Thursday, May 29, 2008

When a flag in the wind stops settlement extension work

via Palestine Monitor by Palestine Monitor on 5/27/08

On Monday May 26 an urgent call for support arrived in Ramallah. It came from Bil'in, but not directly from the village. It was from the nearby settlement of Modi'in Ilit. The Palestinian village of Bil'in is well known for its lasting, popular non-violent struggle against the confiscation of its land for expanding a settlement and building the Apartheid Wall. A few months ago, the activist community “celebrated” the third anniversary of the weekly demonstrations, proof both of the villagers' enduring will for peace and of their tragic powerlessness.

But this Monday, one of the villagers, Ashraf Abu Rahme, took individual action. He is living in the village's ‘outpost', a small hut on the villagers' land located behind the Wall, near the settlement. He stays there in order to try to prevent any construction on the confiscated land, perpetually proving that it is not ‘vacant' or ‘abandoned'.

The settlement of Modi'in Ilit is being extended in violation of all agreements and promises made by the Israeli government at Annapolis and before to halt settlement construction and expansion. Settlers are bringing in trucks loaded with mobile homes and use a huge crane to install them.

Ashraf saw a unique chance and he did not hesitate one second to rush and climb up the crane, in the middle of the settlement's construction area!

When I arrived with Neta Golan – co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement - at three o'clock, four Israeli activists from Anarchists Against the Wall had reached the scene half an hour earlier. Ashraf had already spent nearly three hours on the crane, perched as high as he could climb up to. His Palestinian flag was waving in the wind, visible from afar, a message that could not be clearer – stop expanding the settlement on our Palestinian land!

Angry settlers came from the nearby Matityahu East settlement and did not stop shouting, yelling, spitting, trying to grab cameras and attacking us with stones. After a while the Israeli police pushed the scuffling settlers aside and let us enter the construction area, where policemen, soldiers, workers and settlers argued intensely. Ashraf was more than glad to see Neta and other supporters in the midst of a hostile crowd. So we stood there, reviled by settlers, but physically expressing our solidarity, either directly next to the crane or some meters behind it after the soldiers had forced everyone away. Only a rabbi was able to convince the Jewish settlers to leave the construction site… He needed just a few words.

Mohammad Khatib, a well-known activist and inhabitant of Bil'in, joined Neta and together they insisted on a fair treatment for Ashraf in talks with the police. When the police confirmed that a professional negotiating team would come and that Ashraf would be protected from settler violence, he finally decided to come down, more than four hours after he climbed onto the crane. During all this time he had only his flag; no food, no water.

When the crane was lowered, the settlers approached, and clapped their hands and jeered. I felt deep anger and disappointment. Obviously there was no room for understanding. But, as Neta put it, for his symbolic action Ashraf “deserves to be a hero”.

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