Right wing pundits have often said that Palestinians, when in talks with Israel, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The more time that I spend in the West Bank and watch the behavior of the Israeli army towards Palestinians, the more I feel that the statement should be said about the army. The weekly demonstration in Bil’in last Friday is a perfect example.
The demonstration was much smaller than the previous weeks. However, there was a television crew from Israeli Channel 2 present. We were told that they had another crew embedded on the army side for a story about the demonstration which would air on a weekend news show. As we marched to the barrier, I was eager to see how the army would handle the demonstration with the presence of such important Israeli media. Would they not fire any tear gas? Would they arrest people?
We arrived at the barrier and the chanting began. The demonstration was in honor of Jonathan Pollak and a number of demonstrators formed a peace sign each holding a photo of Pollak. Twenty minutes into the demonstration there was no tear gas. Soldiers threw a couple of sound bombs and had resorted to spraying demonstrators with the ‘skunk,’ a horrible petrochemical with a putrid smell that stays on your skin for weeks, but there was no tear gas. I told one of the Channel 2 people that it was unusual that the army had restrained themselves on the gas and the reason was likely the crew’s presence.
As we were talking some Palestinian youth began to throw stones at the barrier and soldiers. Great, I thought to myself, Channel 2 is going to paint this whole thing as a violent riot. The Israeli public will eat it up and use it to support their claim that the army can do no wrong in their treatment of unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank.
The stone throwers were calmed down after a short time by leaders of the popular committee in Bil’in. Mohammad Khatib, the coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, gave a brilliant speech based on Gandhi using the megaphone and then he informed the crowd in three languages, English, Arabic and Hebrew, that the demonstration was over. He thanked everyone for coming, invited all of us for tea and vowed that we will return next week and the week after and the week after. The demonstration was over and the army won the PR war of the day or so I thought.
Oren Ziv, the incredible photographer with Activestills, walked next to me as we made our way to the village. “This is a historical event,” he said, “There was no tear gas in Bil’in!” Exactly as he said those words to me, the gate to the barrier opened behind us and 30 soldiers entered and began chasing the demonstrators. Suddenly, there was tear gas in every direction and big clouds were engulfing parts of the Channel 2 news crew. Without warning and as we were walking back to the village, we were all attacked with gas.
I ran to the Channel 2 reporter who I had been chatting with throughout the day. “Do you see?” I asked in a huff. “This is how it normally is here. We just said on the megaphone that the demo is over!” She was in disbelief and clearly shaken by what she had experienced. As if she came out of a shell, she began agreeing with me, “Yes yes, yes, I will make sure it goes into the report. This is just insane!”
So there you have it. The army seems to never miss an opportunity to attack unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank even when mainstream Israeli news is filming. So, how is Channel 2 going to show the events of day?