Friday, October 21, 2011

Bil'in Demo-Ashraf gets detained

I'm sitting in a cafe in Ramallah with my friend Moheeb and three Turkish reporters. We're on our way to Kobar soon to see some of the prisoners that were released in the Gilad Shalit swap. This should be interesting.

Today I was fortunate enough to find a Service taxi from Deir Jareer to Ramallah, and Ramallah to Bil'in. This can be a tricky business on Fridays. I met Moheeb in Ramallah and we headed up to Bil'in, through a different route. We were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, and Moheeb told me to tell the soldiers, if they asked me, that I was going to Harbatha to make olive oil. Not to Bil'in. My stomach churned in anticipation of this lie, but the soldiers waved us through.

Today's demonstration in Bil'in was more spread out than usual. There were about 40 people there, and the shabab (youth) went straight for a different side of the wall, because they saw the soldiers gathered there before we got to Abu Lemon (the nature reserve next to the settlement where the village maintains a presence with a few one-room shacks). I joined up with the boys next to the wall, but they were throwing stones and I knew they were going to get gassed, so I joined most of the other internationals, who were standing around Abu Lemon. Then I thought I should get some footage of the gas, so I kept going back and forth. There was a system to it, you keep your eye on where the soldiers are shooting, and which direction the wind is blowing, and you don't have to breathe any gas. But the wind kept changing direction, and the cat-and-mouse game got tiring. I hadn't eaten or drank any water, and my shoes weren't good for blind rock scrambling, so I set up camp on a hill overlooking the boys and soldiers. A lot of the boys had gas masks, so they just kept throwing stones through the gas, and even lobbed the canisters back over the wall. They have to be careful because the canisters are really hot.

Two things were different today. The canisters ignited A LOT of fires. Usually there was a small brush fire, but this time the trees themselves caught fire. It was a terrible sound, this dry, crinkly whoosh and the olive branches were up in flames. One fire would die out, then the soldiers would shoot more gas into the same area, where there were no people, and the fire would spread further. I wanted to run down and help put it out, but I wouldn't have gotten far in the gas. I wished I had a mask.

The second thing. Once the shebab had left, the internationals and journalists were starting to head back, when three army jeeps from over the hill towards us. The Turkish reporter said, "Let's go...there's nothing to be afraid of, we're just internationals." They said the soldiers were looking for some of the boys in Abu Lemon, and I could see Ashraf running towards the jeeps with his flags. We started following them into Abu Lemon, and I wasn't sure if they were arresting villagers or foreigners, but one foreigner had his hands up. Moheeb waved me away, I didn't have a Press pass. Three reporters caught up to me and said, "why are you waiting?" I followed them to the soldiers. There were about a dozen of them from three jeeps, and the internationals were asking them questions. They'd arrested Ashraf. I stood around the semi-circle of foreigners, wanting to shout something like "why did you take Ashraf??" Later I thought I could've busted out "Ma pitom!", the Hebrew equivalent of "wtf!!" One of our visitors to Al Aqaba had taught me this...

They took Ashraf away behind the wall, and the other two jeeps proceeded over the hill to Bil'in, presumably to look for shebab who were throwing stones. We saw them rambling through the village on our way back.

Moheeb and the Turkish folks went to Abdullah's house to do another interview, after they'd talked to Ashraf's friend, a law intern who had confronted the commanding Israeli officer. He said he'd been with Ashraf the whole time, and Ashraf hadn't thrown stones, he'd only held his flag, from the beginning to the end. Because he was accused of throwing stones, he could be detained behind the wall for an hour, a day, a week, or months without charge. This is administrative detention under the Occupation, and it applies to Palestinians only.

I went to the committee office to collect my bag and help Kefah edit the weekly report. After I'd been there for ten minutes by myself, Kefah came in and collapsed on the couch. The army jeeps had followed him and his friend, and he'd ducked into a house to change his clothes. One of the soldiers had threatened his friend and pointed a gun at him from the jeep. That's the last we knew of him.

Half and hour later, I was crammed into a taxi with six people, heading to Ramallah, while everyone argued about Turkey and Palestine and Erdogan and his policy towards the Kurds. It was mostly Moheeb shouting at everyone else. He'd been in Iraqi prison for four years and had his peace to speak, but by the time we reached Ramallah, our brains (as well as our butts) were numb from that attempt to have a civilized debate.

So here we are, in a cafe on a Friday night, the Turks are uploading videos and writing reports, men are smoking argheelah everywhere and I'm not sure what's going to happen next. Just assuming that since it's already dark, I have a place to stay in Kobar.

"Yalla!" our friend says...and off we go...