Activism roundup: Israeli forces fire at demonstrators

Israeli forces arrest an Israeli activist during a demonstration against the wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank village of al-Masara, 21 January 2010. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Israeli forces swept through the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan today, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at Palestinians during public prayer near the al-Bustan protest tent. The tent is a public gathering place and organizing center for residents of the al-Bustan area in Silwan who are faced with imminent home demolitions or settler takeovers of their houses. The invasion resulted in clashes throughout the area.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that a number of Palestinians and a cameraman were injured by tear gas inhalation and rubber bullets during the clashes (“Clashes erupt after Friday prayer in East Jerusalem,” 21 January 2011).

Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency reported that a Palestinian child was pepper sprayed during weekly unarmed protests elsewhere in the occupied West Bank.

In Nabi Saleh, Palestinian and international protesters marched against the ongoing confiscation of village land and the expansion of the nearby Halamish settlement colony. Israeli soldiers attempted to break up the demonstration, and attacked an 11-year-old boy with pepper spray (“Israeli army shuts down West Bank rallies,” 21 January 2011).

Protests against Israel’s wall and the settlements were also reported in al-Masara village, near Bethlehem; in Bilin; and in Nilin. Ma’an reported that local activist committees documented the Israeli military’s use of “riot dispersal means” in Bilin and Nilin, which include the firing of tear gas and spraying protesters with fetid “skunk water.”

One Israeli solidarity activist was detained in al-Masara.

Beit Ommar

Fourteen-year-old Mohammed Awwad from the West Bank village of Beit Ommar was released from Israeli prison on 7 January after being detained for more than a month and a half.

Awwad was arrested by Israeli soldiers at a weekly demonstration in the village on 20 November 2010, and was charged by the Israeli military with throwing stones, which is punishable up to ten years in prison.

The Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP) reported on 9 January that Israel wrongfully charged Awwad with stone throwing, citing numerous eyewitnesses present at the demonstration who claimed that he was not throwing stones “but merely participating in an unarmed demonstration in his own village against the neighboring Israeli settlement of Karmei Tsur (“14-year-old Beit Ommar resident released from Israeli prison,” 9 January 2011).”

PSP added that five adult solidarity activists were arrested along with Awwad, but they were released later in the day.

“After his arrest, [Awwad] was first brought to Karmei Tsur settlement by Israeli forces and held there for three hours,” PSP stated. “He was then transferred to [a detention facility inside] Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron for an additional eight hours.”

Awwad’s parents were not informed of his whereabouts by the Israeli military, PSP added, and he was “repeatedly interrogated” at Kiryat Arba and later during his detention at Ofer prison. Interrogators apparently asked him about the activist committee in the village that plans the weekly demonstrations against the encroaching settlements.

“Despite the fact that [Awwad] is a minor and has a medical condition that chronically affects his skin, the Israeli military courts denied him bail and held him for over a month and a half,” PSP stated.

The Electronic Intifada has reported on the Israeli military’s ongoing policy of interrogation and detention of Palestinian children from the Hebron area at Kiryat Arba and Ofer prison.

Meanwhile, on 20 January, PSP reported that the Israeli military arrested four children south of Beit Ommar, after detaining them “in an isolated area out of sight of the road” where they were put into “stress positions” with their hands behind their backs and their heads down.

International observers with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a group that monitors Israeli human rights abuses, took pictures and called the media as well as notified prominent human rights organizations that work in the area.

“Despite these efforts, after some time, the soldiers forced all four children into a jeep and drove them to an unknown location,” PSP reported. “No reason was given for their arrest” (“Israeli forces arrest four children south of Beit Ommar,” 20 January 2011).

Tear gas company protested

Protesters held a demonstration outside the corporate headquarters of tear gas manufacturer Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI), in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, on 17 January, demanding the company stop its sales to the Israeli military.

The protest, which was held on the birthday of the assassinated American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was coordinated by solidarity activists in response to the 1 January death of 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a resident of the West Bank village of Bilin. Abu Rahmah participated in a weekly nonviolent protest against Israel’s wall and confiscation of village land on 31 December, and was exposed to a lethal amount of tear gas fired by Israeli troops. The gas was later confirmed as being manufactured by CSI.

The Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee (PPSC) stated on its website on 10 January that the protest was organized “in solidarity with Palestinian nonviolent demonstrations and in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy” (“Regional Palestine solidarity groups to protest PA manufacturer of tear gas on MLK day,” 10 January 2011).

Jonas Moffat of PPSC told The Electronic Intifada that approximately forty persons protested outside of CSI’s offices on Monday.

“Many of us [activists] living in Pittsburgh have been to occupied Palestine,” Moffat said. “And when we found out what was going on at CSI, and that they were in our backyard, we felt we needed to get out there.”

Moffat said that their letters, calls and requests for a face-to-face meeting on the day of the protest all went unanswered, but that the solidarity groups are determined to keep protesting outside the CSI offices.

The Jamestown protest followed a similar demonstration on 11 January in New York City, where 35 activists gathered outside the midtown Manhattan offices of Point Lookout Capital Partners, a firm that facilitates investment in CSI.

According to a press release from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the protesters reenacted scenes from the weekly marches held in Bilin, including a mock tear gassing by an actor dressed as an Israeli soldier. “The protesters then choked and collapsed motionless on the sidewalk outside the office of Point Lookout Capital,” Adalah-NY stated (“Protesters tell New York business to stop providing Israel’s lethal tear gas,” 11 January 2011).

Others held signs with photographs of Palestinian and international solidarity activists who have been killed or severely injured by tear gas canisters fired by the Israeli military during nonviolent protests in the occupied West Bank.

In the press release, Adalah-NY organizer Dave Lippman said that the Israeli military’s use of CSI’s tear gas — partially financed by Point Lookout Capital — is being used “as a weapon to crush the growing unarmed protest movement against Israel’s illegal confiscation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements.”

Lippman added that American taxpayers are helping foot the bill for Israel’s weapons cache. “The US government needs to stop providing this deadly aid, and CSI and Point Lookout need to end their complicity in Israel’s violent repression of legitimate protest,” he said. Adalah-NY stated that since it published its recent action alert, nearly nine hundred individuals have emailed CSI, Point Lookout Capital Partners and the asset management firm The Carlyle Group, another CSI investor with ties to the presidential administrations of both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Another 1,900 persons have signed a similar petition to CSI drafted by the activist group CodePink (“No More Tears: Tell the Profiteers at CSI to Stop Selling Tear Gas to Israel”).

Additionally, Adalah-NY reported that hundreds of individuals have emailed the US State Department asking it to stop its provisions of tear gas and military aid to Israel.