Thursday, January 08, 2004

Nonviolent Resistance in Budrus

In 1990, four brothers in the Palestinian village of Budrus put together their collective life savings and bought about 15 acres of land, planted 400 olive trees, and worked the land for 13 years. Recently, bulldozers arrived in Budrus and began their rapid destruction of everything in the path of the Wall, including the four brothers’ land. Although Budrus is miles from the Green Line, Israel is using American tax-dollars to build the Wall through the village’s fields, annexing some 300 acres from a community that lives primarily off its agricultural work.

The four brothers, Ayed, Na’im, Nasir, and Mohammed, have since become leaders of the growing nonviolent resistance movement in Budrus village. Every day that the bulldozers come, so do the people. There are two rules: everyone is expected to participate, and no one will throw stones. The soldiers are supposed to protect the bulldozers to ensure they level the land. They are accustomed to stones and come ready with their weapons to retaliate. But what if there are no stones? What if the soldiers come to find old men and women, mothers and fathers, and young children sitting peacefully on their land? That’s what is happening in Budrus.

According to Ayed, the first time the soldiers encountered complete nonviolence in Budrus, they turned back. They didn’t know what to do. He says two sundays ago, when farmers heard the bulldozers were coming, almost the entire village went down to the fields at seven in the morning to sit on their land in protest. Israeli and international volunteers were also present. When the tractors arrived, the drivers realized they could not level the land without leveling the people too. And so they left.

But nonviolent resistance is not new to Palestine, and the Israeli army has developed strategies for this kind of situation. The next day, the army arrived shortly after six in the morning to declare the village’s land a “closed military zone.” In doing so, soldiers were empowered to label any villagers sitting on their own land as “criminals,” and arrest or shoot them. This is a common strategy, and the resistance organizers were ready for it.

Villagers gathered en masse and walked down to their land, ready to face arrest, or worse. Seeing the group approaching, the soldiers quickly surrounded the protesters, blocking them from reaching the bulldozers. The military blockade, however, was only tight enough to prevent adults from passing; the soldiers weren’t counting on the children making a move and were surprised when a group of girls squeezed through and made a dash for the bulldozers. One young teenage girl climbed into the claw of a bulldozer. As the soldiers turned to pursue her, the adult demonstrators made their own run for the fields and quickly positioned themselves in front of their trees. Unable to move forward, the soldiers drove all but one bulldozer away—the one with the girl in its claw was completely surrounded by demonstrators and could not move. The soldiers promised to leave if the villagers moved away from the tractor. The girl came down and the army left.

The girl in the claw was Ayed’s daughter, an extremely bright 15-year-old who welcomed me warmly into her home when I arrived in Budrus a week later. She spoke English so well I mistook her for a Westerner at first. Ayed and his wife were equally hospitable and found time amidst their busy organizing to set up a bed for me in a guest room where five other international volunteers were staying with the family. From fellow activists and villagers I heard stories of the days following the young girl’s brave act:

According to one activist, last Wednesday at 6 a.m. jeeps sped through Budrus announcing on loudspeakers a village-wide curfew. Under curfew, anyone leaving his or her home is considered a criminal. More than one hundred villagers were ready to break curfew, and mobilized with eight internationals and four Israelis to walk down to the fields. But this time, the army outnumbered the demonstrators in manpower as well as machine power. Fifteen hummers, six border police jeeps, and six police jeeps surrounded the small group. One soldier said they would not allow a repetition of the day before, to which the chanting demonstrators cried, “We can do it!”

After 10 minutes, the soldiers began making arrests. They started with Israeli demonstrators, who clawed the ground to prevent themselves from being lifted and taken away by the soldiers. The army responded with batons and shoves until they had successfully arrested three Israelis, and beaten off the 10 Palestinians who were trying to protect their Israeli colleagues.

Ten minutes later, the soldiers began arresting internationals. Knowing arrest meant almost certain deportation, Palestinians surrounded their international friends, trying to protect them with their bodies. Soldiers did not hesitate to beat villagers, and the bruised and gassed demonstrators eventually retreated. Three internationals were arrested, including Gustav Fridolin, a member of the Swedish parliament who had come to witness first-hand the situation in Palestine. Another was Kate, an active and founding member of IWPS.

