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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

22 April 2001
Subject: More on the IDF response to nonviolent action


Here is an account of the Israeli army’s response to a different nonviolent action, this past Saturday. This comes from the Israeli organization Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, which sought to bring food and supplies to Palestinian villages under “closure” (siege). (“Area B” and “Area C” below refer to zones in the occupied territory that are under the security control of Israel, rather than the Palestinian Authority.) Don’t make do with the summary; the devil is in the details below.

Gila Svirsky



Yesterday, 21 April 2001, some 70 members of the Arab-Jewish Partnership, Ta’ayush, took 20 private cars and two loaded trucks of staples and food (estimated value NIS 50,000 = approx. $12,500) to the Occupied Territories, intending to unload them in two villages under closure in Areas B and C, as a mark of solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people. The convoy was detained and harassed several times along the way by Israeli police, and, after allowing the group into the first village (Yassouf), the IDF declared the area a “closed military zone” and employed force against the activists, attempting to interrupt the unloading of the food. The activists non-violently opposed the interruption and clarified that since the convoy was peaceful and had been coordinated in advance via the Palestinian DCO, their presence there was legal and the entry of IDF and Border Guards into the village (Area B) was provocative. One truck of food was successfully unloaded, and the activists marched with the Palestinian residents to the entry to the village, where the police arrested eight of the activists (one for allegedly attacking a policeman, and seven for sitting on the ground in protest against this arrest). The detainees were taken to a police station in the nearby Jewish settlement of Ariel, and the other activists waited at the station until all eight were released with no charges.

Detailed Account:

On 21 April 2001, Ta’ayush, a joint Arab-Jewish activist group against Israeli occupation and discrimination, based in Tel-Aviv, Kafr Qassem and ’Ar’ara, set out on an expedition to distribute food to two villages under closure in the West Bank (Kafr Yassouf and Kafr Marda, in Areas B and C respectively), as a mark of protest against Israeli occupation, the violent suppression of the Palestinian Uprising, and the policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian population.

The convoy set out after collecting financial donations and food in both Jewish and Arab areas in Israel – Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Jaljulia and Faradis.

The Jewish members of the group met in Tel-Aviv at 09:30, only to be greeted by members of police, who questioned the group as to numbers, destination, and political identity. At 10:00, the group continued to Kafr Qassem and met the Arab members of the group (from Kafr Qassem, ’Ar’ara, Jaljulia and Faradis), and loaded food onto cars and trucks.

The expedition set out close to noon, in a convoy of 20 cars and two trucks loaded with food and clothes. Very early in the journey, the convoy was stopped by police, asked what its destination and intentions were, and told they were “obstructing traffic” by driving too slowly. The convoy continued at a faster pace, only to be stopped further along the road at a roadblock, where they were asked again what their destination was. The convoy was allowed to pass through into the Occupied Territories, after explaining that it intended to unload food in villages in Areas B and C. Some minutes later, the convoy was stopped a third time by police (by this time the convoy was being “accompanied” by at least four police vehicles, and several army jeeps). This time the lead driver was stopped for driving too slowly, and without his back right-hand brake blinker. The convoy was detained for about half an hour, at the end of which the driver was given a ticket [for 105 NIS ($25)], had his vehicle registration confiscated, and was instructed to report to the nearest Israeli police headquarters (in the Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank) within 48 hours, to prove he “had repaired his car.”

A police car then drove at high speed behind the lead car in the convoy to make sure it did not “obstruct traffic.”

The convoy arrived at the entry to the village of Kafr Yassouf (Area B), passing a recently-opened barrier of cement blocks – a barrier periodically closed by the IDF in order to impede passage of Palestinian vehicles in the region. After the first few cars had passed through, the remainder were detained by police, Border Guards and IDF, who claimed they were entering Area A illegally. After clarifying that the village was in Area B, and that the convoy had been coordinated via the Palestinian DCO (District Coordinating Office) with the Israeli army – the convoy was allowed to enter the village.

Ta’ayush members were received warmly by representatives of the village council, who spoke in favour of this joint Jewish-Arab venture, welcomed the solidarity of Jewish Israelis, and told of the devastating impact of the ongoing Israeli violent suppression of the Palestinian uprising, and of the suffering caused by the closures policy. Members of Ta’ayush spoke, reciprocating with protest against the occupation and the closure, and calling for a future of justice and equality.

The group continued to the village storehouse, where they proceeded to unload food from one of the trucks. Activists and residents of the village formed a line, passing food from hand to hand.

