Friday, February 25, 2005

Prayer on Threatened Land & an Ad-Lib Roadblock

Today we joined villagers from Rafat, a village in western Salfit, in a march to the Wall construction threatening the olive trees that Rafat families have lived off for generations. We had marched less than halfway to the groves when army jeeps revved their engines behind us, anxious to get through. Several protesters stood in the road to block them, but soon gave way as their friends talked them out of it. As the jeeps passed, they sprayed tear gas on the demonstrators, most of whom had done nothing more than walk with signs.

Once in front of us, the Army stopped the march in its tracks. We could see the land being destroyed ahead of us, and it made us feel powerless and angry. Protest leaders encouraged demonstrators to sit down, which can be a good strategy to make your point without being threatening. As we sat, village representatives stood up to make speeches. Some soldiers listened. Others laughed.

Then a special thing happened. A village imam began to sing a call to prayer, his voice loud and strong, even over the drone of the bulldozers. The protestors, who just moments ago had been waving banners and chanting, became silent. Then I realized it was Friday, the Muslim holy day. The villagers began to rub their hands in the dirt and symbolically “wash” their faces with it (in the absence of water, Muslims can use earth to clean themselves before prayer). After they had each said their individual prayers, they stood up, facing east (the direction of Mecca), shoulder to shoulder, and began to pray together. I stood awestruck, next to the soldiers, as hundreds of men, women, and children for a moment seemed to forget about everything—the bulldozers, the Wall, the Occupation—as they bowed their bodies and touched their heads to the land. What a simple but precious luxury to be able to worship with your hands in the soil that you’ve nurtured for generations. But for many it may have been their last time. Bulldozers rip through the precious soil with every passing day.

After prayers, demonstrators began to leave. As we walked back to the village, a few protesters dropped rocks in the path to delay the jeeps. Others caught on and dropped larger stones. Pretty soon people were working together to move large boulders into the road, not because anyone thought it would actually prevent the jeeps from passing, but to give the soldiers a taste of the roadblocks they install to block Palestinians everyday.

I didn’t know what to think. Putting rocks in the road seemed like provoking the soldiers to retaliate. On the other hand, it was a nonviolent act of civil disobedience, and wasn’t that what I was here to support? I didn’t join in but I started to cheer. Why shouldn’t soldiers feel some of the frustration that Palestinians suffer as a result of the Occupation that those same soldiers are upholding?

The soldiers patiently moved the stones out of the way by hand so that they could pass. They didn’t retaliate. I was relieved. We left with a feeling of accomplishment, despite the fact that the land destruction we had come to protest had continued unabated.

No comments: