Jesse Rothman | ACRI intern in 2011/12

Jesse (20) recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/ International Relations. He is extremely excited to be working at ACRI this year as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow.

Filed under Occupied Territories Right to Demonstrate tent protest B'Tselem

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An Eye for Injustice | Ben Elkind

Jordan Valley, photo CC by Deror Avi

My internship coordinator at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) tells a story of accompanying the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof on a tour of the South Mount Hebron region of the West Bank. He goes through the day – a man accustomed to injustice, perhaps, after seeing so much of it – but perks up on the return drive to Israel proper. “Stop the car!!” He gets out, and walks over to an Israeli settlement chicken coup that was hooked up to both electricity and running water. Nearby human homes of Palestinians/Bedouins which he had just visited had neither. “How can this be?”

I have not been to Congo or the Sudan or slums in Mumbai, as Kristof, a chronicler of global injustice, has. But after taking a couple of tours of the West Bank and the wall, the checkpoints and the settlements start to seem a bit routine to me as well. I may even find myself– in moments of uncertainty, contrary to all work and all evidence– believing in all of this, thinking that it is somehow necessary for the State of Israel’s good, for my people’s good (Libby, my coordinator, describes this feeling vividly in an article she wrote).

I celebrated the 235th anniversary of my country’s independence a couple of weeks ago on another tour – this time to the Jordan Valley. My parents, reading my updates back home, are wondering: “Honey, what is the Jordan Valley?” – and rightfully so. Even Israelis know little about the strip of land that makes up a quarter of the West Bank. But this unknown terrain contains the majority of the West Bank’s water resources and much of its arable land. Analysts talk about it as the “economic engine” of a future Palestinian state.

There are questions about whether or not the Jordan Valley will be a part of a future Palestinian state. Israel has clung tightly to it since 1967. Israeli Prime Ministers emphasize that it is essential to Israeli security; that without Israeli troops in the Valley, armed forces could walk all the way from Tehran to Jerusalem. In any event, the Valley provides millions of cubic meters of waters to Israelis, while for a variety of reasons, including the failing of Palestinian leadership, local Palestinians receive not much water at all.

We stopped in the Palestinian village of al-’Ouja, where daily water consumption for residents is especially low – less than one-fourth of the water allocated to each individual in the nearby Israeli settlement of Naaran. Residents have to seriously restrict their water use as a result. A right-wing participant in the tour, who stuck out in our caravan of lefty bloggers and activists – asked a provocative question: Will residents of al-’Ouja be able to access water if Israel, in order to protect itself, annexes the Jordan Valley?

The debate exploded. Passions rose; the argument became less and less restrained. It moved to broader questions of security, and then even broader questions of solutions, and touched on the nerves of everyone. Back and forth and back and forth until finally a Palestinian who was accompanying the group put an end to the madness. One can argue endlessly about this, he said, but ultimately it obscures the very simple fact that I can only take a shower once a week.

Left: The al-'Ouja spring in better days. Photo: Itamar Grinberg. Right: The dry al-'Ouja spring today. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, March 2011. Courtesy of B'tselem

 

[Left: The al-‘Ouja spring in better days. Photo: Itamar Grinberg. Right: The dry al-‘Ouja spring today. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, March 2011. Courtesy of B’Tselem]

 

One of the things I’ve learned, in my very short time here, is about the many ways in which I lose track of what it means to only bathe once a week. I get used to present realities. I start to believe in them. I blame individuals for the failings of their leaders. I get caught up in political questions, which are complicated and important and in a certain sense fun – because they entice you into an exhilarating black and white world in which one person is simply right and another is simply wrong, a world which does not require any sensitivity to really uncomfortable realities.

In the past couple of weeks, I have read, learned, reread, and discussed endless facts and figures about the occupation and about Israeli democracy. But the lesson that has sunk in deepest is the importance of struggling to remain sensitive to these simple injustices. Many people in my office have been doing advocacy work for most of their lives, and they still allow themselves to face wrongs and by galvanized by them.

Their example is powerful. They help me to think about what it might mean to be a “civil rights activist” even after I am no longer working with a civil rights organization, or what it might mean to be a full-time citizen even when I am already pre-occupied as a full-time student. My answer to that question starts by staying clear-sighted, like them, about what is right and what is not. It begins by keeping an eye for injustice.

 

Ben Elkind | ACRI Intern in summer 2011 |

Ben is a philosophy major at the University of North Carolina. After completing his degree, Ben plans to pursue some combination of Israeli-Palestinian activism and philosophical studies. He’s at the drawing board for what that will look like. He takes suggestions.

Filed under Jordan Valley Right to Water B'Tselem