PSP Activists Join New Village Bab Al Shams

14 January 2013

In the early morning hours of Friday, January 11, a group of Palestinians, coordinated by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, gathered in an area east of Jerusalem referred to as the E-1 corridor, and quickly erected a tent village. E-1 is one of the most strategic areas in the West Bank. Several Israeli regimes have announced plans to build a settlement there, which would effectively cut the West Bank in half. On Friday, a few months after current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans for building a Jewish-only community in E-1, Palestinians decided to take the matter into their own hands. Within hours, over 200 Palestinians were staying in the community, named Bab Al Shams after a fictitious town in a Elias Khoury novel, that was staffed with a medical clinic, internet and electricity, and several tents. Expecting the Israeli government to try to destroy the new village, activists had simultaneously filed for and been granted an injunction by the Israeli High Court, preventing the village’s demolition for at least six days.

Included in the group of people huddling around fires on the first bitterly cold day of the new village was an elderly Palestinian man who had legal deeds to the land now known as E-1 on which Bab Al Shams was built. Still, even with a High Court injunction and legal documentation proving the land was privately owned by a Palestinian who had given permission for the community to be built, Benjamin Netanyahu himself was immediately determined to shut down the new community.

By early morning Saturday, the streets entering E-1 from all directions were blocked by Israeli military and police, who were not letting anyone, including journalists in. Still, the next wave of reinforcements, including PSP activists from Beit Ommar, were determined to enter. Dozens of Palestinians drove to the nearby town of al Zaim, and then walked over 3 kilometers to Bab Al Shams, to show their support for the action. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was already coming up with his own interpretation of the high court order, insisting that it only prevented the demolition of the structures, but not the removal of its residents. Activists living in the tents reported throughout Saturday an amassing of Israeli forces around Bab Al Shams and repeated orders to “evacuate”.

Just after midnight, a force which was reported at somewhere between 500 and 1000 Israeli police officers moved into the community. Activists were prepared for the assault, and had gathered in the center of the village, linking arms and sitting on the ground. Still, with the Palestinian participants outnumbered at least 5 to 1, the Israeli forces, in a matter of several hours, were able to arrest all of the residents, loading them on buses and driving them to the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem.

During the arrests, at least 6 people were injured, 2 with minor injuries and 4 who were treated at a hospital for multiple bruises and contusions on their faces where Israeli police officers had beaten them.

Though the village was only in existence for two days, it was inspiring to many. Participants included people from as far away as Um Al Fahem in the Galilee to Beit Ommar and Hebron in the southern West Bank. It was a flash of Palestinian unity and affirmation of dignity; a bright light shining, at least for a moment, through a “Gate of the Sun”.