News and opinions on situation in the Middle East
23/12/03 “We can do it” – the grassroots struggle of the people of Budrus against the Apartheid Wall
Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 17:39:56 EST

IWPS House Report No. 50

2) “We can do it” – the grassroots struggle of the people of Budrus against the Apartheid Wall

Budrus is a small village of 1200 people in West Ramallah, three kilometres from the green line. The Apartheid Wall’s bulldozers reached Budrus village three months ago, having already cut a swathe through the land of Qibbya, the neighbouring village. In 1953, Ariel Sharon led a massacre of 60 people in Qibbya and the site of the massacre is still visible today.

The intention of the Apartheid Wall in this area is threefold: to separate Budrus and Qibbya and their neighbouring villages, Nihilin and Medea, from all of their land; enclose them in their own separate wall which looks like a circular prison; and to install only one gate through which villagers can leave and enter to Ramallah, the only place where the villagers can access hospitals, universities and places of work. The villagers feel that this gate, like many other gates in the wall, could remain almost permanently closed.

Budrus village formed a Popular Committee to fight the Apartheid Wall. The Committee says there was no way to fight the Wall in court because they were given military orders that their land was to be confiscated and they should appeal to the courts within 14 days, but the next day the bulldozers began working!

Until now, the wall has not become a reality in Budrus. For the past three months, every able-bodied person in Budrus has been taking to the olive grove of 30 trees which is first in line for bulldozing, and using non-violent direct action to stop the bulldozers every time they start working. The Popular Committee has convened big demonstrations in the olive grove even when the bulldozers were not working. While in many villages the army’s bulldozers have met scattered protests, the people of Budrus believe they can stop the Apartheid Wall! The village says their secret is that everyone is united against the Wall and works together, no matter what their party affiliation. Because of their united strength, the village has defied every curfew declared by the Israeli Occupation Forces in order to continue the non-violent resistance.

Recently, however, the Apartheid Wall contractors’ bulldozers have been backed up by much more military might and the police have started making midnight raids into the village to arrest Popular Committee activists and even young boys. There has been a concerted attack on Budrus village’s non-violent resistance.

This began on the morning of December 30th, 2003 when a bulldozer headed for the grove most under threat. As soon as the villagers saw what was happening, a call went out from the mosque that the olive trees were being cut! Five international and Israeli activists camping in a school under threat of demolition in nearby Deir Ballut village had luckily slept in Budrus the night before. Together with Palestinian activists from the Budrus Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall, we rushed down the hill to the olive groves only to be met by soldiers coming up with a paper declaring the area a closed military zone and blocking our way. We were perplexed when a Palestinian activist said we should all return to the village centre. On the way we heard another call go out from the mosque and everything became clear when we suddenly saw hundreds of women, girls, men and boys marching directly at the olive grove. Children who had rushed out of their classrooms were still clutching their schoolbooks.

At this moment, one of the most well loved activists in the village, Abu Ahmad, shouted “We can do it! We can do it!” The villagers broke up into three groups and started running down the hill towards the bulldozers.

The soldiers immediately started firing tens of teargas canisters at the different groups, before opening fire just minutes later with numerous volleys of rubber bullets. When groups of small girls were gassed, they took only seconds to recover their breath before marching forward again down the hill. Many people were hit in the legs, head, and arms and carried up the hill to the waiting ambulance. All the time, more soldiers were arriving and making their way up the hill. The Palestinians and soldiers met three quarters of the way down the hill. Although the bulldozer was relatively close now, it seemed that it would be impossible for us to break through the line of heavily armed soldiers and get to the olive grove.

The sudden arrival of three television crews startled the soldiers. In that moment, an old woman broke through the line and ran at the bulldozer. Different groups started getting around the soldiers. The soldiers recovered their composure speedily and began firing teargas canisters directly at people, but by this time the woman had thrown herself into the hole being dug by the bulldozer. A tiny girl jumped into the bulldozer’s scooper as it came down to meet the earth and nonchalantly started reading her schoolbook. Other girls started climbing all over the bulldozer and the driver turned off the engine.

That day was victorious for the people of Budrus. Although some trees had been destroyed, others were saved. And in the face of massive amounts of teargas and rubber bullets, they had advanced down the hill armed with nothing but songs of freedom, forcing the soldiers and the bulldozer to retreat. When the people reached the olive groves and the soldiers were pushed back to where their jeeps were parked, it was the small girls who faced off against the soldiers for the next three hours singing “Free, Free Palestine!” When the soldiers finally got into their jeeps and drove off, the entire village celebrated.

This scene has replayed itself over the past three weeks but with different results. During the past three weeks, the Wall Company has tried seven times to cut more olive trees. All seven attempts have been defeated by the people of Budrus. Four times the people succeeded in forcing the army out of the groves as they did on December 30th, but on three occasions the army attacked with over 200 soldiers, and forced the people back into the village. On these days, dozens of people were taken to hospital with injuries and soldiers opened fire on groups of children with live bullets, before occupying houses closest to the main road and beating the women and children inside. But even these times, the bulldozers did not uproot more trees.

At one point, the army declared the entire village a closed military zone. This did not stop the demonstrations from continuing. The village hit the world headlines when a Swedish Member of Parliament, Gustav Fridolin, and three other internationals were arrested for participating in the demonstrations. All of the internationals arrested, including two from IWPS, were imprisoned and eventually expelled from the country.

Ten men from the village have been taken prisoner by the occupation forces, including Abu Ahmad and his brothers Na’eem and Abdelnasir, Abu Ahmad and Na’eem were snatched from their beds at 2:00 am in the morning. Since their arrests, the Israeli regime has stonewalled their lawyers and supporters who have phoned the Ofer prison where they are being held. Israeli Knesset member Ran Cohen phoned the prison to protest their arrest and was told they had been released. People knowledgeable about the Israeli military court system fear they will be held indefinitely in administrative detention. Abdelnasir has been charged with “allowing internationals to stay in his home”. The charge of housing internationals was non-existent until now and only serves to expose Israel’s intention to smash any non-violent resistance to any of its policies.

Internationals from ISM, IWPS and other groups have established a long-term presence in the Budrus area to support their resistance. Last week internationals, Israeli Anarchists against the Wall and the Popular Committee went to meet the farmers of Nihilin. This village will lose 90% of its land to the Apartheid Wall and they were told on January 7th that bulldozing would start 14 days from then. In the run up to the International Court of Justice hearing on the Apartheid Wall in the Hague which begins in late February, bulldozers all over Palestine are working fast and furious to speed up the building of the wall, and giant 25 foot concrete slabs are being erected daily. So far, the village of Budrus, although shot, gassed, beaten, arrested and terrorised by the Israeli Occupation Forces, has managed to stop the Apartheid Wall’s trail of destruction through the Ramallah district.

by Kate, Anna.

Pictures will be available on our website: www.womenspeacepalestine.org

International Women’s Peace Service

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