2 Palestinians, 5 Israelis Arrested During Farmer Action in Saffa
On Saturday, May 30, Palestinian farmers from the Soleiby family were joined by activists from Palestine Solidarity Project, Anarchists Against the Wall, and Ta’ayush to work land near the Bat ‘Ain settlement, in Gush Etzion. Activists have been accompanying farmers in the area recently since an attack on the settlement on April 2 led to settler riots and attacks on farmers. At 7 am, a group of 11 activists and 2 farmers went to land owned by 72 year-old Hamad Soleiby and began picking grape leaves. Israeli settlers began gathering at the top of a hill on the edge of the illegal settlement and three Israeli military jeeps arrived shortly afterward. Soldiers then contented themselves to stand around their jeeps, debating whether or not they had good enough aim to “shoot [us] between the eyes” from that distance. For approximately 2 and a half hours the people were allowed to work without interference, which quickly changed when a civilian police jeep and about a dozen border police arrived with their all-too-common order for a closed military zone for the entire valley between Saffa and the Etzion settlement bloc. As in other times in the past week when activists have joined the farmers for work, an Israeli Supreme Court order prohibiting indefinite declarations of closed military zones (this area has been under repeated closed military orders for nearly 2 months) was produced. The police refused to consider the court order and announced that if the group, which had now been joined by additional international and Israeli activists for a total of 20 people, did not leave within 10 minutes, they would begin arresting people. The farmers decided to wait out the 10 minutes, plus a little, in defiance of the arbitrary use of the closed military zone orders, remembering the previous week when settlers were allowed by Israeli soldiers to attack activists and farmers with stones in the exact same area, without arrests.
Shortly after the 10 minutes were up, border police violently attacked several Israelis, who, though sat on the ground as soon as they were touched, were dragged, punched, and choked before two men, one from Tel Aviv and one from Jerusalem, were arrested. After the two arrests border police singled out one young Israeli from Tel Aviv, dragging him to the ground by his throat, lying on top of him with his arm wrenched behind him, tearing his shirt off and at one point one border policeman shoving his knuckles into the man’s eye sockets while he was face down on the ground while other activists attempted to protect him. After attacking him and several other activists, the border police seemed to declare a temporary break. The group decided to move back towards the village a dozen yards in an attempt to de-escalate and when the soldiers announced their intention to target the “whore Palestinians”, the Palestinians left the area. Border police then distributed wooden batons to each other, clearly planning a severe beating. The group decided to slowly make their way back to the village.
While the group returned up the hillside, another small group of Israelis had parked their car overlooking the settlement and Palestinian lands. The group was suddenly attacked by a group of approximately 15 settlers who threw stones at the group and eventually managed the flip the sports utility vehicle on its side. They also stole a video camera of one of the activists who had documented the attack. Israeli soldiers attempted to prevent a group of Palestinians and Israelis from approaching the car to help put it upright, but were unsuccessful. A group of approximately 25 Palestinians, joined by a few Israelis, went to the car and erected it. The border police, not satisfied with its earlier exploits, randomly attacked two young Palestinians, both aged 14, insisting that they had thrown stones. Though their mothers intervened and clearly stated that they had been with the youth and they had not thrown stones, the two were arrested, along with 3 more Israeli activists.
The first two arrested activists were taken to Kiryat Arba settlement police station, where they were offered to be released on the condition that they not return to the Southern West Bank for 2 weeks. Both men refused to sign the conditions and were held overnight before being released without any conditions or court hearing. The other 3 Israelis and 2 Palestinians were taken into the Gush Etzion settlement police station. The Israelis were released at approximately 3 pm, the 2 Palestinian youth were released in the evening, all with no charge.
The activists and farmers overall declared the day a success and began planning for work days in the coming weeks.