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In Bab Al-Shams, Palestinians create new facts on the ground

‘What made Bab Al-Shams significant was the fact that it asserted that Palestinian activists would not simply react to injustices the occupation laid at our doorstep, but that we were determined to create our own realities on the ground.’

By Irene Nasser

Palestinian youth marching to join the Bab AlShams village. (photo: Activestills)

Last week, I witnessed a remarkable victory for Palestinian unarmed civil resistance. Over a frigid January weekend, I joined hundreds of Palestinians in establishing Bab Al-Shams (literally ‘Gate of the Sun’), a new Palestinian village, erected on private Palestinian land near Jerusalem in the territory known as E1, which Israel has controversially slated for future settlement growth.

The planning, coordination and discipline that went into this action were extraordinary. The exact plans were kept as a closely guarded secret until the last moment, when they were revealed to activists who gathered for a supposed planning camp in Jericho. Those who opted to participate boarded buses and began work on constructing the village. When we arrived at the site, tents were quickly erected, electricity connected, and a media center and clinic set up. On the owners’ behalf, lawyers obtained an injunction from Israel’s High Court barring our immediate evacuation. We held discussions and strategy sessions, as Bab Al-Shams provided the rare opportunity for Palestinian women and men from throughout Palestine to meet face to face. Before long, we were met by others who had run for miles through the hills, bypassing an Israeli cordon to join us.

Forty-eight hours later, in the middle of the night, after the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office argued before the court that we posed an extreme security threat, hundreds of Israeli Police special forces arrived to evict Bab Al-Shams – proving that acts of unarmed civil resistance are often the most disquieting to those bent on domination and intimidation.

Throughout our time in Bab Al-Shams, local and international media covered our story intensively, recognizing it for the act of creative, strategic nonviolence that it was, while numerous messages of support poured in through social media, phone calls and text messages. Seeing how Bab Al-Shams brought a new sense of optimism and hope to people around the world helped us endure the bitterly cold nights and violent evacuation by the Israeli forces.

But it was not just the level of organization and discipline that set Bab Al-Shams apart, nor the media interest that catapulted our story into headlines around the world. What made Bab Al-Shams significant was the fact that it asserted that we, as Palestinian activists, would not simply react to injustices the occupation laid at our doorstep, but that we were determined to create our own realities on the ground. With our own hands, we would lay the foundation for a society that is not rooted in strength of arms or coercion, but in partnership, equality and moral determination. Though Bab Al-Shams was evacuated and destroyed within days, it was a milestone in Palestinians’ efforts to take control of their own destiny.

Sadly, we did not have long to celebrate those achievements. Two days after Bab Al-Shams was evacuated, we received word from the West Bank village of Budrus, a bastion of the unarmed struggle against Israel’s Separation Barrier, that 16-year-old resident Samir Awad had been shot and killed by the Israeli army. He was hit from behind with three live bullets, though he was unarmed and by all accounts posed no threat to the soldiers. He was the fourth unarmed Palestinian to be shot and killed by the Israeli military in five days. In the blink of an eye, the triumphant protest songs filling the air in Bab Al-Shams were replaced by cries of anguish in Budrus, a community shattered by the loss of one of its sons.

Such extreme transitions are commonplace for those who live here. All too often, the promise of a fresh idea is swept away in a torrent of blood and tears. Yet even at the height of his community’s anguish, one of Budrus’s most resilient organizers, Ayed Morrar, told me that the village remains committed to using nonviolence to resist the occupation. Moved by messages of support and condolences that came in from around the world, Ayed asserted that the people of Budrus would not allow the violence visited upon their community to taint the way they raise their children.

Whether popular resistance ultimately succeeds in bringing about a better future in the region depends on our ability to follow the lead of remarkable communities like Budrus. It will be determined, in the end, by our capacity to emerge from the inevitable setbacks and tragedies we encounter with renewed commitment to steel ourselves and try something new.

