Qalandia town and refugee camp, home to a notorious checkpoint separating Jerusalem from the northern West Bank, has a somewhat scary reputation as a place where the “shebab” (young guys with over-active throwing arms) are likely to chuck stones in the direction of the soldiers/ police—no matter what their elders might ask of them—thereby giving their “targets”, although far out of throwing range, the excuse they’d be looking for to move from the merely unpleasant (“skunk water”, tear gas, the generation of ear-splitting [at least for the under-thirty majority] noise, and the occasional “sound bomb”) to the injurious and potentially lethal – rubber-coated steel pellets euphemistically referred to as “rubber bullets” and live ammunition. That’s where the March 30 Global March to Jerusalem (GFM2J) events for the Ramallah-area were scheduled to take place, and Ramallah was where I had decided to participate in the GM2J.
I arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning (the 28th) and passed through passport control with none of the difficulties I’d imagined I might encounter due to the fact of my name having appeared as representing IJV-Canada on the March on at least four websites (well, five, if you count my own), not all of them friendly. Maybe the Shabak (Israeli secret police) don’t read all our internal communications, after all . . .) After spending the day visiting and e-mailing and sleeping, I ventured to enter Ramallah on Thursday. Again my apprehensions–“They’ll stop me at the check point and discover that I hold Israeli as well as Canadian citizenship and will either fine me for attempting to enter the forbidden-to-Israelis “Area A” or (far more likely) refuse me entry, at least until after the March”–were misplaced. In fact, the Palestinian bus I was riding in wasn’t even checked (apparently the common practice at that checkpoint, in that direction these days) and in I went..
The ISM media office /apartment where I was scheduled to spend the next couple of weeks being inundated with visiting activists, I got to stay, at least for a couple of days, with Neta Golan and her young and growing family (pictures in a future post, I promise).
There is no ISM (International Solidarity Movement) group as such in Ramallah, but for the GM2J-related demonstration today, about a dozen ISMers and friends of the ISM descended on the apartment that houses the ISM Media Office here from West Bank cities as far north as Nablus and Jenin and as far south as Hebron. The preparation meeting last night was well-run and extremely helpful, and included nonjudgemental self-evaluation of our “level of comfort” with proposed roles in the demonstration, pairing up with “buddies” to watch out for each other at the demo, formation of small affinity groups, and a role-play of “dearresting” of self and others, including tips on “best practices” from a couple of the more experienced activists (I’m talking about folks with months of residence in West Bank hotspots and multiple demos). I left that meeting much reassured, despite Qalandia’s reputation as a “hot spot” and history of wounded demonstrators.
In short supply, however—both at that meeting and as far as I could see, at the demonstration itself—were significant numbers of internationals, on a scale even minimally comparable to the many thousands who were expected to converge on the states bordering the Palestinian territories for the GM2J events; e.g., in Lebanon, Jordan, and possibly Syria. I don’t know what the situation was at other sites in the West Bank (not to mention Gaza), but Rana and I from Canada and a former ISMer from Scotland who was there on other business–and of course the dozen or so folks camped at the ISM office–were the only ones in evidence at Qalandia Refugee Camp today after noon-time prayers.
I haven’t yet heard or read detailed accounts of the other demonstrations, but the fact that only one fatality has so far been reported (despite multiple woundings, many of them at Qalandia) suggests that perhaps a combination of the numbers of internationals and the high media profile the multinational reporting generated for the GMJ may indeed have had the desired effect of making it safer for the Palestinian demonstrators.
Nonetheless, the dearth of internationals at Qalandia was a disappointment. Another disheartening aspect of today’s demonstration—besides this and the perhaps predictable period of stone-throwing by the abovementioned over-exuberant shebab (admonitions from Abdullah Abu Rahmah from Bil’in, and perhaps others, to stop notwithstanding), which led to the predictable response—was a fight witnessed by one of my seat-mates in the service-taxi back to Ramallah, between members of rival Palestinian factions over who would lead the march toward the checkpoint, in which an ambulance was damaged and its patient beaten (rumour has it that the patient in question was Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, leader of one of the “warring” factions). This blog on the independent 972 Magazine site (http://972mag.com/land-day-at-qalandia-falls-flat/39695/) captures the feel of the demo at Qalandia accurately, at least as it felt to me.
My personal experience, by contrast, was a pleasant surprise. I had an attentive and reassuring “buddy” in the person of an experienced ISM organizer. I learned (also from her) that alcohol-impregnated hand-sanitizer wipes combined with a bandana or (in my case) a doubled-over T-shirt over one’s nose provided amazingly effective protection from the ultra-irritating form of teargas used in recent years (imagine mixing “regular” tear gas with pepper spray and you about have it); and to my surprise, repeat exposures seemed to have a decreasing effect on me (or maybe the wind-aided fast dispersal of the gas was just doing its job), and I didn’t break and run. Maybe—just maybe-I might even chance the Friday the thirteenth demo that will cap the upcoming Bil’in International Conference (April 10 – 13); or maybe I’ll just pay another visit to Beit Ummar and hope this time to experience one of their purportedly stone-throwing-free demos.
Meanwhile, for an overview of Qalandia and some other demonsrations today, check out http://blogs.aljazeera.net/liveblog/Land-Day and http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/03/201233018384736481.html
And this video clip from the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/thousands-protest-israel-gaza-man-killed-122/2012/03/30/gIQArKjplS_video.html
The rest of my Qalandia photos are at https://picasaweb.google.com/maxinekaufmanlacusta3/GM2JAtQalandia?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCLPG9dL4h7Hv7gE&feat=directlink
Dorothy Naor of New Profile sent the following links:
The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2012/mar/30/land-day-protests-israel-palestine
LA Times http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/03/palestinians-and-israeli-soldiers-clash-amid-heightened-border-tension.html
Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=264164