“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
Except the Palestinians, according to Israel.
Palestinian peaceful demonstrations take place in many different places EVERY FRIDAY protesting many issues among them are the occupation, settlements, and the Apartheid Wall. Almost always the demonstrators get tear-gassed and attacked by Israeli soldiers without having committed any violence against the soldiers.
Peaceful protests always maintain their nature, until there is a serious provocation from the Israeli army where the demonstration loses its organized structure. I am first-hand witness to many of those demonstrations, just as the one at Qalandia today where Israeli soldiers where the first to provoke acts of aggression.
The organizers of Today’s event “Knocking on Jerusalem’s doors,” did their best to maintain a peaceful non-violent nature of the protest, and they succeeded. There were over 200 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals peacefully carrying placards and chanting directly in the face of the Israeli soldiers who wouldn’t let them into Jerusalem.B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, published a good background guide on East Jerusalem, I will quote this excerpt:
Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, the government of Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city. To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians, living in the city.Israel has used various methods to achieve its goal, one of the many methods is : Physically isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, in part by building the separation barrier;
Today, hundreds of Muslims were able to enter to pray in al-Aqsa through Qalandia checkpoint, but hundreds of others were denied and had to return. I talked to two of those people who were denied. The first guy told me: “I tried, I tried over and over again, with no result, I am going back now”, I asked if he was ready to protest Israel’s illegal actions on checkpoints, he said: “I don’t want the trouble anymore”. The other person I talked to said: “I tried, I was revoked, but I will keep trying until tomorrow morning if that is what it takes”.
Those two guys resemble two words I had on my mind today, frustration and determination respectfully. The two words describe the situation in the Palestinian community today, many Palestinians are frustrated as they have been let down by everyone including their leadership, they believe their effort is worthless therefore they better not bother anymore. While a minority of the senior Palestinian community, a majority of the youth are still hopeful and determined that they can bring the change that will bring peace, justice, and equality on this land.
Today, Muslims who were stuck at Qalandia did their prayer there in front of the soldiers, there was a fatwa from their sheikh there that if they pray at the closest point they can get to Jerusalem, it will count as if they prayed in al-Aqsa. This fatwa was to motivate Palestinians to not give up and to keep fighting for their right to enter Jerusalem.
After the prayers, everyone stood up, one hand, and chanted against Israeli occupation and symbolically knocked on Jerusalem’s doors as they knocked on the fence between them and the soldiers (Jerusalem is only few meters away). Some guys removed the fence from in front of the soldiers and threw it behind, as we see in the picture below.
About 20 minutes after the Friday prayers were held, I saw the soldier on the fortified cement tower above me spitting on youth below, unprovoked. The guy who was spat at got really angry, he grabbed a rock, but he calmed down as other protestors told him that soldier isn’t worth the trouble. I was disgusted, a soldier on that tower spat on youth below him as if they were nothing but animals. The youth maintained the peaceful nature of the protest. I shot this short video of the tower few seconds after the soldier spat again, but as I was recording, the soldier looked at me smiling, and he didn’t spit again for the next 30 seconds of the video.
The kids below the tower kept screaming in anger at the soldier in the tower, a friend of the guy who was spat at couldn’t hold his anger, and he threw a rock at the tower. I don’t believe throwing rocks at a fortified, cement, military, and illegally placed tower -of which its windows are also fortified against rocks- is an act of violence.
But 10 minutes later, out of the blue, there were sound bombs on top of the people’s heads, gas canisters below everyone’s feet and bullets were heard too from top of the tower. Everyone ran in panic to get cover, people were choking and fell on the ground as they ran, a friend reported that an ambulance had crashed with a car after it’s driver has fainted, another friend reported that he saw tear gas canisters filling the inside of buses with tear gas clouds. People lost each other in this chaos as the soldiers used brutal and extreme measures to disperse a small peaceful crowd who has the right to access Jerusalem.
Al-Jazeera Arabic were reporting live from Qalandia when this attack happened, in this video, you can see their correspondent Sherine AbuAkleh in a bad situation after she inhaled a lot of tear gas, but she was quickly aided by medics, and was able to return to the camera to report the situation. Al-Jazeera’s camera man suffered a direct hit with a tear gas canister, as Sherine reported.
The situation after that was extremely chaotic, large units of soldiers followed the protestors and kept shooting tear gas into Qalandia refugee camp.Two people were arrested before the attack. The two arrested are Basel Mansour and Ashraf Abu Rahmeh. Basel Mansour was reportedly released, but Ashraf Abu Rahmeh remains. (UPDATE: Ashraf Abu Rahmeh is released too.)
Israel is fearful of peaceful protests of this kind. Israel has been brutally crushing those protests on a daily and weekly basis all over Palestine. I believe that if those protests succeed in peacefully achieving their goal, it might be a call for the sleeping masses to wake up and participate in this popular movement to achieve rights and liberty.
Pictures in this article are by Jalal Abukhater