After the tour of the wall, we gather to meet in a large municipal community room, U shaped table, ceiling fans stirring the hot air, thin young men in jeans sit near older men, some heavy set, mostly from Budrus, (population 1600,) and nearby Qibya. There is embroidery on the walls, large faded posters. A group of young women students arrive, each more beautiful in artistically draped, colorful hijabs and long coats; they sit in their own circle in the back, “by choice” we are assured by an older male English teacher.
Ayad expresses his warm feelings that we are visiting and outlines general introductions and the history of struggle that resounds from village to village, the understanding that Palestinians have learned from the US civil rights movement, although they have to express their resistance in their own particular way. We learn from the popular committee that the adjacent village of Qibya was the site of a horrific massacre in 1953 when the IDF entered, led by Ariel Sharon, and killed 77 Palestinians in an attempt to drive them from their land. They are still here. I look at the surrounding faces, wrinkled sun-cracked farmers, sweet young men, hungry nervous looks, a friendly shy smile, eyes hardened from years of difficulty, easy hugging and warm physicality among the young men. A few men are rolling tobacco and smoking, others sip Coke or Orange soda, as we all feast on rice, chicken, and vegetables prepared by Nami, Ayad’s wife, and a number of other village women and daughters who are not at the meeting.
Ayad explains that in 2003 there were three checkpoints between Budrus and the “mother city” of Ramallah, and people often waited at least one hour at each checkpoint. The solders would demand that he stand ten meters from his car, take off his clothes, turn around, and this ritual was repeated at each checkpoint. When in 2003 the Israelis began building the apartheid wall in Budrus, uprooting trees and tearing a path through their farmland, the people decided to take the path of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. They decided to struggle, but not to kill, to create political pressure to convince the world that they are not terrorists, are not against Israelis or Jews, but against occupation.
On the first day of the demonstration, an Israeli said to Ayad, “Are you crazy? What you are doing here? You think a small village can change Israeli governmental decision?” The villagers jumped on the bulldozers that were protected by three soldiers, 30 minutes later, seven border police jeeps arrived and the bulldozers turned away. The next day many more men, women and children came, chanting, “We can do it, we can do is,” faced down by many more soldiers. As the struggle continued, sometimes they demonstrated daily, or three times per day, or weekly, a fierce battle of endurance between bodies and bulldozers. The IDF killed a 17 year old boy, 200 people were injured, 150 arrested. Ayad and others spent years in and out of jail, the village was often under curfew. Ayad talks about the price of nonviolent struggle, “We must be ready to pray this price; freedom is expensive. We were very sorry to lose this kid, all the people in the village crying, a huge funeral, three days condolences, and then we must keep going.”
A seven to 16 member committee met daily in open meetings, but the media didn’t arrive until 70 Palestinians and seven IDF soldiers were injured. After that, reporters from all over the world starting showing up and internationals from 35 countries including Israelis, came to support the effort. After a long struggle, the fence finally was moved close to the Green Line, 1200 dunams and 3000 olive trees were saved, and the nonviolent resistance movement spread to other villages threatened by the wall.
Ayad explains that the goal of these efforts is to live as normal human beings, with justice, peace, and freedom between equal people. He understands that Netanyahu wants peace between a slave and a master and he will never accept that. The popular committee also understands that the struggle needs everyone. In Budrus, the committee reached out to the women of the community, “We opened the doors” to the women and discovered they didn’t need much encouragement. Most of the demonstrators were women and the media focused on them because this was so strange and because they were so brave and strong. People would ask, “Where are the men?” The women inspired their men both to outdo them and also to protect them from the IDF, (this being a conservative culture in the men not touching women department).
Ayad tells us that at first the women wanted to march alone, but Ayad felt very responsible and decided to accompany them. It was pouring, one woman carrying a child in the rain. He urged them to go back, “You’ve made your point,” but the women claimed they were as brave as the men and kept marching, soon reaching bulldozers and workers. Again he urged them to go home, but they said, “Let us stop that truck,” which was filled with stones. The women ran and jumped in the way and ultimately the truck gave up and all the bulldozers followed him. I think of the film, Budrus, and Ayad’s daughter standing directly in front of a massive bulldozer, putting her body and her life on the line. She is now studying abroad to become a physician and he is proud.
