Saturday, October 30, 2004

RESISTING THE WALL by Uri Ayalon

RESISTING THE WALL
This is the text of a talk given by Uri Ayalon in Manchester on 7th June 2004, adapted by the Anarchist Federation in Britain and included in their website.

Introduction
My name is Uri Ayalon. I'm an Israeli, working as a journalist and as a facilitator in the school of peace in Neve-Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam. As a journalist I used to be the media reporter of "Haaretz" newspaper and now I'm writing articles about politics and culture for "Walla" website, and also I'm the theatre critic of the finance newspaper "Globes".

I have been an activist since I was 13 years old. After the murder of Rachel Corrie in March 2003, I decided to devote my time and power to the struggle against the Israeli occupation.

In the last few months I'm participating in the civil protest against the "Separation Fence". As part of a group named "Anarchists Against the Wall", I've attended a lot of demos in the occupied territories as well as direct actions, such as the famous cutting of the fence on the day the soldiers fired at us, seriously injuring one of my friends - Gil Na'amati.

I'm here not only in the name of my group or my friends in the radical left of Israel. I'm here in the name of my good friend Mohanad from Nablus and in the name of Nazee from Mas'ha. Nazee and Mohanad not only can't go abroad to the UK, they even can't go outside their village or city.

A short history of the occupation
According to the decision of the UN this (see map) should be the distribution between the Palestinians and the Jewish people who lived in Palestine. The Jewish were only
600,000 - 37% of the population - but they got 55% of the land. Almost half of the Palestinians should have been under Israeli control. This decision of the UN made Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq join the Palestinian people in the struggle
against the new state of Israel.

At the end of the War of 1948 - which involved horrible massacres and expulsions - 2.5 million Palestinians became refugees.

737,166 Palestinians were evicted from their homes and land.
531 Palestinian villages were entirely destroyed.

In the War of 1967 Israel occupied the Golan Heights, Sinai, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Before 1967, only 400,000 Palestinians were residents of Israel. In the occupation of 1967, 1.1 million Palestinians were added (a lot of them were all ready refugees).

A few days after the war a small Israeli radical left group Matzpen ["compass"] published this statement: "occupation leads to foreign regime, that leads to resistance, that leads to oppression, that leads to terror and counter-terror. Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us to a people of murderers and victims of murderers". There are 6 million Palestinian refugees worldwide today:

2,000,000 in Jordan
500,000 in Lebanon
500,000 in Syria
900,000 in Gaza
800,000 in the West Bank
1,300,000 in other countries

The Intifada ["uprising] of the Palestinians that started in 1987 led to the beginning of the "peace process" in 1993. Rabin’s government signed the Oslo agreement with the PLO and most Israelis felt that we were putting an end to the occupation and starting new relationships with the Palestinians and with the Arab world.

But the reality in the occupied territories was different - Areas A, B and C separated the Palestinians into Bantustans. The A Areas are under full Palestinian
control, B Areas are under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, while C Areas are under full Israeli control.

Disappointment from the so-called "peace process" together with the provocation in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holy places in Jerusalem, by Ariel Sharon who was the leader of the opposition in parliament at that time led to the 2nd Intifada.

Since October 2000 Palestinians fighters have killed more then 1,000 Israelis. Israel re-occupied the territories and killed more then 3,000 Palestinians. Suicide bombers are the most terrifying issue for most Israelis, bringing the territories over the Green Line (the border between Israel and the West Bank).

According to the Israeli government the fence is meant purely to prevent suicide bombers from getting into Israel, not to set the country's borders. The settlers feared that the fence would be built along the Green Line and leave them outside.

That is why the right wing opposed the fence, especially Ariel Sharon. In practice, the fence's route takes as much as it can from the land of the West Bank without considering security issues. The fence is actually a system of fences that will imprison hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in barbed wireenclosed enclaves.

The History of the Wall
Since 1994 the Gaza Strip has been surrounded by a barrier that cuts off residents from the rest of the world (especially from the West Bank); Gaza has no economic autonomy, Israel controls everybody and everything that goes in and out of the Strip.

