The night before travelling to the village of Bil'in to join their regular Friday protest I had heard horror stories about the ways in which the protests are disbursed. Everything from sound bombs, tears gas, nerve gas, rubber bullets, water hoses, live ammunition and physical beatings.
Bil'in is a small village located in the northern part of the West Bank. To reach the village, one must first travel south and then go up the windy and curvaceous mountain tops. This would normally take 30 minutes but took us 1 and a 1/2 hours because of checkpoints, Jewish only colonies and the wall. And when we passed through one checkpoint near Jericho a soldier asked us where we were going.
We told the soldier we were going to Jericho, as Bil'in is considered a hot spot because of all the activism going on there. Had we told him where we were really going he may have stopped us, searched us or interrogated us.
We arrived with all of our instruments and circus hope on hand. There were many internationals there -- Americans, Europeans, including the vice president of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini, to march in solidarity with the Palestinians.
"We told the soldier we were going to Jericho, as Bil'in is considered a hot spot because of all the activism going on there."
The situation in this village is quite simple: Israel has taken around 65 percent of the land to build the wall. This has cut off many farmers from their farm groves and agricultural land. This weekly, non-violent march is against the building of the wall and ongoing occupation of the people.
Currently the wall in this region is a fence, but if construction is allowed to continue it will become a 25-foot-tall, 5-foot-thick concrete structure; in other words, a prison. The marches in Bil'in have been going on for years and are notorious for ending violently. And by violently, I mean the Israeli army attacks the protestors with the above stated mechanisms.
So we began playing Bob Marley songs and Hebrew peace songs as the group marched our way toward the corridor of fence where the wall is meant to be. People were chanting (“No, no!” to the wall) and laughing and singing and dancing.
"On the other side of us we began to see Israeli soldiers."
We marched through the village then made our way to an entrance between two fences. On the other side of us we began to see Israeli soldiers. There is an immediate reaction that seems to happen in my body each time I see a man (or woman) in uniform with a gun. And it is not a feeling of safety.
As we marched along between two fences another uneasy feeling set in, that of being caged in. I sort of drifted along toward the back of the group, not really knowing what to expect, breathing through it all. The sound of the music and movement of my feet getting me through. And then, unprovoked, an Israeli soldier threw a sound bomb at us. Although it is only a sound bomb, it is very scary.
Furthermore, if the cannister were to have hit anyone and/or exploded on them that could have caused serious damage.
Immediately I began to shake. Why did he throw a sound bomb? We weren't doing anything violent. It was a peaceful protest.
"Then, unprovoked, an Israeli soldier threw a sound bomb at us. "
The group continued on, so brave, and all I wanted to do was run back to the village. But I pushed myself to keep going. And then something else was thrown, this time tear gas. People immediately begin scurrying in all directions, running blindly.
Again I remain in the back so I am mostly unaffected but absolutely horrified at what I am seeing.
Now, just to clarify, at no point was I afraid for my life. This was not what horrified me. The scariest thing was the violence coming from the soldiers. They wanted any excuse to use (or should I say abuse) their authority (or should I say their uniform and weaponry).
And this is absolutely unfathomable to me. I have a very difficult time understanding why one human being who is looking at another human being who has flesh and bones could possibly want to hurt that other being, unprovoked. I have never in my life witnessed such violence.
The marchers continued bravely, except for the ones who got hit by tear gas. And the tear gas and sound bombs continued to explode, one after the other. And then the Israeli soldiers opened the gate and began to walk towards the protestors.
Again I wanted to run as far as possible from this place but kept moving my legs. My desire to understand this and to see the humanity in the soldiers kept me going.
So from a distance I observed as the soldiers began to physically push people back toward the entrance we came in through. People fell to the ground, the soldiers kept pushing. One French man got hit by tear gas and was walking in the direction the soldiers were saying. The soldiers began to push him so he would move away faster.
"People fell to the ground, the soldiers kept pushing."
One of the circus members asked the soldiers not to push him, she got pushed for sticking up for him. Then, away from all the chaos, I helped a man named Quintin, who was temporarily blinded from a direct dose of tear gas.
Again from a distance, I observed as sound bombs and tear gas fell from the skies. And throughout it all four members from the circus kept playing music while simultaneously avoiding being hit by tear gas and sound bombs. From a distance, I did my best to let them know when something was falling close to their heads.
It was the most epic thing I have ever seen. The explosions, the gas filling the air, choking the people and the trees and the soldiers attempting to beat the people into submission, and the whole time the music kept coming.
It was my rock. Every time I felt I might freak out I heard the music and something inside me was at peace. Every time I wanted to run away, I began to dance, and I felt still inside.
I still feel baffled by the behavior of the soldiers. I am amazed at the Palestinians who marched on that day. To go there once a week knowing you will get a beating but to do it anyway.
"The scariest thing was the violence coming from the soldiers. "
I am amazed at the internationals who were there in the very front, attempting to take the brunt of the violence away from the Palestinians, a shield of sorts. And I keep going back to the soldiers.
I think about the most violent parts of myself. About the times I attempt to beat myself into submission, to beat the anger out of me, the rebellion. The times I have tried to just be like everyone else or have been driven by my own fear.
I am reminded of the most neurotic and brutal parts of myself. And observing the soldiers helps me have more compassion for that part of myself. And I know that the music and dancing that took place on that day has planted a seed, an insight perhaps, into simply observing and knowing the most violent parts of ourselves. The one it is most difficult to look at. The one that is in fact part of the whole.
You can go to the Web site Bil'in, a Village of Palestine to read a bit more about what happened that day and to see some video of it.
We had our last performance at Ush Ghrab, that is the piece of land in Beit Sahour I wrote about on my first blog posting, the one that some Jewish colonists want to take for themselves. There is a park right by it.
"I am amazed at the Palestinians who marched on that day."
It was a sweet last performance, the crowd seemed mesmerized by it, the children wouldn't move away from the stage. Afterward, the children followed me around, asking if it was real fire I was dancing with. They were convinced I was some sort of magician creating an illusion of fire that went into my mouth and twirled around my body. And in a way it was majik.
I think of the violent sentiments the Zionist Jews who want to colonize the area have expressed through graffiti on the nearby abandoned buildings. I think of the smoke that ascended from my torches and the poi I twirled and the two other women, Lisa and Sara, spun with me.
Burning away such narrow ideas and beliefs that do not spare room for inner visions, making space for coexistence, for love, for connection between all peoples no matter who, what, when or where.
Deema Dabis can be reached at . Visit her Web blog or the Olive Tree Circus Web page.