Tiananmen Square Moment – A new form of non-violent protest at Qalandia today: Standing up to the skunk spray machine

A small group of protesters in today’s protest at Qalandia marking the outbreak of the June 1967 war stood up in front of — and blocked — the “skunk spray” or “sewage water” machine that was hosing demonstrators with a revolting and persistently-smelly blue-colored water.

Photo by courtesy of the photographer, Mohamed Jaradat

Fadi Quran, one of coordinators of Manara Youth group protests
since the beginning of 2011 stands (with colleagues) with his hands raised
in front of IDF skunk spray machine


It was the first time the “skunk spray” machine was used at Qalandia.  [It was used on Friday for the first time in a Friday protest against the Wall at Nabi Saleh… It sprayed some protesters, then it went into the center of the village and sprayed the streets and the homes, requiring a massive clean-up campaign.]

And, it was the first time Palestinian protesters in the West Bank used this tactic of non-violent resistance.

They stood there and took it.

They planned for it, they trained for weeks for this, and they did not run away as they were sprayed with the very foul-smelling liquid.

They stood there and allowed themselves to be coated, covered, with this notoriously disgusting stuff.

They blocked the machine from moving up the street, which is bordered with small businesses and small apartment buildings — and schools —  and which cuts through the heavily-populated Qalandia Refugee Camp.

And, they won a small victory on an otherwise confusing and disappointing day: the “skunk spray” machine was ordered to retreat back into the protected military zone at the terrible Qalandia Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

It was a revolutionary change in the way checkpoint protests have been conducted until today.

Continue reading Tiananmen Square Moment – A new form of non-violent protest at Qalandia today: Standing up to the skunk spray machine

Crossing Qalandia – cont'd

There has been more or less non-stop construction at the major Qalandia (Kalandia) checkpoint for several months.

The plans have not been publicly announced or published.  The tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people who cross Qalandia daily never know in advance what is about to happen, or what is going on.

Information such as this is not a courtesy afforded to people under occupation.

A circle was constructed within the last year just on the Ramallah side of Qalandia checkpoint — which Israeli officials refer to as a “border crossing”, although it is not one of Israel’s officially-listed international crossing points.

This traffic circle was slightly bizarre in that the lane of car traffic coming into Ramallah from the Jerusalem area was funneled into the circle counter-clockwise, while traffic coming from Ramallah into the Qalandia car-parking area was also directed into exactly the same lane.  Drivers just had to work it out for themselves (as we have written before, there is NO civilian or military traffic control on either side of the Qalandia crossing, where there is major traffic passing every single day).

Now, as part of the mysterious new construction that has been going on for over a month, the circle has been cut off just at the left side, although the same cross-direction traffic (incoming from Jerusalem to the south, and drop-off and arrival car-park traffic from Ramallah to the north) has to pass on the right side.

Once you get through that cross-traffic, now, there is suddenly a line of border police vehicles and border police personnel with big black automatic weapons in their arms, and a road block.

There are no signs explaining what is happening, and absolutely no instruction about where to go, except the soldiers with the guns.

Behind them, bulldozers and construction vehicles can be seen at work, day and night — but there is NO explanation.

One night recently, coming from Jerusalem, I was surprised, just after passing through the stress of the checkpoint, by being confronted with a blocked road and armed soldiers.  I had no idea what to do, and tried to continue along the side.  (Once through the checkpoint, there are no street lights, and it was totally dark.) An Israeli border policewoman flagged me down — but, luckily, she was helpful, and polite.  She had no idea, herself, what I should do, because she had never ventured more than 50 meters (if that far) to either side of where she was standing.  But, talking to her, I was able to calm down and stop panicking, and realized I might try to go to a second traffic circle on the other side of the Qalandia car park.  That worked.

