March 23, 2001
TODAY, ABOUT 200 ISRAELIS CAME IN BUSES TO REOPEN A BLOCKED ROAD WHICH KEPT THE WEST BANK VILLAGE OF RANTIS CUT OFF FOR MONTHS ALREADY. ALSO AFTER THE ARMY AND POLICE CONFISCATED THEIR SHOVELS AND ARRESTED FOUR OF THE PEACE ACTIVISTS, THE OTHERS WENT ON, TOOK DOWN THE BARRIERS AND FILLED THE TRENCHES WITH THEIR BARE HANDS.
In buses and private cars, activists had poured in from all over the country on this Friday morning - to the call of Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, ICAHD (Against House Demolitions), the new Women's Coalition for a Just Peace and a long list of smaller groups. The Chrisitan Peace Makers Team - North American pacifists based in Hebron - were also present, as were a group of young German peaceniks.
They all came together near the local gas station - access to which is now denied to the villagers of Rantis - and started marching, holding shovels and raising banners in Hebrew and Arabic: "Together we will break through the closure". There were police and military forces waiting for them - the action had been publicised in advance, and no attempt made to keep it secret. However, even though a jeep was parked across the road, it was not difficult to get around it.
The organizers had been apprehensive of far greater difficulties at this stage. But a short march with banners flying, with the veteran Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom and Knesset Member Tamar Gozanski in the van, brought the activists - about 200 in number - to the scene of what they came to oppose. Two mounds of earth thrown across the Rantis access road, about a hundred metres from each other, and each one flanked by a trench roughly tearing up the asphalt.
Already for months, it is impossible for cars to pass through what had been the main artery for the 3000 inhabitants of Rantis. Somehwere near is where Taysir Isma'il Aldhabi died - a 37-year old villager who could not be taken in time for emergency medical treatment.
Shovels were immediately inserted into the earth, and work begun on demolishing the earthen barriers. Some villagers appeared from the other side, offering welcome and cool drinks, some taking up Gush Shalom's two-flag signs.
The police and army had followed the march, without interfering. But after ten minutes of demolition work on the barriers, the commander of the police detachment made an imperious demand: "You must stop this. The barrier was put up by the army, as authorized under the government's policy of closure".
"That is exactly why we are going to demolish this barrier - because it represents a brutal and inhuman government policy, a policy verging on war crime" replied Uri Avnery.
The police started to confiscate the shovels. Those holding them resisted passively, clinging to their tools and being dragged together with them into the waiting police van. Four were detained, while the other protesters chanted "This is a police state", "Down with the occupation" and "Closure is a war crime". Then they went on working - with bare hands.
It turned out that 200 pairs of hands could shift quite a lot of earth in a few hours. The mounds were leveled down, and the trenches filled with stones and earth. There seemed no way for the police and army to stop this, short of arresting everybody. They just hung around, some of them - especially the conscript soldiers with their blue berets - not unfriendly.
The Rantis villagers told of the desperate conditions in the village since it had come under siege: The bread-winners, 90% of whom used to work in Israel, are all unemployed; the olive groves, which provide the other economic mainstay, untended and unharvested since the army denies access to them; the village clinic closed, since the doctor cannot arrive; with most teachers unable to arrive, either, the local school is open only a few days per wer week, and not for all classes even then.
Some of the kids forced into truancy showed up at the site, too, enthusiastically joining the filling of the trench with stones. As was decided in advance, adult Palestinians did not join the work. The risk for them is immensely higher; in some West Bank villages, interefering with this kind of barrier had cost lives.
Meanwhile, settlers from the nearby settlement of Ofarim showed up, shouting abuse at the "Leftist Arab-lovers" and being answered in kind. "They are coming every day to harass us. They erect roadblocks of their own, in additional to those of the army" said one of the Rantis villagers.
At last, the road was opened - not exactly a smooth surface, but definitely navigable to cars. There was a short rally on the spot, and the Israelis piled back into the buses and cars. The four detainees were brought back from the police station, and surprisingly the police even gave back the confiscated shovels. They departed with high spirits, though in trepidation of what the army might do there after their departure.
For a few hours, indeed, the siege had been removed from the village. But late in the afternoon the army blocked the road again, this time with cubes of concrete, and for good measure the truck which brought these cubes trampled a nearby Palestinian-owned field. Also, a villager who had the temerity to use the reopened road to go with his car the short drive to the gas station got beaten up by the soldiers and the windows of his car smashed.
Of course, we knew that the army would come back there - but so will we, to this and other besieged villages and towns. The Israeli peace camp has embarked on a new road, not merely manifesting protest and opposition, but actively resisting injustice on the ground, defying the occupation's law which is in flagrant violation of International Law.
We do not share in the one-sided call for "an end to violence" made by Ariel Sharon, our new Prime Minister, and his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the famous Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. It is a call directed solely at the weaker party, the Palestinians, who are asked to stop their resistance to the occupation while the violence of occupation and siege is renewing itself every day.
Certainly there should be an end to violence - but to all violence. The occupation, the siege and closure, the establishing and extention of settlements are the source and root of violence.
For further details call:
Adam Keller (Gush Shalom) 03-5565804.
Rabbi Arik Asherman (Rabbis for Human Rights) 050-607034
Gila Svirsky (Women's coaltion for a Just Peace (053-334986)
Jeff Halper (Committee Against House Demolitions) 050-651425
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