Saturday, 2 July 2011

A.S.A.B. - All Settlers Are Bastards

Today was my first day off at the end of another intense week.

Two nights ago, myself and five others spent the night in an empty house in a village called Al Masara, near Hebron. Last week the army managed to get a demolition order for the mosque in the village, arguing that it had been built 'illegally'.

I should explain that in the West Bank - especially in areas B and C under the Oslo Accords - it is 'illegal' for Palestinians to build upon their own land, according to Israeli law. This one of the many ways that Israel controls the lives of the Palestinians. And so when a community needs a new mosque or school, and they are repeatedly denied a construction permit by the Israeli authorities, they are forced to build without one.

ISM activists had been in Al Masara for six days - the village expected the soldiers to come within a week of receiving the order. Our shift was on day seven. The plan was for us to stay the night; the Palestinians had people watching both entrances to the village 24/7 and so when the soldiers and bulldozers were spotted, a car would come by the house, pick us up and drive us to the mosque, where we would chain ourselves to the door and climb onto the roof before the soldiers arrived.

The six of us stayed up, watching films (we voted against horror films in favour of Scott Pilgrim..) and eating bread, hummous and the Palestinian equivalent of Pot Noodles. The cockroaches kept us company in our five-star squatter pad.

The soldiers didn't come that night. The mosque is still standing. But the army could come anytime, and the village cannot predict when. Fear is another means of control used by the Israeli state.

This week we also had two more activists arrested at a peaceful demonstration in Beit Ommar. Their arrest, I have to say, makes mine last week look like a holiday in Tel Aviv (not that such a holiday would be desirable). They were violently arrested, blindfolded for three hours, separated from each other and kept in rooms with about ten soldiers, who spat on them and harassed them calling them 'whores'. One activist was accused in court of assaulting a soldier - these kinds of lies I'm beginning to think are taught at basic training.

You can read about the girls' arrest here:

And so by the end of the week, I was quite looking forward to my day off. I decided to go for a walk around the Old City in Nablus. I spent about half an hour in the bustling market, with Arabic pop music booming from various speakers around. I soon realised that I'd gotten myself lost, so decided to ask some Palestinians the way back.

They were glad to help! But not before giving me tea, and bread, and pizza and offering me clothes, and even money... The hospitality of these people living under occupation is extraordinary. I don't see the Palestinians filled with hate or even anger, but just a deep appreciation for what they have left - and a fire in their hearts for justice, which keeps us all going.

As I was enjoying my day off in the Old City, I received a call that settlers had set fire to the valley in Burin, a village just outside of Nablus. I went to meet some others so we could document what had happened.

By the time we got there, the settlers had gone, just leaving the flames to burn the Palestinian olive trees and crops. Fifty settlers (men, women and children) came in a group, making it a planned attack. As we tried to document what had happened, a couple of army jeeps blocked the road to where the fire was burning; the military tends to protect the illegal settlers indiscriminately.

The settlers - who ruined my day off - are the ugliest face of the Israeli occupation.

It is illegal under international law for an occupying power to transfer any of its civilians into its occupied territories (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). But Israel continually ignores this. In June 2010, 42% of the West Bank was taken up by illegal Israeli settlements; and they are growing.

The settlements in the West Bank literally look like Europe has spat on Palestine. The hills are beautiful, and the Palestinian homes are tall and white and are in harmony with the landscape. The settlements comprise parallel rows of houses with orange, triangular roofs - as if the Middle East has a lot of rainfall. It seems obvious to me at least that these are European and American settlers, who don't know how to live on this land, yet insist upon stealing it.

Perhaps the only thing more unmerciful than the eyesore of these settlements, is their occupants. Settlers tend to be Zionist ideologues, who move to the West Bank to reclaim 'their' land from the 'Arabs'. Unlike the majority of Israelis who - despite being influenced by the Zionist media - have a desire for peace, the settlers seem to have none. They often attack neighbouring Palestinian villages. This could be setting fire to their lands, or coming into villages, throwing stones at children, or bringing rifles and knives to attempt to kill Palestinians. They have been successful on occasions.

ISM, for example, has a tent outside a house in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, where settlers are occupying half of a Palestinian house. The owner, whose family is now twelve people, was forced to build an illegal extension to his house after the Israeli authorities denied him a permit for years. When he had finished the extension, the military annexed it off and settlers moved in.

The settlers in Sheikh Jarrah are there to cause unrest and to make Palestinians feel uncomfortable on their own land. The settlers are not a family; they are mostly radicalised teenagers. They have two dogs, which they sometimes release on the Palestinians. One Palestinian boy who got bitten was actually imprisoned for two days for 'letting the dog bite him'. There is no logic in this conflict.

There is a term well-known throughout the West Bank: 'ASAB' - 'All Settlers Are Bastards'. I think I will make a t-shirt with this slogan, to wear on my next day off.

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