I recently accompanied Israeli peace group Ta’ayush into the West Bank. My friend and colleague Joseph Dana, an American Jew who moved here a number of years ago, weekly documents the actions and films the proceedings. Here’s his report:
Yesterday, members of Ta’ayush set out to have a picnic at an illegal outpost built on Palestinian land next to the settlement of Susya in the southern West Bank. Susya is divided into three places; Palestinian Susya, Jewish settlement Susya and archeological site Susya. Often, the first construction of an illegal outpost is a synagogue which the IDF is less willing to destroy. About one year ago settlers from Susya built a synagogue on the privately owned land of a local Palestinian. The area is known as Flag Hill (Givat HaDegal). Within weeks, the settlers had laid a foundation for one house and sure enough today a house now stands on Flag Hill. The IDF actively protects the house despite there being no full time inhabitants.
We encountered problems before we even arrived at the outpost. A minibus of Ta’ayush activists was stopped at the main checkpoint separating Jerusalem and the southern West Bank. Soldiers asked for our ID cards and without a stated reason held us at the checkpoint for over an hour. Presumably, they were requesting an order from a high commander that would bar us entry to the West Bank, efficiently denying us freedom of movement because we were engaged in left wing actions. This order never came. The commander at the checkpoint wrote down our names and ID numbers while informing us that we were not allowed to enter the south West Bank and if we were found to be in a “military area” we would be detained for 48 hours. This, of course, was a lie as he had no authority to issue such a statement and it was not put in writing. He was trying to frighten us which he failed to achieve. We entered through another checkpoint and eventually made our way to the picnic.
Ta’ayush has been monitoring the expansion of Flag Hill and yesterday decided to have a peaceful picnic in protest of the Army’s active participation in maintaining this outpost. We were a group of Jewish Israelis invited by the Palestinian land owner to have a picnic on his land. We thought, by all accounts, we had every right to be there. As we walked up the hill to the outpost, five or six IDF soldiers came to greet us. Without an order from a commander, they could do nothing so we continued and set up our picnic complete with hummus, watermelon and homemade pita from the land owner. A commander arrived within minutes and pronounced the area a closed military zone ordering us to leave within five minutes or face arrest. We continued to enjoy the picnic as the Army began arresting people, going after Ezra Nawi first.
The IDF arrested three people and removed the rest of us, over 20 people, from the hilltop. We returned to the land owner’s home and waited for word from those arrested. They were driven to a checkpoint about 15 minutes away from Susya and simply dropped off. One of those arrested told me that he was saying to the soldiers, “you are showing me that you broke the law and not me. If I did something wrong arrest me! Take me to a judge. But you are unwilling because I did nothing wrong and you did.”