Demonstrators Attacked, Media Detained in Um Salamuna
Yesterday, international and Israeli activists joined Palestinians from the South Betlehem area in their weekly demonstration against the construction of the Annexation Barrier on their agricultural land. Participants met in the entrance to Um Salamuna and began marching down the street, which has both Palestinian and Israeli settler traffic from Efrat to Tekoa. Demonstrators were not attempting to block the road to vehicular traffic, but rather were making sure that their message of “no, no to the Wall!” and “End the Occupation!” was heard. When the approached the site of the construction of the barrier, soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces stopped the march in the middle of the streets. Members of the regional Popular Committee informed the commander that they were a non-violent demonstration, that they were a threat to no one and were only intending to march down to Route 60, the major highway, in a peaceful march. The military responded by telling the demonstrators that if they did not move immediately off of the road, the military itself would close the road to Palestinian traffic. When participants pointed out that collective punishment such as that is against international law, the commander laughed and told them to shut up. They then began violently pushing and hitting the demonstrators, forcing them off to the side of the road and proceeded to close the street to Palestinian traffic anyway, making sure they allowed all Israeli settlers through. One german activist said, “I believe that is the definition of Apartheid”.
At first, the soldiers were insisting that the participants move beyond the yellow line painted on the side of the pavement. To illustrate the complete absurdity of this arbitrary line, and the outrageous use of force the IOF was using, some activists began playing “the Hokey-Pokey”, an american children’s game where you stick a leg in and out of an imaginary circle (‘You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out’). Seemingly outraged by this, IOF soldiers immediately attacked one Israeli activist participating, dragging him away from the other participants and hitting him, though he was eventually pulled back into the crowd by fellow activists.
When one Reuters videographer protested being forceably moved into the crowd of demonstrators he was dragged across the street by 4 soldiers. Moments later, when an Associated Press reporter demanded that the Israeli Forces respect the rights of the international media, he, too, was dragged away. Both journalists were detained for the remainder of the demonstration.
After a short speech by a member of the Popular Committee questioning the “democracy” of a country that arrests members of the press, beats non-violent demonstrators, engages in collective punishment in retaliation for peaceful dissent, and has an Apartheid road system, Palestinian participants did their mid-day prayer on the land bulldozed for the Wall. The demonstrators, after ensuring that the members of the media would be released, then marched back to the village, vowing to return and continue their struggle.