Last night, my friend and colleague Yasmine was leaving Ramallah after working with the editor and director of a film she is producing.  She hadn’t passed that way recently, and had absolutely no idea that there was construction underway at Qalandia.  She ran into the blocked road, the military vehicles parked across the road, and the armed soldiers.  But they were not so polite.  They both pointed their guns directly at her, and told her to go, go, go.  “Where?” she asked, “Where?  There are no absolutely no signs indicating where to go”.   They kept pointing their guns, then they motioned with one free arm as their other arm kept a firm hold on their weapon.  “Over there, just go…”

That is one small part of what it means to be under occupation.

And it is not nice.

Al-Aqsa prayers on fourth Friday in Ramadan – and Ramadan traffic jams

Today is the fourth Friday in Ramadan, and some 3,000 Israeli police and soldiers have been deployed, Kol Israel radio reported this morning, to ensure security at prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque.

The Jerusalem Post reported that: “Jerusalem Police were on high alert ahead of the final Friday Muslim prayers of Ramadan in the Old City”.

Kol Israel’s report said that “Arab Israelis” — presumably including Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who are not “citizens” but who have permanent residency status — can access Al-Aqsa freely for prayers, but “young” people from the West Bank cannot. For those from Gaza, of course, it has long been out of the question.

Helicopters were heard flying overhead in northern districts of Jerusalem, far from the Old City — presumably on their way to Qalandia/Kalandia checkpoint, where thousands of believers prayed last week facing water cannons and police and soldiers in riot formation.

The AP later reported that “Thousands of Palestinians thronged military checkpoints on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday, trying to reach a major Muslim shrine in the city for Ramadan prayers despite an Israel Defense Forces closure. IDF troops were deployed at crossing points from the West Bank into Jerusalem to control the crowds trying to get to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close next week. At the Qalandiyah checkpoint north of Jerusalem, harried troops waved clubs, shouted and occasionally used stun grenades as Palestinians surged toward the roadblock. One elderly man fainted, and was treated by an IDF medic on the scene. No serious injuries were reported. Friday prayers at Al Aqsa regularly draw thousands of worshippers, and crowds are bigger than usual during Ramadan. Israel placed a closure on the West Bank last week citing concern of possible attacks during the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot. The festival ended Thursday, and the closure was set to be lifted Saturday night, an IDF spokesperson said. According to the closure orders, police were to allow passage to West Bank men over the age of 50 and women over 40, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. More than 3,000 police were stationed around Jerusalem’s Old City to prevent disturbances during the prayers, he said. At Qalandiyah, north of Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians, most of them elderly, pushed toward troops controlling access to the passage and argued with police checking ID cards. Maher Walweil, 43, said he left his home in the West Bank city of Nablus at 4 A.M. to get to Jerusalem in time for prayers despite being aware of the age restrictions. ‘There’s a lot of soldiers here. What am I going to do against these soldiers?’ he said.” The AP report on elderly Palestinians trying to get through checkpoints to Al-Aqsa Mosque Friday prayers is here.

Ghaleb, reporting from the spot, said that the Friday prayer this week was “great!” Why? “The numbers”, he said. “Last week there were lots of people, but this week it was packed!” Asked why that made it great, Ghaleb explained “specifically, it makes you happy — well, it made me happy”.

There will apparently be a fifth Friday in Ramadan this year — next week.

It was later estimated that 135,000 worshippers were at Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa.

Meanwhile, on a less spiritual side, the Ramadan traffic jams that have plagued the eastern side of Jerusalem since the beginning of the holy month of fasting — as people were rushing madly to be home in time to break their fast and eat the Iftar meal with their families — have been really astonishing, and annoying. The Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem has a symphony of car horns being blown by irate fasting drivers that crescendos around 5 pm every evening. At a major intersection, cars pass furiously on the right and on the left — an astonishing sight. This year is worse than previous years, residents say.

These traffic jams have apparently also been replicated in other Palestinian cities as well. The Ma’an independent Palestinian news agency reported today that “Police in the West Bank city of Hebron said that an unprecedented number of traffic accidents took place Thursday night. In the course of 12 hours, 20 accidents occurred, injuring eight people. 14 accidents took place between 4 PM and 5:30 PM.” The Ma’an report on a record number of traffic jams last evening in Hebron is here.