In this part of the world, darkness comes suddenly and we walk to Ayad’s graceful house, lit up at the end of a dusty road. At first I think it is a school or municipal building with its elegant, arched windows and dramatic lighting, but he explains that he is an engineer and he and his family have been working on the house for seven years. The outdoor garden looks like a little Garden of Eden, with limes, lemons, pomelos, grapefruit and other lush fruit trees, a palm tree in the middle, lower branches trimmed to create an arched canopy of wide fronds, bougainvillea, and splashes of flowers, another family project. A welcome coolness settles in and we can see a Jewish settlement lighting up on the next hill. There is a call to prayer and later boisterously loud wedding music nearby.
After another over-the-top Palestinian meal, (cooked by the same women who we now get to meet, thank, engage, embrace) we join in conversation with a group of Israeli and US activists, to share the work of the Dorothy Cotton Institute, and to struggle with the issues at hand, while dogs bark, cats howl, and an occasional motor cycle drowns us out. Kobi Snitz explains that for Israelis the movement is defined by Israelis joining on the ground struggle in solidarity with Palestinians fighting for their human rights. This has been transforming and invigorating for the Israeli peace movement. A rich dialogue ensues: each Israeli talks about the transformative process that opened his or her eyes to the brutality of Israeli occupation, whether an event, (attack on Gaza), a personal experience, (serving in the army, doing media work for an NGO), seeing the movie Budrus, participating in a group (Machsom Watch, Taayush). We explore the meaning of privilege, the challenge of being inclusive, the lack of mindfulness and spirituality in the movement, the role of Anarchists Against the Wall (and how they chose their name), the shock of discovering the realities and that soldiers and settlers are much more frightening and dangerous than the Palestinians they had been taught to distrust and despise.
More older Palestinian relatives and friends pull up chairs and the smell of smoke and roses permeates the air. Ayad explains that to be organizer, he must be responsible and strategic, must know the details of the culture. The people are full of anger and oppression. It is not enough to choose nonviolence “because we are polite; it is a more useful tactic and more powerful and it will stress the enemy more.” It is not easy to snake through the sensitivity of different partners, and factions, but strong leader believe in partners. He sees the role of Israelis, (a relationship which is fraught with difficulties), must be based on trust between people and leadership. In the popular committees, the people must trust each other, to work in solidarity. Palestinians know Israelis are settlers and soldiers; they know there are others but don’t see them. Ayad decided to take a risk and open the doors to Israeli solidarity and he immediately knew how useful and how welcome they would be. When the Israelis were deeply upset after their first demonstration, they did not want to return home, he knew that he had made a good decision; this would be a strong alliance.
Our conversation moves on to how to create a tipping point where societies change even when the individuals within that society may not have changed, (think the Egyptian leader, Sadat coming to Israel or civil or gay rights legislation in the US). We end reflecting on the politics of fear which is the same in our own country and “the tool of empire.” We examine the weariness of popular struggles, the effectiveness of the IDF, the impact of constant intimidation, incursions, arrests and detention, the lack of emotional and physical reserves in the village populace and the absence of support from the cities.
Our African American elders begin speaking from the deep well of their experience. We are reminded that we don’t know when the next big wave is coming; we need to keep building capacity, we cannot predict where breaks will come and we have to be prepared and ready for those breaks: the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955, then Rosa Parks refusal to sit in the back of the bus, her act of courage growing out of a connection to a black women’s organization and a long yearning for change. When King came, people asked him to represent them. “You have control over staying ready and not let despair and hopelessness beat you down. Be ready because we need our countries to be different….Once you take your enemies hope away, they are defeated.”
It is late, the Israelis need to head back and we need to find our home stays where we are warmly greeted, fed again, and play with a cast of lively children. Soon I am asleep on a Dora the Explorer bedspread, curled up in what is obviously the four girls’ bedroom with two of my sisters in struggle, dreaming of our extraordinary day.
Reports reflect the views of the individuals writing them and do not necessarily represent the Dorothy Cotton Institute, the Center for Transformative Action, Interfaith Peace Builders or other delegates or the organizations with which they are affiliated.