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Small Stories from a Big Demonstration – ‘Ara against Ethnic Cleansing in the Naqab

In 15/7/2013 the day of rage against the Prawer plan was declared by the High Follow-Up Committee – the official leadership of the ’48 occupied Palestinians. As described in a previous post, it was Al-Shabab Al-Watani (the Patriotic Youth  – a social milieu, not any formal entity) that made this day a success.

The 1/8 Rage Day was initiated by the same youth to keep the momentum of struggle. There was no organizing body, no official leadership. The date, the political slogans and the timing of the demonstrations were all set through events on Facebook. Soon everybody that have a Facebook account and some consciousness started to publish details of the Prawer plan and calls for action.

Powerful Momentum

The youthful spirit proved very effective. Many groups met in different places to organize.

Determined not to stay this time in the virtual world, the youth prepared a special hard-copy leaflet – and it was a special leaflet with visual illustration of the meaning of the Prawer plan:

  • Confiscation of 800,000 dunam (200,000 acres) of Arab land.
  • Second Nakba.
  • Expulsion of 40,000 Arab people from the homes.
  • Ethnic Cleansing.
  • Destroying 40 Arab villages.
  • Concentration of the Arab that constitute 30% of the Naqab residents on 1% of its land.

This leaflet was divided in tens of thousands of copies all over the county, with the activists making a point of speaking with ordinary folk to raise awareness. Being so well designed, this special leaflet was really read in many homes (unlike the sorry fate of most leaflets).

In Haifa the momentum that was created toward 1/8 enabled the establishment of a “Popular Committee”, which brought together most of the parties that are active within the Arab population, as well as many local movements and NGO’s, with the youth activists taking the initiative and keeping a strong influence. It came after a long period that the Arab Parties and the youth activist hardly worked together. (If you know Arabic you can read the declaration about the establishment of the Haifa Popular Committee.) On Tuesday 30/7 the Haifa committee organized a pre-1/8 demonstration in Carmel Avenue – the main street of the tourists’ German Colony quarter – that was well attended.

In another sign of the youthful and creative spirit of the organizers, they started also a special Facebook event in Hebrew to talk with the Jewish public, explain the injustice of the Prawer plan in facts and reason and mobilize support.

Going to ‘Ara

There were two demonstrations designated for Thursday, 1/8 – one in the Naqab itself and the other in the ‘Ara-‘Ar’ara junction along the 65 highway from Tel Aviv to the north. The organizers decided that the people from the north, Haifa included, will go to ‘Ara. People were calling to reserve places on the bus, so the organizers knew they need another bus.

We waited for the second bus, which came late, and we waited more on the 65 road north as traffic was jammed. Well, it is jammed every day at 17:00 as tens of thousands of workers make their way home from the central area, but it was jammed more, if not because the demonstrations blocked the road than at least because the concentration of police forces caused havoc. About a kilometer before the location of the demonstration we abandoned the bus, took our Palestinian flags and Anti-Prawer slogans and started walking along the street.

When we reached the junction we saw that a big police force, with the help of the frightening horses, was holding the demonstrators, almost a thousand of them, on the main entrance to ‘Ar’ara, some 50 meters off the main street.

For half an hour the people from the late Haifa bus were almost the only demonstrators that were really near the traffic lights on the main road, and they gave the police lessons in civil disobedience.

“Silmiya” – Peaceful Resistance

First, before the police organized to confront the new group, some youth were sitting on the crosswalk, blocking the traffic. Soon a police force organized and dragged the youth out of the street, beating them, but both sides avoided a full confrontation and the demonstration re-organized few meters off the street.

Then, confronted with a superior police force the small demonstration moved along the road, approaching the street at another point. The police reorganize to close the line in front of us. This backward and forward dance was repeated several times.

Later there appeared a group local youth that came from a small alley at our back. The police left us altogether and went to chase them. Our small demonstration went back to the main street, causing some disruption, but now with the intention to finish our solo performance and join the bigger body of demonstrators behind the police’s barricades.