But that future will come more quickly and with less blood spilled if those around the world, and particularly those in Palestinian and Israeli society who believe in the causes of human freedom and equal rights, pay attention to our actions. That partnership and moral sustenance from afar will help us remain steadfast in the wake of each horrendous death, each crippling injury, or each day spent in a dark and filthy cell. It will allow new forms of creative resistance to take root and flourish, rather than wither in the face of public indifference. And it will help make the sum of our actions something more than a succession of minor headlines about yet another series of “clashes” in an unspecified town in the West Bank.

The residents of Bab Al-Shams have been evacuated, its tents removed. Those of Bab Al-Karameh (‘Gate of Dignity’), a second protest village founded in its wake, are now gone too. What remains is our reinforced conviction, that despite everything, civil resistance can pierce through the hard layers of indifference and animosity that prevail here. That perhaps the occupation can end without a bloodbath after all. Like so many others who have trodden this path before us, we do not know if we will succeed, through efforts like Bab Al-Shams, in beginning the process that finally delivers freedom and dignity to all who live here. But we know we must try.

Irene Nasser is a Jerusalem-based activist and multimedia producer with Just Vision

Read more:
Palestinians build ‘settlement’ near Jerusalem, receive eviction orders from Border Police
Police brings down Palestinian outpost, activists resist peacefully
PHOTOS: 48 hours in the West Bank protest village of Bab Al-Shams 
Eviction of Palestinian outpost exposes double standard on settlements
Palestinian teen killed by IDF near West Bank separation barrier

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      So.. The tents are gone? Perhaps the part that you missed is that ‘facts on the ground’ is not a strategy concerned with symbolism, but with actually accomplishing political objectives through creating them on the ground.

      In other words, all you have proven is that, as usual, Palestinian activists will turn a molehill into a mountain for the sympathy and support from the outside while in practice achieving nothing.

      Reply to Comment
      • You, who condemn them for all violence, laugh at them for this. All that matters is absolute muzzling, that vindication for all past deaths. You have no idea what you face at all.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          It has been shown pretty clearly to me what we face. It is you that has absolutely no idea and sits from afar and judges.

          The Palestinians have one and only one way to progress and that is to sit down and negotiate a peace treaty with Israel instead of rejecting everything they are offered. As long as they think they can get 100% of their demands by pursuing symbolic and stupid crap like this they are not going to do that. People like you just encourage them in their delusions that just behind that hill and if they throw the rock just right the cavalry will show up to rescue them from their self-made agony.

          Reply to Comment
          • “People like you just encourage them in their delusions…”

            I had no idea I was so important.

            Until the IDF begins to prevent the unnecessary deaths I don’t think you are in a position to be righteous at all. Which is why these people (and me????) need to be quashed. So you can be righteous.

            I don’t think they are going to give that to you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You are not, but people that praise every stupid symbolic step of the Palestinians only encourage them to avoid entering realistic negotiations.

            The IDF acts with intense restraint. If you want to see what an army acting without restraint looks like take a look at Syria or for that matter the Americans in Iraq. I want peace. People like you ensure that it doesn’t come. I am in a perfect position to be righteous.

            Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      When the Palestinians start to create the working of a proper state, with all the responsibility that entails, for all its people , then you can say you have achieved something.
      It entails setting up institutions and industry, not just continuously grandstanding and complaining.
      It entails creating profitable enterprises,instead of continuously begging for handouts and charity.
      It entails creating a working government , instead of continuously threatening to dismantle what you already have.
      When you build something with proper foundations, instead of castles in the sky, then maybe you will be taken more seriously.

      Reply to Comment
      • “It entails creating profitable enterprises,instead of continuously begging for handouts and charity.”

        Export and import control of the Bank is entirely under Israeli domination. Transport within the Bank is highly restricted by the IDF. And you blame them for not having “profitable enterprises.”

        Is this the first time you have beaten you wife?

        Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        You need to get rid of occupation for that to happen. Israel controls all Borders to the west bank, exploits 60% of it’s resources and controls exports and imports from the PA controlled territory (which constitutes 10% of the territory).