While unloading was still underway, a large group of border police and IDF forces arrived, immediately mounting the truck and forcibly pushing activists off it. They activated sirens, pushed and sometimes struck members of the group and residents of the village, took the driver out of the truck and confiscated his documents, and attempted to drive the truck on, in order to stop the unloading activities. The group apposed the interruption non-violently, accelerating the unloading, holding on to the truck, and shouting to the forces that they were provocative and unnecessarily violent, since the village was in Area B, and the convoy was fully coordinated and non-violent. The army replied that they had now declared the area a “closed military zone,” and therefore the group’s presence there was now illegal (so the zone had changed status after the group had entered). The group succeeded in unloading the contents of one truck. After negotiations, the army stopped attempting to expel the group forcibly and it was agreed they would march out of the village undisturbed. The activists marched, on foot, with the Palestinian residents, for about 20 minutes, shouting slogans against the occupation and for Jewish-Arab brotherhood. The Palestinian residents on the way cheered them on.

At the entry to the village the Israeli police were waiting. They immediately arrested one Arab citizen of Israel, Wajih Sidawi, claiming he had assaulted a policeman. The activists contested this, saying that international press had all events on film, and it would be clear that the allegation was untrue. They tried to enter the police jeep with Wajih, claiming that they were just as liable for arrest as he. All the activists sat on the floor and opposed arrest. Seven more activists were arrested: Professor Zvi Razi, Dr. Gadi Algazi, Yasmine HaLevi, Alon Marcus, Or Gerlitz, Shachar Alonsky, and Hila Dayan – for “opposing arrest” and “disrupting police activity.” The driver of the truck was released on site with a ticket for driving without a “new driver” sign, and for transporting “a girl sitting in a dangerous manner on the merchandise” (70 and 190 NIS, respectively). At about 18:00 the detainees were taken to the nearby police headquarters in the Jewish settlement of Ariel. Attorney Dana Alexander joined them in order to represent them. All the activists followed and waited outside. The group activated Members of Knesset, journalists and media, as well as lawyers. All eight were finally released – with no charges – at approximately 23:00. Two, Or Gerlitz and Prof. Zvi Razi, were requested to sign an agreement not to violate a Major-General’s orders in the future.

This was the third convoy of food taken into the Occupied Territories by Ta’ayush since the start of the Al-Aqsa Uprising. Since the last convoy – which was conducted immediately after the elections, and before PM Sharon had completed his coalition – there has been a very clear escalation in the approach of the security forces to peace activists in the Occupied Territories. The harassment by the police from the start of the action was unprecedented, as was the sudden and unexplained violence of the security forces to a non-violent activity. Similar instances have occurred over the past few weeks – most prominently the arrest by force of 14 peace activists last Wednesday during a Coalition of Women for Peace/Rabbis for Human Rights/Gush-Shalom activity to dismantle a roadblock in the West Bank, in the course of which one activist was injured.

Another characteristic of the security forces’ attitude yesterday was a clear intention to separate – to cause separation between Jews and Arabs during the action itself; and separation between Israeli society and the Palestinian population in the West Bank. During acts of protest, separation isolates Arab demonstrators from Jewish activists – enabling forces to arrest or attack Arabs with greater ease and impunity. The latter, more general separation, effectively neutralizes the access of Israelis to true accounts of reality on the ground in the Occupied Territories, and serves Israeli militarist policies vis-á-vis the Palestinians.

Ta’ayush will continue its joint Jewish-Arab convoys to areas under closure. The Palestinian response to the action – both in the village and in the Palestinian media – shows that such activities have a real impact, when a different voice from that marketed by the Israeli consensus and media is heard.

Donations to Ta’ayush for food can be deposited to bank account no. 396608, Bank Hapoalim, Ramat Aviv Branch (606). From overseas: Bank Hapoalim, Swift code POALILITA (Ramat Aviv branch), 12-606-396608. You can also send checks to Ta’ayush, to Miri Weingarten, 63 Gordon St., Tel-Aviv, Israel (please add an explanatory note).

Letters of protest against the conduct of IDF, Border Guards and Israeli Police can be sent by fax to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (fax 972-2-6705415, 972-2-5664838), Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer (fax 972-3-6976218, 972-3-6976717), Internal Security Minister (Police Minister) Uzi Landau (fax 972-2-5811832, 972-2-5811832).

Miri Weingarten, (w) 03-5664526, (h) 03-5240166
Tally Shafer, 058-262646
Gadi Algazi, 03-6997718
Gerardo Leibner, 03-7391978

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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© 2001 Gila Svirsky, Ta’ayush.

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