Beaten for avoiding confrontation

After being wounded by 3 stun grenades in Shakhnin on 15/7, I came this time determined to be careful and avoid any major confrontation. When the youth sat in the middle of the street I stood aside. When they were pushed off the street I was for some time the only demonstrator that stayed just near the traffic light, but when a young policeman came to me and told me quietly: “You are and old man, I don’t want to push you, so go and stand with the group”, I evaluated my options and obeyed.

When the demonstration went again to the main street and crossed it – I joined – but was in the rear. When I found myself with another demonstrator in the traffic island, when everybody else already crossed the street and there was a red light for us – I preferred to stay and wait for the green light.

But then there happened a miracle. The police didn’t want us separated from the group of demonstrators – so they blocked the traffic and instructed the two of us to cross. For once, by my choice to be quite and law abiding, I cause another irregular stoppage of the traffic in the main road.

The police was bored of chasing us around the junction, so they now decided to push all the late comers to join the main demonstration. They organized a line and started pushing. Some people tried to stand their ground, claiming that they did nothing illegal, that they have the right to demonstrate.

One demonstrator was explaining a policeman: “Don’t push me there, it is a dangerous place. There are policemen on horses there”.

I stayed faithful to my decision to avoid confrontation, so when the police organized the line I simple move aside. Soon, many demonstrators, instead of pushing back at the police or being push, simply dispersed. Somehow we were demonstrating near the main street again.

When, for the 3rd time, the police organized the line again and started pushing, some of them were already really angry. This time I felt the danger and really moved away… One old policeman in blue uniform, probably a high ranking officer, decided that it would be appropriate for him as an old man to beat me, like police-women can lawfully beat female demonstrators. So he chased me, tore my shirt, beat me and threw me on the ground.

It was a final proof that my head is made of pure stone – I heard the sound of the back of my skull hitting the pavement but I hardly felt anything.

Soon I was surrounded by tens of youth caring for me, while on the other side the police was organizing their line again and starting to push. When they reached me some of the youth were shouting at them: “See what you did to him, he will die!” At that moment the police stopped pushing to asses the situation and the brave correspondent of the Arabic “radio a-shams” pushed a microphone at me, still lying on the ground: “May I interview you?”

To avoid any farther dramatization of the scene I allowed two policemen and a few caring youth to raise me and take me away, apparently not dead…

Gas and Stones

After some time I joined the main body of the demonstration. It was a very tense confrontation with policemen and demonstrators pushing each other along the line. It could hardly end without flaring up.

In the rear of the demonstration I had a good opportunity to say hello to many good friends and hear some of the traditional leaders calling desperately whoever they know from the youth: “Is there nobody that can stop it and let the Shabab go home? Is it not already enough?”

After some time it flared up with gas and stones. The police was catching demonstrators, journalists and bystanders, beating them and arresting them. The cloud of thick gas in the main street, between shops and homes, sent everybody crying and fleeing away.

I made the mistake to run away, with many others, in the direction of the wind, so the gas was chasing us. Soon somebody gave me an onion. I chewed some of it and my felt better. After the gas was dispersed by the wind, I limped back to the main street. Now the main street and the streets leading to it were full of people. Apparently, many people from ‘Ara and ‘Ar’ara, who didn’t come to the demonstration in the first place, came out to the sound and the smell.

20 people were detained. Most of them were beaten badly. Some of them were also beaten after they were arrested. Some were just beaten and thrown away without even being brought to the police station. On Friday morning the rest of the detainees, 10 of them, were brought to the Haifa court. The police requested to extend their detention for 5 days to continue their interrogation on charges of assaulting policemen. They detainees showed the signs of beating on their bodies to the judge. Adalah, as usual, did a great job for the defense. All were sent to house detention.

How I missed my flight to space?

On Thursday night I went to the emergency clinics for medical examination. As I told the Russian doctor that I was beaten by the police, he checked me in a hurry and wrote down that all is well. If I would want a medical clearance to be the next Astronaut to go to space – it was my day to get it. I was so confused that I missed my chance.