Beit Omar – Part 2
So yes – how did it make us feel? Well – for my part – mostly afraid. You might have noticed that I’m posting these entries under the pseudonym of Startle10. This is a ‘hilarious’ reference to the fact that I startle ridiculously easily. Seriously, I’m like a squirrel. Startle Factor 10 is the startle response I reserve for when truly terrifying things happen. Like if a leaf falls on me. Or when my shadow jumps out of nowhere. So I’ll leave you to imagine your brave protagonist’s response to tear gas shells falling from the skies.
As we wrote in our report, the protest started peacefully. There were five of us international volunteers and before the march we met with the local ISM coordinator from the village who welcomed us into his home and fed us, showing the warmth and hospitality that we are finding everywhere we go.
We chatted and made a few protest placards in English, which we managed to keep hold of for all of 4 seconds when the march began, until a couple of Palestinian children asked if they could have them, disappearing gleefully into the crowd. And yes, there are children at these demonstrations; really young children of maybe 7 or 8 years old.
It’s the teenagers – or shebab – who are most involved in clashes with the Israeli troops. The soldiers use their array of sophisticated weaponry, the shebab throw stones.
As ISM volunteers we remain non-violent at all times. This is a tactic rather than an ideology. The Israeli armed forces would be delighted if we were to show aggression as it could be used as justification for an aggressive response. It’s precisely because ISM doesn’t and won’t use violence that makes the movement effective. So effective in fact that if the authorities at Tel Aviv airport suspect that you are in any way associated with ISM you will be refused entry to Israel. Think about that for a moment: they will refuse entry of activists from a legal and expressly non-violent humanitarian group.
So we don’t throw stones. But we will stand in solidarity with those who do. ISM is Palestinian led and it isn’t for us to prescribe how a people at the arse end of an apartheid should show their resistance.
The most utterly bewildering aspect of the Beit Omar protest was that even during the clashes everyday life was carrying on. Occasionally a car horn would beep impatiently and the protesters would move aside to let a car through so that a family could make their way home. Amidst the kind of civil unrest, that were it to happen in the UK, would have political commentators creaming themselves for a month – people were quietly going about their business. This is a daily resistance to a pervasive and consistent aggressor; life goes on.
For those of you mostly eager to know how Beth held up, like so often in life’s tighter squeezes she was brilliant. Vigilant and calm. And she joined in with a little boy in laughing at me when he stepped out of nowhere on our way back home, and I all but jumped through my skin.