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By Amir Bitan:
Last Thursday I had an unsettling experience. I did not fully grasp what had happened, and even now I’m not sure I fully do. I am certain, though, that I am neither the first or the last to experience such traumatic events firsthand.
On Thursday, I joined a few dozens of Palestinians from the nonviolent resistance movement against the occupation in erecting a protest tent just by an Israeli outpost. We were protesting several things, but especially the demolition of homes (32 structures were demolished over the past few months in the area) and the establishment of outposts and settlements, which make the lives of Palestinian residents miserable. Our protest was termed an illegal demonstration by Israeli police and soldiers. Any gathering of over ten people in the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) is illegal and can be dispersed.
After approximately 4 hours we were assaulted very violently, beaten with rifle butts, stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Two Israelis were arrested, 4 Palestinians were taken to hospital and several other people treated on the spot.
I have experienced pushing, beatings in various forms, stun and tear gas grenades (and other such means), and while these types of violence are unpleasant, this time soldiers shot rubber bullets from close range, close enough to cause serious injury. Fired from close range, rubber bullets can kill. The shooting on Thursday wasn’t directed at me but at Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, one of the leaders of the nonviolent struggle in Bil’in. Just seconds before he was shot at, Abdallah was sprayed in the face with pepper gas by a lieutenant colonel who lost his wits. Abdallah ran down the hill towards the ambulance.
As he ran, one of the soldiers asked: “Should I fire at him with rubber [bullets]?” The officer responded: “Fire rubber at him, rip him apart…” Shooting at a wounded person (pepper spray causes horrible pain) in the back at close range is uncalled for; it is a punitive measure, or in less polite terms, an attempt to severely wound, and even “rip a person apart”. I was only able to think about preventing the shooting and the only solution was to stand between the shooter and Abdallah. I was certain that because I was holding a camera and look like an Israeli or someone from abroad the soldier would think twice before shooting. I was mistaken. The soldier shot and miraculously missed Abdallah and myself. The officer who earlier lots his wits decided to punish me too, and he ran towards me, spraying me in the face with pepper gas. As I wrote before, it was horribly painful.
Why am I telling you this? You are most likely not to have heard about this incident. Every week scores of incidents occur in the Occupied Territories by Israeli soldiers and settlers against Palestinians and human rights activities. Few, if any, reach the Israeli media.
Things are getting worse, you have to understand this. Israel is backing the Palestinian population into a corner, especially people living in what is called Area C. There is very little counter-violence because in the past years, Palestinians have realized that violence has not helped their cause. But without any chance of a normal life (I’m not even saying the end of occupation), house demolitions, prevention of water and electricity, takeover of their land, and more and more, severe violence could erupt.
One more thing. Human rights activists are being targeted. This time, soldiers shot rubber bullets and missed, and used pepper spray; tomorrow they will use live ammunition. We are not far from this day.