Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Games Children Play (or: Between a rock and a hard Police)

When the kids started throwing stones at the border police, it’s best to withdraw, say, into an alley or behind a building. We can't have the police thinking we supported the children’s provocations. Not only might we get caught in the crossfire, but the police could declare the area of our project a closed military zone making it impossible for us to continue our work.

Unfortunately, today’s police v. children showdown happened right beside where we have begun rebuilding a demolished house. I’m here with an organization called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition led by a remarkable Israeli named Jeff Halper. This year’s group of about 30 volunteers includes Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans (Sweden, England, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Germany), Americans, Canadians, a Mexican and a Kiwi. After several hours of non-violence training—needed in the event of an encounter with soldiers or police—our ten-minute walk to the building site crossed a lunar scape of concrete and rubble, the remains of half a dozen other homes demolished by the Israeli civil administration, allegedly for lack of permits or some petty illegality. These houses are in a zone (“Area C”) that Israel is working eventually to clear of Palestinians.

Arriving at our site, the demolished home of the Hamdan family, we quickly formed a brigade to pass pails of concrete hand to hand, accelerating dramatically the work of a handful of professional Palestinians builders. Clearly visible about 120 meters away, on the slope of a nearby hill, three Israeli police stood guard over a pair of earthmovers whose clinking, scratching and pounding were preparing the way for the infamous Wall.

The stone throwing didn’t happen until our return after lunch. For good or ill, the kids here in Anata [a-NAH-ta] (and elsewhere in the West Bank) see it as their way of resisting the Occupation. Some West Bank adults discourage it; many are sympathetic and choose to look the other way. Meanwhile, the border police who had been loosely monitoring our activities all day from a reasonable distance, began drawing closer in such a way as to invite a “response” from the kids. Climbing down from their jeeps, they donned their riot gear and staked out positions, certainly not because they were responding to any existing threat. On cue, the kids assembled on the hill above them, darting and spying, stones at the ready. The game was on.

With no local adults stepping in to de-escalate, we had to withdraw to a safe place. Before long came the gunfire and whiffs of tear gas. The soldiers, only a half dozen years older than the rock throwers -- it's children against children -- were making their move.

In the evening Salim, our Arab host, worked the phone to insure that adults would intervene tomorrow to prevent a repeat scenario. And so it goes. We resist in our way, by re-building a demolished house, and they in theirs. Not all forms of resistance are acceptable to me. I see no tangible benefit from rock throwing and other forms of violence, and no moral justification, but I’m increasingly convinced that the Occupation these Palestinians are resisting, with all its layers, dimensions and complexities, must indeed be resisted. And so, back to work.

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