a rope, in an area known as E1, near Jerusalem January 11, 2013.
Israel blocks activists from returning to E1 protest camp
E1 (Reuters) — Israeli police, using stun grenades, blocked about 50 Palestinian activists who tried on Tuesday to reoccupy a tented protest camp they pitched last week in the West Bank.
Israel has drawn strong international criticism over plans to build settler homes in the area, known as “E1”, which connects the two parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank outside Palestinian suburbs of East Jerusalem.
On Sunday, hundreds of police officers evicted the protesters from the “Bab al-Shams” encampment, and activists said six were hurt in the process. The large, steel-framed tents remained standing at the site pending the outcome of Israeli Supreme Court hearings on Israel’s intention to remove them.
Protesters who tried to return to the tents on Tuesday were confronted by police officers who told them the site had been designated off-limits by the army.
One activist wore a white bridal gown and their cars were decked out in bright ribbons, making the protest look like a traditional Palestinian wedding.
“The protesters continued to make their way up. Police pushed the protesters back down the hill,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. “Two stun grenades were used to disperse the protesters and prevent attempts to climb back up.”
Twenty Palestinians were detained for questioning, he said.
For years Israel froze building in E1, after coming under pressure from former US President George W. Bush to keep the plans on hold.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans late last year to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly in November.
Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war are illegal under international law. World powers have slammed the E1 settlement plan, echoing Palestinians concern such construction could deny them a viable and contiguous state.
E1 covers some 4.6 sq miles and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow “waist” of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, the capital of the promised independent Palestinian state.
Ma’an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
Making history in Bab Al Shams
A group of local activists, Palestinian and international, informed me of a protest camp we would set up to help community members in Jericho and give support to the surrounding areas. We were told to be prepared to face armed Israeli soldiers. But even so, the instructions were vague. None of us knew exactly where we were going.
At 5am on Friday morning, 11 January, 50 activists took a bus to an area we called Bab Al Shams. One of the group leaders of the camp told us that we were on private Palestinian land termed by Israel as “E-1.” Israel was planning on constructing settlements here, he told us, and our mission would be to camp out in defiance of the occupation forces.
He told us that we were all informed that we would be heading to Jericho, but this was only meant to keep the plan as secretive as possible. “If you’d like to stay, you can. If not, we understand, and you can return with the buses,” he told us after explaining the risks associated with what we would soon be doing.
We started to build tents. After a few hours, four more busloads of activists arrived at the scene. Together, we erected even more tents. By noon, after finishing with the tents, we held Friday prayers for the first time in Bab Al Shams.
Not long after, we were met by Israeli border police and soldiers who arrived at the location to hand out eviction notices to the residents of this new village. Bab Al Shams, having been founded just hours earlier, had already posed a risk to the Israeli government. The police threatened to return and demolish the tents shortly if we didn’t take them down ourselves. Needless to say, we stood our ground.
Luckily, we had already been prepared for such an occasion. We petitioned against the threatened demolitions to the Israeli high court which then issued a warrant delaying any eviction or demolition for six days. The court would use this time to further assess the situation there. It is important to remember, though, that Bab Al Shams was erected on private Palestinian land.
So there it was. The village of Bab Al Shams with a Palestinian flag standing tall at the highest point of the village.
But the village was quickly put under lockdown. Nothing was going in and nothing went out. We were short on mattresses, blankets and food. Everybody understood the situation and shared whatever they could with one another.
The night was cold and people were freezing in their beds. Thank God for the paramedics who were on site to help us. We also our own security guards in the village who stayed up all night protecting everyone and making sure nothing happened. Bab Al Shams was looking more and more like a village.
The second day, a little after noon, some of the activists who were feeling unwell made the decision to return home for treatment and rest. They walked to the nearest streets where Israeli occupation forces quickly escorted them away from Bab Al Shams. But at the same time, another hundred or so activists arrived from another set of buses to bolster our presence. They brought with them supplies and helped renew our spirits in the cold weather.
As the population grew in size, so did the imminent threat of an Israeli raid designed to stop all activity in Bab Al Shams. At 11pm on Saturday, more than 500 Israeli forces — soldiers and police — surrounded the village. We could see them approaching from all sides as they aimed their bright lights at us.
The armed Israeli forces climbed the hillside up to us and completely encircled us. They were ordering us to leave. Many of the activists tied themselves to the tents. Others put their hands together and sat down in the middle of the small village while chanting in Arabic, “With soul, with blood, we’ll protect Palestine.”
We were outnumbered. Plus, we could see the soldiers burning various items in the village. Soon enough the Israeli forces began their assault on us specifically. Everyone in the village was rounded up and arrested. Many were hit with the butts of Israeli weapons. Others, including myself, were dragged through the sand and dirt and thrown back onto buses.
The buses started their engines about an hour after they were filled. We didn’t know where we were going but we assumed we were going to an Israeli prison.
But we later found that Israeli hummers were escorting the buses to the Qalandiacheckpoint, where we were greeted by other Palestinians and activists in high spirits. We had made history with Bab Al Shams and we continue to refuse to let Israeli construct settlements on Palestinian land.
Abbas Sarsour is a 21-year-old Palestinian from Ramallah currently living in the United States. He is active in various student and community organizations dedicated to Palestinian rights