        Reply to Comment
    3. “Bab Al-Shams provided the rare opportunity for Palestinian women and men from throughout Palestine to meet face to face. Before long, we were met by others who had run for miles through the hills, bypassing an Israeli cordon to join us.”

      “With our own hands, we would lay the foundation for a society that is not rooted in strength of arms or coercion, but in partnership, equality and moral determination.”

      “All too often, the promise of a fresh idea is swept away in a torrent of blood and tears. Yet even at the height of his community’s anguish, one of Budrus’s most resilient organizers, Ayed Morrar, told me that the village remains committed to using nonviolence to resist the occupation.”

      “Like so many others who have trodden this path before us, we do not know if we will succeed, through efforts like Bab Al-Shams, in beginning the process that finally delivers freedom and dignity to all who live here. But we know we must try.”

      Disdain is often hidden fear. K9 and Rsg, above, need to belittle what you have done. These few quotes from your piece are just a part of the reason they MUST disdain you. But I know–I know–that if I lived in your land, if I had been raised there, if I had seen so many fall one by one, always the fallen’s fault; I know I would not have the kind of strength exhibited at Bab Al-Shams. I know I would fall–but you do not. Reason for fear.

      You need actions easily repeatable which still proclaim a stand, where few are arrested at any single time, so the action comes to proceed indefinately. I don’t know what that is. But I do know that this action has shamed the face of the High Court. Truth can do that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        I belittle because I think this action is stupid and demonstrates once again that Palestinians are addicted to symbolism over substance.

        Reply to Comment
        • These Palestinians are acting in spite of the disfavor of the PA. They are autonomous action, trying to find a new way with Israel and within the occupied Bank. You want to lump Palestinians into a single entity, thereby forced to accept your definition of State. This judger from afar sees a repudiation of such word games, a kind of cultural prison on the ground, declaring the possibility of something new. And I still see your words as an attempt to quash them into nothing. If you are right, will not they vanish on their own?

          You have yet to convince me that you do not need to see them fail–everywhere, for all time.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Greg, the PA embraced this action immediately. The PA has been calling for this kind of action for the past few years. There is no particular difference between this act and the symbolic crap the PA itself tried at the UN.

            You wish to pretend that there are no Palestinians as a group to invalidate my generalizations yet insist on commending those that explicitly act in the name of Palestinian nationalism. This is a contradiction you think you can get away with by sitting in a cloud and flinging feces.

            It is only because you are far that you think that you see something new – some kind of nonviolent humanist movement. All these actions are done in the name of Palestinian nationalism according to their Palestinian participants and by Irene above. None of this is new.

            Reply to Comment
          • The PA is not going to forbid actions such as this, just as they condemn Wall protests killings, without encouraging the protests themselves. The PA is trapped by its ground relationship with Israel, which is understandable.

            Nationalism is not all of one color. I would think alternatives within nationalism would be to your advantage. In any case, what is important is that these people act for themselves; they refuse the role of sheep. And I think that the core reason for antagonism.

            I see no reason to engage in further commentary about why you or I say what we do; I erred in taking this path. I feel better by saying what I do here. That is all I got. Ignore it; laugh at it; it doesn’t matter. What matters for me are people out there who won’t give up.

            Reply to Comment
        • Y-Man

          It is hard to have substance when you are under permanent military occupation.

          Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      The substance that hilltop settlers have over Palestinians when they establish facts on the ground is that their symbolic act has one of the most powerful armies in the world commanded by a state supported by the only superpower left behind it.

      That apparatus allows the occupying army to declare the Palestinian establishment of facts on the ground closed military zones and security risks. That army does not provide physical protection for them, does not build access roads to them, does not hook them up to infrastructure grids, does not allocate them permanent housing when they’ve survived the first few years and there’s no more hullabaloo about them.

      The symbolism of the acts of both is identical. One is supported by international law but not supported by Israeli law and the other is not supported by international law but gets its way by force that includes deception, intimidation and serial abuse of a captive population totally at its mercy.

      Reply to Comment

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