First published by the Ma'an news agency
So what are these Israelis doing? They are breaking Israeli law by entering the West Bank, not to mention the newly relabeled “closed military zone” of Bil’in.” And perhaps even more daring, these Jewish protesters are breaking from the Zionist glue that professes that Israel can do-no-wrong—especially when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians.
A wall within
“You first have to cross a wall within yourself,” says Inbar, a 22 year-old student at Tel Aviv University referring metaphorically to the separation wall Israel has constructed around half of the West Bank.
“I lost friends the first time I came... I was an outcast. And when the solders saw me they pushed me and called me a whore. I only tell a few people [Israelis] what I do on my Fridays now. Not everyone is, how shall we say, open?”
Many Israelis who to attend the anti-wall protests in Bil’in, or those in the villages of Ni’lin or Al-Ma’asara, say they come on a regular basis. Some say they have been attending these rallies for over four years.
Inbar continues, “Just because I was born Jewish does not make me different. I consider us all people who work this land… as our ancestors did together for so many years before. You cannot change history.”
“But you also can’t push facts on people if they don’t want to hear it. They will reject it outright. Still, I am willing to have that argument.”
Inbar studies agriculture and says that despite her unpopular views, she still has an active social life in Israel.
“The Israeli government has a lot invested in this wall. I think eventually it will move. Not come down, but move… which is a still bad because nothing has done more to separate Israelis from Palestinians… than this,” she said pointing at the wall.
“I come to show my solidarity. If protesting this wall is something we can do together, then so be it.”
Some in regular attendance of these West Bank protests estimate that up to half of the international participates are Israelis Jews. Many come with an organization, or car-pool from hubs like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
“We are not the left-wing,” says Dany, a 29-year-old artist and activist from Netanya. “They hate us because people confuse us with them. I refused to serve in the army.
“I come out [to Bil’in] for many reasons—land-theft, basic human rights and injustice in my own name. For 18-months I have been getting tear gassed by my own people.”
“That speaks loudly to Palestinians. They know our history. And I will be back next Friday.”
All Israelis must serve in the Israeli army; postings include everything from checkpoint duty to organizing social events for troops on their off days. While most assignments do not require combat, they do require being part of an occupational force. That is unacceptable for some Israelis. Such are called refuseniks.
Commonly, there are two categories of Israeli who refuse army service. The first kind is an already enlisted reserve solder that signs a letter refusing to serve in the occupied territories. The second is an Israeli that simply does not want to be part of the occupation force and refuses to serve in any post mandated by the army.
Refusing the Israeli army is punishable by imprisonment.
Two sides to every wall
Meet Assaf. He is a 24-year-old Israeli, a self-proclaimed “lover of peace” and a former medic for the Israeli army who served in the West Bank. “I have seen violence and I hate it,” he says. “I hate it more than anything. It is a disease of humanity.
“When I was a medic in the IDF [Israeli army forces] I was on the other side of these protests. The other side of this wall.”
Assaf went on to suggest that the Palestinians should get giant posters of Gandhi and read Marin Luther King speeches over a loud speaker at the next Friday protest. “They [the protests] are in the right direction, but they need more organization. More structure.
“I didn’t like it [throwing rocks at the solders] when I was in the IDF and I don’t like it now. It encourages the solders to react.” Violence breeds more violence, he said.
“As [Israeli] solders we are told by our commanders that ‘the world hates us’ and that ‘if it was up to these people the holocaust would be nothing.’ Our IDF commanders used the Jewish narrative to put fear in us.
“It is just crazy to think that beyond the gas, beyond the wall and beyond the armor, they [the Israeli soldiers] are actually terrified of the 50 unarmed people here. Simply crazy.”
The gassing at Bil’in
When Bil’in’s Imam concludes the weekly Friday prayer, a group forms outside the main mosque. They begin to beat their chests and chant anti-occupation slogans. “One, two, three, four, occupation no more,” is a normal cry. And the protest comes to life.
Palestinians, internationals (Israelis included) and a small army of press cross the sunken wadi, or valley in Arabic, and approach the wall that has annexed over half of the land of the village. Israeli soldiers pour out of their armored barracks in anticipation.
The protesters continue to shout and take pictures; a daring few opt to abuse the barbwire fence. Many of the Israeli civilians look through the crowd to their nation’s solders, with Bil’in’s occupied land as a painful background.
Out of nowhere, rocks start to fly from the hands of teenage Palestinians who crouch behind ancient boulders and olive trees. The Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence watch, occasionally flinching in their expensive armor.
An elder from the village calmly approaches him. Recognizing the situation, the elder says in an Arabic-accented Hebrew, “shalom aleichem,” or peace be upon you, and he extends his hand.
The young Israeli is slow, but he gets up. The Palestinian elder waits. And the Jew and the Arab walk back to the village. Together.
And so is the Friday drama in the West Bank village of Bil’in.