An IWPS colleague called me on New Year’s Eve to give me the bad news about Kate. We needed someone at the IWPS house that night to send out a call to action to inform and mobilize friends of Kate and IWPS. We hoped that with enough calls of complaint from around the world Kate might not be deported. I had hoped to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Deir Ballut, but given the circumstances I offered to spend the night at the office in Haris sending emails and answering calls from the press and Kate’s supporters.

The phone rang all night long. Fellow activists, family members, journalists, and Palestinian friends were desperate for news about Kate. At 11:59 p.m. I took a break and ran upstairs to the roof to count down to the New Year. The village was peaceful and I thought about Kate in jail. She has been a major source of inspiration for me in this work, and a good friend.

I last talked with Kate on Monday when I arrived in Budrus. Villagers called her in jail constantly to make sure she was all right. I stole the phone for a minute and we exchanged a few words. She sounded fine and stressed how much better internationals are treated compared to Palestinians in Israeli prisons. I asked her what had happened and she said the soldiers had arrested her because she refused to stop filming the army beating peaceful demonstrators. I told her I was proud of what she had done. She wished me and the villagers of Budrus luck in the continuing struggle.

The past week has been a whirlwind of bureaucratic phone calls and faxes, trying to secure Kate better access to her lawyer, annul her deportation order, and release her from prison. IWPS tries to provide legal and administrative support to arrested volunteers, a luxury most imprisoned Palestinians don’t have. During the month in which Kate was arrested, so were dozens of Budrus village demonstrators, including Ayed and two of his brothers. Ayed and Naim were arrested for organizing protests against the Wall, and their brother Nasir was also charged with “hosting internationals in his home.” All three were released when a military court judge ruled that peaceful protests against the Wall organized by Palestinians and attended by international volunteers did not constitute a threat to Israeli security.

Far more frequent than arrest is army brutality. During the week of Kate’s arrest, 80 Palestinians were beaten by soldiers, and 10 of them had to be hospitalized. Some of the most severe beatings were administered to Palestinians who were defending their Israeli and international counterparts from arrest on New Year’s Eve. Ayed, for example, was beaten on the head with a baton and lost consciousness. Later he saw on video that he had been beaten all over his body after he passed out, as were his wife, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, and friends. But Ayed said neither the arrests nor the beatings were the most disturbing things he saw that day:

After our Israeli and international friends had been arrested, and more than half a dozen villagers were sent to the hospital from beatings, many boys in the village could no longer control their desire to respond with force. Several boys picked up stones and began throwing them at the soldiers and bulldozers. It was a step backwards for us. We must remain nonviolent if we are to be effective. With stones they need just a few soldiers and bullets to hold us off. With no stones, we are stronger than the soldiers.

The few days I have spent in Budrus have been calm ones. Mass demonstrations continued daily until a week ago, when bulldozers destroyed 60 of the village’s olive trees in 4 hours. When I arrived on Monday, I saw that the land we wanted to protect was already lost. The trees were gone and the cement was laid down.

Although construction was suspended this week, every day I walk with Ayed, his brothers, village schoolgirls, and old farmers to the threatened land. The people of Budrus have pledged to protest the Wall until its path is changed to the Green Line, the internationally recognized border between Israel and their village. Most villagers agree that even a wall on the border is a step backwards—peace evolves naturally from justice, not separation—but they are not even asking that the Wall not exist. They are insisting that its construction adhere to international law and basic decency. Time will tell if the resistance in Budrus will achieve its goals before more land and lives are destroyed.

87 comments:

Anonymous said...

I admire the courage of the nonviolent protestors. I'm encourage by the presense of sympathetic Isrealis and internationals. We need American celebrities and celebrities around the world to join in. The injustices must stop for the benefit of humanity.

Anonymous said...

Nonviolence is the correct path for all oppressed people. Put down your weapons. Don't give them excuses to kill more of you and destroy your properties and then charge you to rebuild. Remember, a suicide bomber can kill hundreds of oppressors but a nonviolent resistor can appeal to the conscience of the world and pressure the oppressors to stop their evil ways. Only water can stop fire.

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