"Another weekend goes by full of protests and demonstrations. On Friday I went to An Nabi Saleh – the weekly demonstrations there apparently appearing (albeit heavily sanitized) in a recent Louis Theroux documentary – and yesterday to Beit Ummar. Both demonstrations were notable for the relative calm and the restraint of the Israeli army, although in An Nabi Saleh their actions may better be described as a change of tactics than a reduction of force. The military there has been criticised of late for using excessive force – An Nabi Saleh being reputed to be the most dangerous of demonstrations – and, perhaps due to increased media focus, seemed to tone down their efforts at ‘crowd dispersal’. Indeed, it was over an hour-and-a-half before the few soldiers stationed near the city launched any tear gas or shock grenades, and this was only after provocation from the shabab. More worrying was how quickly afterwards you could hear the slight thud of live ammunition, but this – it appears in retrospect – was mainly as a warning, as no one was seriously injured. There were about six detentions, although the three internationals were released immediately after the army withdrew. I’m not as sure as to the fate of the Palestinians.
Similarly, the demonstration in Beit Ummar – also against the continued land grab of the settlers – was relatively calm. A demonstration normally characterised by low turnout and high arrest count, this time (thanks, no doubt, to the large number of television cameras) ended with only a single temporary detention and neither tear gas nor sound bombs used to disperse the crowd. The protestors made it to the perimeter fence of a nearby settlement, the protest leader – Egyptian flag in hand - was able to say his piece for the cameras and, afterwards, everyone was able to go home following what was a genuinely peaceful demonstration. I did note, however, at one point all the soldiers had in their hand a tear gas canister, but it seems their commander thought it more prudent not to give the order to release them whilst the media was present.
Outside Hebron, in the small village of Al-Bwayre, Palestinians are having further problems as the Israeli government gave orders for a nearby illegal outpost –an illegal illegal settlement – to be dismantled, which left around three settler families homeless and very, very angry. They took this out on locals by cutting electricity and pelting their homes with rocks, and their anger and threat of retaliation was such that Israel actually deployed a number of troops to protect the Palestinians – although of course the locals had little faith in the protection of the troops. As such, the ISM and other international groups in Hebron have made sure there has been a constant international presence in the village since the dismantling of the outpost a few days ago.
Last night, it was mine and Bastian’s turn to spend the night with a family there, and so in the evening we set off, sleeping-bags in hand, to the outskirts of Hebron. Once there, we realised we had no idea exactly which house we were meant to go to. Speaking little Arabic, wandering aimlessly around a village after dark with settlers on one side of us and scared Palestinians on the other was not the most comfortable situation, so one of the workers from another organisation – half-Palestinian himself and proficient in Arabic – came out to help us. By the time he arrived, we’d located the house and were with the family, but were nonetheless grateful that he could introduce us and break the linguistic ice which is usually so easily broken with alcohol. Through his Middle Eastern humour though you could tell he was a little worried, as he’d noticed en route that the military presence had completely vanished, and there was now only a low stone wall between the Palestinians and the settlers. And us, of course; an eccentric-looking Frenchman and myself. We drank tea, spoke politics, and laughed, before he left to write up a report on the situation for the UN. The villagers had our phone numbers, and we had our cameras; if any settlers came, we were to ring everyone we knew, and document all we could. That is all we could realistically do in this strange and volatile situation. Bastian and I got into our sleeping bags and settled down for what was to be a cold and uneasy night in the village of Al-Bwayre.
Morning came and, thankfully, nothing had happened. The kids played in the yard, the goats bleated, and the valley looked serene in the morning sun. We packed up and left, checking that they were expecting people back for the school patrol at half-one. Back to Hebron for coffee, bread and hummus, a shower, and rest. Tonight, the village will have as its protection two old ladies from the Christian Peacemaker Team. I sincerely hope tonight is as peaceful as the last, and that my friend’s appeal to the UN to take action on these illegal outposts is successful. I also hope the old dears take enough blankets with them, because that night time air bites a tough chill."