Editor's note: Below is a first-hand account by my friend Neda Mustafa of an attempt to help a Palestinian farmer pick his grape leaves in the face of belligerent Israeli settlers and an aggressive Israeli military. Unfortunately the following story is all too common here in Palestine. Yet it also shows the power of human solidarity across all borders at work!
This morning I woke up at 5:45 a.m. to head to Beit Ummar to help Palestinian farmers there reap the benefits of their land. (Today it was grape leaves.) The reason they need help (and so early in the morning) is because there is a Jewish settlement next to their land now, which makes their farmland a "closed military zone."
This means that the farmers who own the land are not allowed on it, thus making it difficult to reap their harvests. We went early because the army usually gets there later in the day. So we arrive and walk down to the farm where two Arab families are already picking. We quickly join them and begin picking the grape leaves.
"Suddenly we hear the sounds of teenage settler boys yelling 'Sharmoota' (whore) and 'Go home.'"
Suddenly we hear the sounds of teenage settler boys yelling "Sharmoota" (whore) and "Go home." We have Israelis who join us with the picking, and they act as negotiators. The army arrived very early but did nothing as these boys attempted to throw rocks (lousily as they are obviously not Palestinian boys).
After we picked for 20 minutes, the soldiers made their way toward us. After another 20 minutes of negotiations, they made a deal that we could continue picking long enough for the camera crew that was with us to videotape the soldiers kicking the settlers out, which they did. Then the soldiers returned, telling us to leave.
As we were leaving, the soldiers grabbed one Palestinian farmer who did nothing to provoke him and tried to arrest him. This is when all of us (about 21 or so internationals and Israelis) gathered together around the Palestinian man to keep him from being arrested, since him being arrested would have been much worse than if any of us got in trouble.
We all hugged our arms around each other forming a tight circle around him, at which point the soldiers tried to pry each person off individually. In trying to get us away from the farmer, the soldiers threw an Israeli boy yards away onto his back repeatedly. When the last six were around the man, one brutal Russian-Israeli soldier decided to hit the rest of us with his wooden stick.
I happened to be the first in his way, so as I was turning to walk away from the farmer the soldier hit the back of my leg with this stick. I told him not to hit me since I was leaving. He then kept pushing and swinging at all the others in the group. They were still trying to arrest the Palestinian man, and so the few that were not pushed out held onto each other on top of him.
"I am glad that we fought today to keep a Palestinian man out of jail."
The army commander came to negotiate with the two Israelis who were in our group still holding onto him. To no avail. They kicked out all the people with video cameras and regular cameras, after which the soldiers began to use more force. The Russian-Israeli soldier held my head down against the rocks, along with the girl next to me.
It was pointless since I did not fight back, but after a minute I told him to get off of me since I was not resisting. He leaned off of me but started pulling the hair of one of the girls with us, who I helped by squeezing my hand in between her hair and his fist.
Another soldier grabbed my arm and forced it across my body. However they were nowhere close to getting the Palestinian man from under us. Finally, after about five minutes, Bekah, the woman in charge of setting this up (an American who has an Israeli ID) was arrested for assaulting a soldier.
As they were putting her in handcuffs a soldier called her a "fucking bitch" and stepped on her. She then kicked him back, pushing him down to the ground. She negotiated with them that she will not fight anymore as long as the Palestinian farmer is released. They agreed, and for once the soldiers stuck to their word.
After Bekah was in handcuffs they moved on to a Scottish man and German girl and arrested them. They let me, another Israeli and an Italian go since we did not fight back; we just wouldn't allow them near the Palestinian. We walked back to our cars relatively unharmed. A woman came out of her home and served us coffee. I asked for the time, and it was only 10 a.m.
I am glad that we fought today to keep a Palestinian man out of jail. God knows that the conditions for him in jail would have been incomparable to the three who got arrested, two of whom will be released before the day's end. Bekah is now being tried for assaulting a soldier. The commander himself will testify against her. But even her situation is much better than the situation of the Palestinian farmer might have faced.
Deema Dabis can be reached at .