Thursday 5th July was a hot day in the West Bank. Late on Wednesday night we’d got a taxi from Ramallah in the early hours to Khan al Ahmar, and snatched a few hours sleep before the army arrived in the morning. We went to the road and watched as the Israeli military and security forces arrived. It was only 7.30am but already the sun was punishing. A group of activists, Palestinian, Israeli and international, some my friends from the ISM, chained themselves together to block the path of a bulldozer approaching the village. We stood behind them in support. The Israeli riot police made short work of cutting them out and arresting three of the activists, British, US and Canadian. We were pushed back by the police and retreated to the hill as the police and military prepared for the bulldozer to come past, the police and military standing in our way and blocking our path. We were then ordered into the school grounds, behind a fence, and we watched as the bulldozer flattened the ground in preparation for the demolition of this small village. Two small children waved the Palestinian flag in front of the soldiers posted to guard the bulldozer’s path. Nothing more that we could do, I went with another activist to the Jordan Valley, where Israeli soldiers had just cut and confiscated the water pipes to Bardala village. We hitched to Jericho and waited in the midday, 40 degree heat for the service to Tubas. Once we were on the road I put my scarf over my face and cried. I kept thinking of that girl smiling and laughing at the soldiers as she waved the Palestinian flag. And the bulldozer, that fucking bulldozer.
Read my report from that day in Khan al Ahmar here.
I thought about that July day yesterday. Two and a half months later I find myself back in England on the tale end of a hurricane, driving from Bristol to Derby in the early hours and stopping for a break at a motorway service station at 6am. I feel a million miles away from Palestine and the heat of the summer, from Khan al Ahmar, Hebron, the Jordan Valley, from the farm and Ramallah. But the fire inside is still burning and that’s the one that matters. We scrambled out of the van at around 8am, and lay down in the road, locking ourselves together through heavy concrete tubes. We’d done it in time. As the first suited men came out to investigate, the banner was raised high: ‘Defend Khan al Ahmar. Boycott JCB’. We were outside the JCB distribution centre near Derby. As we couldn’t be moved, we stopped all delivery lorries going in and out of the site for four hours. Lorries delivering JCB goods around the country and abroad were backed up both ways, unable to move.
As we lay on the ground locked in, an angry lorry driver approached us and shouted at us: ‘Khan al … what?! Why don’t you care about our people! You know what, when they get their houses demolished, where are they going to end up? Over here! That’s where! They all end up over here! I’m not going to get paid today, and where are you going to be protesting when I’m evicted from my house!?’ He then threatened to run us over with his lorry, and smash our heads in. In fact he offered to the police that he could beat us up for them, and they politely declined. I couldn’t help laughing when he said that Palestinians are going to end up in the UK when their houses are demolished. Palestinians are probably some of the most immobile people in the world. I knew a guy from Hizmeh village, about 10 kilometres from Jerusalem. His Mum used to do her weekly food shop at Damascus Gate. He hasn’t been to Jerusalem for fourteen years, which is now on the other side of the Apartheid Wall. The thought of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza being able first to leave Palestine and get to Europe let alone turning up in the UK is pretty laughable. And then what? The UK has one of the toughest asylum systems in Europe. You can read this account of a Palestinian asylum seeker who grew up in Aleppo, Syria and is registered as a refugee with UNRWA. After fleeing fighting in Aleppo (Palestinian refugee camps began to be targeted by the regime during the war) he ended up in the UK seeking asylum. He was refused by the UK government on the grounds that he does not face persecution in Palestine and should return there (despite having never been there). I’m sure he’d love to return to Palestine if he was allowed, but Israel has always refused the right to return of all Palestinian refugees. Anyway, I’m not sure it was meant to be a logical statement so I think I gave it too much thought. I then heard him on the phone saying ‘well as long as I’m still getting paid!’ Looks like we don’t have to rush to protest his imminent house eviction. This man was unwittingly performing the Israeli occupation of Palestine as he stomped around shouting racist abuse, insulting us and threatening violence while we lay silently locked into heavy concrete, unable to move. We faced a great deal more abuse and violent threats by the overwhelmingly male employees and drivers for JCB (I did spy one woman at some point but she remained quiet).
A JCB bulldozer emerged to destroy part of their hedge/fence so lorries could be diverted around us, and when they did so at about midday, we unlocked and were arrested by the police. You can read a report in the local news with pictures and video here and an activist write up here.
Why did we do this?
JCB sell equipment to Israel which is then used to demolish homes in Palestine. JCB equipment has been used to prepare the ground for demolition in Khan al Ahmar, and has been used in demolitions in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere in Palestine this summer. On 10 September, the Palestinian National Committee for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement issued a call to action against companies selling products for Israel to use in the Khan al Ahmar demolition. It states:
“Nothing sends as clear a message to Israel as effective BDS campaigning.
As you join the effort to save Khan al-Ahmar and lobby your governments to put concrete pressure on Israel to stop the demolition, remember that Israel’s assaults on Palestinians and our human rights cannot happen without the many corporations that support and profit from Israel’s policies of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
Many of Israel’s demolitions are being carried out by bulldozers manufactured by the following six companies: JCB (UK), Caterpillar (US), Volvo (Sweden), Hyundai (South Korea), Hitachi (Japan) and LiuGong (China).”
What is BDS?
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is the largest grouping of Palestinian civil society organisations, which have come together to call on the world to boycott Israel, divest from its economy, and impose sanctions up it. It is inspired by similar movement that ended the apartheid regime in South Africa. The movement aims for sustained pressure on Israel for its refusal to abide by international law, its continuing war crimes, its occupation of Palestinian territory, its expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its refusal of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. It wants three things: an and to the occupation, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians living under Israeli rule. Read the call for BDS here.
As we were about to leave the van and start the action I texted a friend from ISM who is still camping out at Khan al Ahmar, ready with hundreds of Palestinians and others who stand in resistance to the demolition order. She said the bulldozers haven’t arrived yet today. We thought they might. As we were released from custody on bail at 2 am we were greeted with the news that there has been another stay in the demolition.
In love and solidarity,
Feminist on a bike ride xxx