On Friday morning, only hours after a seemingly relentless storm let up, Palestinian activists snatched international headlines when they set up some 25 tents in the E1 area of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and declared the establishment of the new Bab Al-Shams village, or “Gate to the Sun.”
On Saturday, Israel’s High Court had issued a temporary injunction that barred the state from evacuating the encampment and some 250 campers were registered to stay overnight in solidarity. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, nonetheless, ordered the military to close all entrances and declared E1 a closed military area until the court could make a final ruling on the land.
Activist-filled buses organized by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee crossed on-the-fly military checkpoints on West Bank highways and made impromptu stops. Passengers, many of whom were carrying large deliveries of food and supplies, swiftly exited and dashed through the rolling hills towards Bab Al-Shams as soldiers and police officers pulled up seconds too late to stop them.
By early afternoon, all the surrounding villages were blockaded by Israeli military forces, and entry had been rendered virtually impossible. Several Palestinian Authority officials, including PLO official Hanan Ashrawi and PA Minister of Social Affairs Majida Al-Masri, were stopped at nearby checkpoints and sent back to Ramallah.
“The owner of the land has a court order that said our presence here is legal, and that the owner has six days to appeal the confiscation of his property,” an activist told me upon my arrival. “But the military came again yesterday afternoon and said that the court order did not say that the presence of people was permitted, and that we needed to leave. We do not need the occupation’s permission; we have the legal owner’s permission.”
Amid the cold dead of twilight, around 3:00 am on Sunday morning, some 500 Israeli soldiers launched an assault on Bab Al-Shams and forcibly removed the campers, dragging them out of their tents and arresting them by the dozens.
“The soldiers came with their guns and with full armor,” an international activist told me. “They shined bright green lights on us, and I couldn’t see. Before I knew it we were being shoved down the hill towards the highway, while our Palestinian partners were being handcuffed and arrested.”
In November, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution to upgrade Palestine to an observer state.
Infuriated Israeli officials responded by announcing plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the E1 Area between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, which would dissect the West Bank into two parts and prevent the establishment of a geographically contiguous Palestinian state, thus rendering the two-state solution impossible.
The usual hollow groans alighted from Washington, while countries across Europe summoned their Israeli envoys and expressed their outrage, but Israeli PM Netanyahu made it clear that he planned to move forward with the settlement.
Israel’s staunchest supporters often taut the country’s High Court as indisputable evidence of its democratic character. They point to instances where the court ruled against the state or the military, such as a few instances in the past when rulings ordered that the separation wall be rerouted not to steal private Palestinian land.
Instances like the assault on Bab Al-Shams, however, strip all semblances of legitimacy from this line of argument. A necessary component of genuine democracy is the separation of powers. In the United States, the divisions are between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In most European democracies, on the other hand, the crux division is between the executive and judicial. In Israel, it would seem, the executive branch has the power to order the military to explicitly defy the rulings of its judicial branch.
Considering the impunity of its security forces and the exclusively Jewish character of the state, the country is more like an apartheid state ran by a military autocracy that permits select displays of democratic participation.
By evicting activists from land ruled legally Palestinian by the Israeli High Court, the military, under Netanyahu’s auspices, showed that its interest in hegemony, aptly served by its colonial settler front, always eclipses the commitment to democracy.
Creativity and Resistance
By establishing Bab Al-Shams, Palestinian activists ushered in a new form of protest. The direct action posed an immediate threat to the security of Israel’s colonial aspirations by complimenting the long tradition of Palestinian resistance with a new innovative approach.
As a form of direct action, strategically claiming the land in question, the E1 Area, exposed the utter hypocrisy of Israel’s military occupation. The government claims it is a security necessity and nothing else and also posits that Jewish-only settlements are barriers between Palestinian militants and the State of Israel. Settlers build illegal outposts (settlements considered illegal even by the Israeli government) and the state takes several years to evacuate them, but more often retroactively legalizes them. But when Palestinian activists, armed with nothing more than the permission of the land’s owner, plant tents and declare a new village, it takes less than 48 hours for the state to violently expel them.
On top of that, merely thrusting the issue into the international media ought to be considered a major success. This achievement alone defies decades of highly politicized, often racist corporate media coverage that almost uniformly depicts Palestinians as rag-tag bands of kuffiyeh-wearing terrorists who throw Molotov cocktails, hijack planes, and execute suicide bombings.
Widespread campaigns of unarmed resistance, often fueled by the legacy of the First Intifada, are not new. Particularly in recent years, Palestinian activism has seen “freedom rides” that challenge segregated roads; bike rides that demand freedom of movement; artistic endeavors such as the Jenin Freedom Theater; and highly publicized hunger strikes that fight administrative detention, among innumerable other tactics.
Although it was short lived, by creating their own “facts on the ground” and mimicking Israel’s tactics in the establishment of Bab Al-Shams on land slated for Jewish settlement, activists signaled a new era of creative resistance, one in which Israel will be force fed large spoonfuls of its own medicine.
*Patrick O. Strickland is the Israel-Palestine Editor for BikyaNews.com (formerly BikyaMasr.com). His writing has been published in Al-Akhbar English, Fair Observer, GlobalPost, CounterPunch.org, and elsewhere.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.