In November 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Labour party) approved the first project to build a "barrier". His election campaign was: "We are here - they are there". The
leader of the opposition, Ariel Sharon, was one of the main opponents to the idea of a fence. He didn't want to give up the dream of "Greater Israel" - from the Jordan to the sea.

In June 2002, the new government of Israel, led by Ariel Sharon, decided to build a physical barrier to separate Israel and the West Bank in order to prevent the uncontrolled entry of Palestinians into Israel. Construction of the Wall involved
land confiscation and the uprooting of trees in Jenin.

Only in September 2002 was the first public map of the Wall (consisting of only the northern part) made available to the public.

In March 2003 Sharon declared the expansion of the Wall by building a wall within and along the entire Jordan Valley, bringing the settlements in this area under total Israeli control.

In July 2003, the Israeli Defence Ministry announced the completion of the "first phase" of the Wall, a total of 145 km from the planned 728 km. The Israeli government allotted an additional US$171 million for the construction of the Wall. The Wall costs some US$3 billion, approximately US$4 million per kilometre. On any given day there are 500 bulldozers at work, paving and building one of the largest projects in the history of the country.

Currently
, the Wall has already been completed in the districts of Qalqiliya, Tulkarem and Jenin (from Salem to Mas'ha) and is being built in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.

In 2005, the entire project should have been finished. Besides the horrific humanistic and economic reality that the Wall imposes on the Palestinian people, the Wall is also the biggest environmental disaster in the history of Israel.

What does it look like?
Actually it's a system of electric fences, barbed wire, trenches, patrol roads, trace paths, cameras and sensors. The fence itself is 3 metres high. The concrete Wall, now present in Qalqiliya, parts of Tulkarem and East Jerusalem (always near houses) is 8 metres high - twice the height of the Berlin Wall - with armed watchtowers and a "buffer zone" of 30-100 metres. The Wall's "buffer zone" paves the way for demolitions and the expulsion of nearby residents as in many places the Wall is located just metres away from homes, shops, and schools. The Israeli military has created gates in the Wall. However, these do not provide any guarantee for farmers to access
their land but instead create a system of permits and checkpoints where Palestinians are humiliated. This is in addition to more than 600 checkpoints that the Israeli army has set up over the last 3 years. 56 of them are permanent while the others change. Most of the time the
roads are blocked without any soldiers - only with stones.

This creates a system of Jewish-only roads all over the West Bank. This is one of the evil faces of the occupation preventing people's freedom of movement, making them wait for hours to be controlled by young soldiers.

It's important to remember that the Israeli army controls both of the sides of the fence!

The Route of the Wall
The Wall is not being built on, or in most cases near, the 1967 Green Line, but rather cuts deep into the West Bank, 6-7 km from the Green Line, isolating communities into cantons,
closed-off by an "Isolation Barrier", ensuring they are surrounded on all sides.

The lands between the Wall and the Green Line have been declared by Israel as a "seam zone" whereby all residents and lands owners must obtain a permit to remain in their homes and on their lands. 11,700 people in 13 villages will be imprisoned between the Wall and the Green Line. This does not include the over 200,000 residents of East Jerusalem, who will be totally isolated from the rest of the West Bank.

98% of the settler population will be included on the Israeli side of the fence. At the demand of the Israeli settlers, the Wall is planned to move far further to the east to include the settlements of Ariel, Emmanuel and Kedumim. This will dramatically increase the number of Palestinians who will be affected by the Wall.

The control of water sources is an important motivation for the Israeli government in stealing the land in the northern West Bank area. This land sits above the mountain aquifer (a
huge underground reservoir) which is one of the main water sources for central Israel, providing 600 billion litres of water every year.

The Wall is expected to have a devastating impact on the lives of some 210,000 Palestinians living in 67 towns or villages. If the eastern fences are built the Palestinian population in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip would live on only 12% of historic Palestine.

