It had been planned meticulously. The initiative came from the Al-Ram municipality — a huge demonstration including as many Israelis as could be convinced to come on the weekend before the Supreme Court’s decision over the fate of Al-Ram. But, from how it went it seems that somebody up there decided that it was not in their interest to have today an orderly demonstration of Palestinians together with Israelis. That, so short before the Supreme Court was to give its decision, it was much better to transform it into something in which “anything could happen.”
“Are you you going to Al-Ram” asked the border policeman at the roadblock. “Yes, that’s where we are going.” All of us were ready to jump out and go on foot should the bus again be prohibited, but the policeman just smiled and said: “Have a good day.”
So, the five buses, full of Israeli activists — from Gush Shalom and Ta’ayush — went further to the point where the main Jerusalem-Ramallah road had been demolished in prepararion for erection of the “Separation Wall”. Huge slabs of prefabricated wall were lying ready in a long row, to be erected as soon as the Supreme Court would give its final approval on Monday.
Five young people pulled out hammers and tried to hit the concrete slabs, but the grey monsters were not even scratched. The rest of us took up signs:
THE WALL MUST FALL
THE WALL BLOCKS PASSAGE TO SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
WALL EQUALS WAR
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS TOGETHER AGAINST THE WALL
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LIVE WITH THIS WALL
A little bit further and the inhabitants of Al-Ram came over to meet us. Row after row of Palestinians, in their thousands: young and old, men and women, some in traditional clothing, others in jeans.
At the head of the joint march, Mayor Sirhan Sulayme — whose contact with Israeli peace groups goes back to the Oslo years. Beside him KM Ahmed Tibi and former KMs Tamar Gozanski and Uri Avnery, together with members of the Paelestinian Parliament and Muslim and Christian Clergy. After them the marching band of the Palestinian Boy Scouts, some with drums and trumpets other with the bagpipes, a relic of British rule.
We walked in neat and orderly ranks — but not for long. Suddenly young people started running backwards, with teargas cannisters exploding all over. On the crest of the hill the border guards were standing in a row, shooting again and again. The young pipers tried valiantly to march on, for two or three minutes — but it was just impossible under such a barrage.
“This was a prepared ambush! I saw exactly how it started: they opened up without any provocation from our side. They waited just until the wind was blowing from them to us — to get maximum effect from the gas” said a young Ta’ayush activist, fresh from military service. There were some fifteen of us crouched around a corner, holding to our noses slices of onion, distributed by Palestinians as anti-dote against the gas. The refuge turned out to be temporary: a border police car came charging around the corner shooting further tear gas cannisters. Quick, quick in here — a Palestinian called in Hebrew from side street, guiding us through a maze of back passages. Behind us youths were dragging market stalls to form a barricade across the main street.
An orderly and peaceful protest march of thousands was broken into many small clusters, keeping loose communications via mobile phones. Some found refuge and welxome in Palestinian homes and offices; others were pursued deeper into the streets of Al-Ram. Uri Avnery had managed to get into a shop near the junction where the police violence started. From there, the experienced journalist-activist opened a direct line to the media: “This looks like a real battlefield; every ten minutes or so, the youngsters are emerging from one of the alleys. They throw stones, also that they are too far from the Border Police to hit, and the police open up again very heavily. I have myself enough onion for the whiffs which I get here… Just now they shot a cannister directly at an ambulance crew which was picking up one of the wounded.”
From tear gas, the Border guards went on to “rubber” bullets, intensive use of their clubs and not to forget the water canon (which was partly a blessing, clearing the air of gas). Altogether some fifty people got wounded, among them KM Tibi, Sheikh Taysir Tamimi who heads the Muslim courts in Palestine, and a press photographer of Yediot Aharonot…
A bit further behind, some of the organizers recreated a kind of headquarters in the middle of the street: Mayor Salayme was there; as was Neve Gordon of Ta’ayush and the Palestinian Scout Master. “Although the people are scattered from what I hear over the phone there are Israelis together with Palestinians in every small groups” said Gordon. “We are trying to reason with the border police commander here; I told him on the phone that if he pulls his men back several hundred meters the violence will stop immediately; so far he is very intransigent.”
Only after some three hours, and after launching a particularly heavy attack in the course of which there were shot live bullets did the police finally withdraw. We could file back into our buses, but there was still the matter of ten detainees: five Israelis and five Palestinians. So, we all went over to the police station at Neve Yakov (Jewish neighborhood adjacent to Al-Ram). The latest news: the Israeli detainees were told that they could go, but they refused to leave the station without the Palestinians. Some hundred activists are still vigiling outside at this late hour.
On Monday morning the Supreme Court will take the decision so fateful for tens of thousands of Al-Ram inhabitants. Quite some of today’s demonstrators will be there in the courtroom at 9.00am; Bat Shalom women will already start a vigil outside the court at 8.45.
Adam Keller is one of the spokespersons of Gush Shalom.