Ma’asara, West Bank, December 2009
Like every other woman in her village Umm Hasan wears a headscarf. Her husband and other male relatives are not on the scene. But this is not an obstacle to her animated interactions with the sixteen Israelis and foreigners she has never previously met but welcomes into her home. Among the visitors are a German and a Serb who are making a film about Palestinian hip-hop. Everyone has come to participate in the weekly demonstration against the separation barrier organized by the local Popular Committee.
While the Israelis make preparations for the demonstration, Umm Hasan tells the filmmakers about the current situation in the village. Neria, a young Israeli woman who attended a bilingual primary school, makes a poster in Arabic and Hebrew, “so the [Israeli] soldiers will know what it means” with the slogan: “They destroyed the wall in Berlin; tomorrow we’ll destroy it in Palestine.”
As the visitors arrive, Umm Hasan’s oldest son, Hasan, from whom her name is derived, is leading Friday prayers for a “dissident” congregation. His congregants support the weekly protests. The imam of the “official” village mosque does not. The consensus is that the imam and his followers fear that if they join in they will lose their permits to work in Israel or in the nearby quarry owned by a rich Palestinian who sells stone to Israeli contractors.
Hasan and his brother Muhammad are leaders of the Popular Committee of Ma’asara. Another leader, Mahmud, is currently in France on a political mission. Hasan is a supporter of Fatah, Muhammad supports the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Mahmud supports the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. But these differences are of little consequence, because the Popular Committee includes all the factions in the village.
When Hasan returns from prayers, he serves tea to the guests. There is barely enough time to finish drinking before the guests depart to join about two dozen villagers for the demonstration. Muhammad stays behind because he is under a military court order that forbids him from participating. If Israeli authorities saw him attending a demonstration, he would forfeit a bond of 15,000 Israeli shekels (about $3,950).
The demonstrators march through neighboring villages, with a total population of about 10,000, to Umm Salamuna. There, several kilometers away from the separation barrier, twenty Israeli soldiers in full battle gear stand behind a razor wire, which they have stretched across the road to block the protesters’ advance. Haggai, a young Israeli man who was jailed for two years for refusing to be drafted into the army, addresses the soldiers in Hebrew. Showing them a hand-drawn poster-board map of the area, he explains, “You are not in the territory of the state of Israel and you could not do what you are now doing inside Israel. We are demonstrating peacefully on Palestinian land. You are violating international law. Don’t be surprised if, when you repress peaceful demonstrations, some Palestinians resort to violence. You can choose not to obey your orders.” Jum’a, a member of the Popular Committee, addresses the crowd in Arabic and English, emphasizing that this is a nonviolent demonstration.