Creating Ghettos
The Wall encircles regions with the highest Palestinian population density into ghettos. The isolation from basic services in these areas along with the loss of land, markets, and resources,
equates to an inability for communities to sustain themselves adequately and with dignity.

Farming is a primary source of income among the Palestinian communities situated along the barrier's route, an area that constitutes one of the most fertile parts of the West Bank.
The harm to the farming sector will have and already has had drastic economic effects on the residents and will drive many families into poverty.

The barrier will also significantly reduce access by the population to hospitals in the nearby cities. The educational system will also be harmed because many teachers come from
outside the communities in which they teach.

According to the Israeli State's report from 2002, most of the Palestinians who carried out attacks in Israel entered the country through the checkpoints situated along the Green
Line, and not through the open areas between checkpoints.

This why the current route has little to do with the security of Israeli civilians.

In the past, Israel used "imperative military needs" to justify the expropriation of land to establish settlements and argued that the action was temporary. The settlements have for
some time been facts on the ground. It is reasonable to assume that, as in the case of the settlements, the separation barrier will become a permanent fact to support Israel's future
claim to take additional land.

Qalqiliya is one of the cities which has become a huge prison. The wall surrounds Qalqiliya completely, leaving one opening guarded by two checkpoints. The city, which once was the
centre of commerce, is dying these days with more and more people leaving it to go to the villages, trying to live from farming.

The Wall in Jerusalem and the ring of settlements around it serves to complete the isolation of Jerusalem from the West Bank. At the same time, the Wall rips through villages and neighbourhoods, separating families, cutting social and economic ties, and ghettoizing areas.

Its does separate Israelis from Palestinians but Palestinians from each other and from their livelihoods, schools, hospitals and municipal services.

A new kind of resistance against the wall
Almost every morning the residents of villages located along the planned route of the separation fence wake up to the noise of the bulldozers. In the early morning the heavy machinery
rumbles into the area, surrounded by security guards and the army.

The construction of the barrier has brought new restrictions on movement for Palestinians living near the barrier's route, in addition to the widespread restrictions that have been in
place since the outbreak of the current Intifada. You can term this uprising, which involves the civilian population of all ages, the "Intifada of the fence," as distinct from the more familiar
one of attacks and armed fighters.

Almost every day the villagers go out to their land - men and women, young and old. They position themselves opposite the soldiers, wave flags and try to get to the machines or sit
down on the ground in an attempt to block them.

Violence will usually break out after the demonstration disperses. Usually soldiers shoot rubber-coated metal bullets, shock grenades and tear gas at the crowd. Soldiers sometimes
even enter the village and chase people into houses.

For their part, the young people respond with stone throwing from a distance of 100 metres, and it's obvious that this is symbolic and can't really hurt anyone. Sometimes three hours
of encounter go by without one stone being thrown, and then suddenly the soldiers "lose it" and start throwing tear gas and then all hell breaks loose.

The Palestinian Authority has played a very small role in the events of the past few months. The current uprising started from below, from people who watched their land being taken.
In some of the events, the Palestinian demonstrators are bolstered by Israelis, ranging in number from a few individuals to dozens, mainly from the "Anarchists Against the Wall" group,
and by international peace activists who also document the events on video. Although the form of organization is anarchistic in the sense of there being no centralized power and
with direct participatory democracy, not all the participants consider themselves as anarchists.
Since the end of 2003 the group has been mostly active in supporting Palestinian demonstrations against the wall. The main aims are to reduce the threat of violence against the
Palestinians and to increase media attention.

We believe that a non-violent struggle puts more pressure on the Israelis. When the army has to deal with civilians, it has to bring in a far larger number of soldiers. They can't open fire at
them freely, or at least we hope not.

In spite of the best efforts by organizers, almost every week of demonstrations ends with at least a few wounded. 262 people have been injured and 5 killed in the village of Biddu,
near Jerusalem. One of those killed was a boy of 11.

Since November 2003, Budrus, a small village close to the Green Line, has been the model for what has come to be called "The Third Intifada" - popular resistance to the Wall by
whole villages.

In January two brothers from Budrus were arrested within a few days by the Shin Bet security services, on the grounds that "intelligence material attributes terror-supporting activity
to them". However, the military justice system itself rejected this, stating that the military prosecution and the Shin Bet had misled the court by claiming that they had been involved in
terrorist activity and adding that protest activity against the fence does not constitute a cause for arrest.

On March 29, at Bitunia near Ramallah, soldiers and demonstrators met on a dirt road at the entrance to the village. An army jeep tried to move forward and a group of demonstrators,
with Yonatan Pollak among them, attempted to block its progress. The driver accelerated and moved forward. Two of the demonstrators managed to jump aside, but Pollak, who
was in the centre, found himself on the hood of the jeep which kept going and even speeded up. It went a few dozen metres, did a U-turn and then returned to its starting point
where it slowed down and Pollak was able to jump off.

On March 12, Itai Levinsky was injured in Hirbata. The army simply fired rubber bullets like crazy. Itai was standing in front and talking to the soldiers by megaphone. At every demonstration we talk to the soldiers by megaphone and tell them that this is a quiet demonstration of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals. While Itai was talking on the megaphone he took a rubber bullet between his nose and his left eye.

The day when an Israeli will be killed is approaching. Of course, it's not worse for an Israeli to be killed than for a Palestinian, but it illustrates the escalation in the use of force. At first we thought the cameras would deter them, then we thought the presence of Israelis would be a deterrent, but now there is nothing that deters the soldiers. What they are doing now is shooting the Palestinian peace camp.

The participation of women in this struggle is unique. Palestinian women don't usually get the opportunity to get involved in political actions. The decision to let the women go to demonstrations and talk with the soldiers and block the bulldozers earned the Palestinians not only better coverage in the media but has also given the women themselves more power. I believe it is a sign of women's liberation from a very old tradition of patriarchal society. Some of the demonstrations are for women only, organized by the women of the village combining
Israeli and Palestinian feminist activists.

Israeli resistance against the occupation since October 2000

Ta'ayush: This is a joint Israeli-Palestinian group that was created after the beginning of the 2nd Intifada (October 2000). That month was one of the only cases when Palestinians who live in Israel actively resisted and raised their voices in solidarity with their brothers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Ta'ayush ("partnership" in Arabic) do many actions in the territories -
bringing food to the towns and helping farmers to work their land.

Gush Shalom: An Israeli group that was created by Uri and Rachel Avnery after the decision of Rabin's government in 1992 to expel 415 Hamas members to Lebanon. That was an important moment for the extreme Israeli left, who started to understand that this "left" government was not what they thought or hoped it would be.

Kvisa Shchora/Black Laundry: A group of gays and lesbians fighting together for queer
rights, feminist issues, social justice and against the occupation. It was created for the Tel Aviv gay parade in 2001, a few months after the beginning of the Second Intifada. People were being murdered in the territories and we felt that we couldn't celebrate as usual. In the beginning it was not clear for leftist activists why we should come as gays to demonstrations
against the Wall, but after many actions and discussions I can say that our visibility is accepted and welcome. This, I can't really say about our Palestinian partners, so in the territories
we usually go back to the closet. The Mas'ha camp was unique in this aspect.

Others groups: Other groups active in the struggle are the Women's Coalition,
Machsom Watch, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Rabbis for Peace, the various groups of refusniks (those young people who refuse to do any military service,
reservists who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, pilots and so on - a total of more than 600 people).

Independent activists working with the ISM: Many Israelis worked with the International Solidarity Movement, but there was a feeling of the need to make the fact that Israelis were resisting (with the same methods as the ISM). This was important both for the Israeli public and for the Palestinian public (and also internationally). Israelis also come from a different perspective and culture than the internationals and it's important to create an autonomist group resisting together with Palestinians and internationals, but as a separate group.

Anarchists Against the Wall: After a few actions against the Wall in Israel and Palestine, a small group started to come together and build a trusted reputation of Israeli direct-action activists willing to struggle together with local Palestinians against the Wall.

In March 2003 the village of Mas'ha invited the group to build a protest tent on village land that was being stolen for the Wall (98% of Mas'ha land was taken). The protest camp was created and became a centre of struggle and information against the planned construction in the area and in the whole West Bank. Over the 4 months of the camp more than a thousand internationals and Israelis came to the camp to learn about the situation and join the struggle.
In August 2003, we found out that the constructors of the Wall intended to start work that morning inside Hani Ammer's yard at the edge of the village of Mas'ha - to construct the wall inside the yard. Several structures were to be destroyed (crippling Ammer's source of income) and the final plan was to have his yard surrounded with fences (on all four sides), and to "allow" his family and visitors to enter and exit the yard only at specific times during the day, as if it were a prison camp. Early on the morning of 5th August all structures but the house itself were destroyed. A total of more than 60 Palestinian, Israeli and international activists were sleeping in the tent on that night and they were detained and arrested. The next day, 28 Israelis came again and we managed to stop the bulldozers from destroying Hani’s yard for a few hours. Then,
the army arrested us all.

During the camp a direct-action group calling itself "Anarchists Against the Fence", or "Jews Against Ghettos", or simply "Anarchists Against Walls", was created. We started to do graffiti on the Wall, as well as put a giant poster on it. The group also held many joint actions across the territories, for example in Salem (July), Anin (August) and Zabube (9th November) in which we succeeded in breaking the fence. These actions built a growing reputation in the Palestinian public but got almost no attention from the Israeli press and media.

December 26, 2003 might be the turning point. That was the day on which an Israeli demonstrating against the fence, Gil Na'amati, was shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers at the village of Mas'ha. This action had a big impact on the struggle against the fence. We came to the gate of the apartheid fence built between Ma'sha and the settlement of Elkana. Against all the army's promises, during the previous few weeks the gate had stayed shut and prevented the people of Ma'sha from reaching their fields and sources of income. The soldiers started to shoot in the air and at the ground near us. In spite of all our calls and signs (in Hebrew), after 5 minutes and without any warning the soldiers started to shoot live ammunition towards us, during which Gil's legs were hit.

Now, 6 months later, he still cannot walk properly. The Israeli army decided that the soldiers who shot us were acting according to the rule that says that anyone trying to get through the fence is a threat to the lives of the people around him. After this action we wrote: "In Mas'ha we experienced on our own flesh the live reality of our Palestinian brothers. By shooting us Israeli activists (with live ammunition), the Israeli army took a step without precedence and crossed another red line. However, this must remind us of the daily continuing harassment by the army in the occupied territories, where the killing, the blockade, the strangulation, the invasion and the annexation do not stop. Shooting us will not deter us from continuing the active resistance to the apartheid wall and to the cruel occupation monster".

Because of the shock of the fact that an Israeli soldier had shot another Israeli (who was himself released from the army only a few weeks before the action), and also being almost the only Israeli movement that talks about the fact that the Jewish people are creating ghettos for other people, we started to have huge interest in our group. The Israeli media started to deal not only with the Anarchist issue, but also with the problems of the fence that used to have a very good reputation before.

A day later, a big spontaneous demonstration was held in front of the Security Minister's office in Tel Aviv. At the same moment, 300 people started blocking the road, preventing the cars from moving. 8 people were arrested. For most of them it was their first action of disobedience.
One week later, a joint direct action with the Ta'ayush group was disturbanned by the police. They stopped 6 buses of activists and prevented us from getting into the territories to Deir Balut, a village that was imprisoned by the fence. 28 people were arrested while blocking the main settler road in the West Bank.

The protest hasn't stopped: a few weeks ago after the invasion of Rafah, we had a very big direct action and succeeded in breaking through the checkpoint of the Gaza Strip and going inside, as a solidarity act with the people of Rafah.

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