From the International Solidarity Movement
Interview with Hasan Brijia, a member of the Popular Struggle Committee
I am Hasan, 43 years old and father of 7 children. I currently work in the Ministry against settlements and the Wall, which was established a few years ago. I, Mahmoud and Juma started to organize some resistance activities in Al-Ma’sara in 2006. The popular committee is really a grassroots organization. When we started we had a lot of different actions during the weekly protests; we planted trees, acted out the crucifixion of Jesus and had a Santa Claus (“Baba Noël”) in the demonstration. The Santa Claus was a big success: 63 magazines published pictures of the demonstration! What makes Al-Ma’sara different from other villages though is that it was the first one where children participated in the marches. We achieved this by going to schools and universities, talking about our case.
Can you tell more about the struggle and the situation in Al-Ma’sara?
We started our struggle when Israel started to build the Apartheid Wall in Al-Ma’sara and we heard about the actions in Bi’lin (a village near Ramallah). We started thinking about actions that we can do here, and tried to involve others from the village. Slowly the number increased. The minimum amount of people who joins us on Friday is 40, including international and Israeli activists, as well as Palestinians not only from Al-Ma’sara but also other places of the Bethlehem district.
The village of Al-Ma’sara in build in Area B and Area C; the houses on the other side of the main street in front of our house are in area C. Many of those houses don’t have a building permit and are in danger. In total 35.000 km2 will be annexed by the Wall going around the Guz Etzion settlement block. Of those only 15.000 are from Al-Ma’sara. I think this is because we resisted. They wanted to invade more, but didn’t do so. The village of Um Salamone lost much more land, but many people of this village work in Israel and are afraid to join us.
It has been five years since you started, do you see any change?
Yes! I see that the Israeli soldiers have changed; they are more scared of us, or actually they are scared of our cameras. When they shoot at us we can record all of that now. One time I was in jail for ‘petting soldiers’, it was the longest time they kept me: 30 days. Thanks to the camera’s we could show there was no evidence for this charge and so they had to release me. By our experiences we know now that the soldiers can arrest us, but we fall under the responsibility of the police and the Ministry of settlements. This way we gained a few rights and we know now what they are. We ask for a lawyer and remain silent when they try to interrogate and intimidate us. Lastly, during the years we also gained the public support of the government. So we feel happy about all these successes.
Do these changes also affect your own motivation?
Yes of course! When I first went to prison the others were laughing about me; “What are you doing here?!” they asked. From the people in Al-Ma’sara I have been in jail the most times: 9 in total. And now, after I was jailed a few times, they started to respect me and take the popular struggle more serious. But I also feel motivated by the foreigners who come here and support our struggle. When I see them I know that I am not alone. Sometimes we think that people in the rest of the world ignore us or don’t care about us. But when we see people from other countries trying to learn about Palestine and participating with us in the demonstrations side by side we feel more strong. And this is important, because sometimes it is hard. The soldiers came to take me from my house in the middle of the night one time. They woke up the whole family and took me out of my bed. They brought me to the living room and started asking questions “who is this?” they asked me while pointing at a picture of my brother who was killed in Germany. I think they just wanted to scare me that the same thing could happen with me.
Why did you choose nonviolent resistance?
We don’t call it nonviolent resistance but ‘popular resistance’, because it is a form of resistance in which all people can join. Palestinians have tried armed resistance and we saw that it was very damaging. Palestinians are the victims and people start to see that now. Even when we didn’t have any weapons and were throwing stones, the Israelis used bullets. More Israelis are joining us now, and they also believe in our right of return. This makes the government angry; they know that they will lose. You will see, we will prevail in the end and have a nonviolent revolution!
What do you think is needed to further develop the popular resistance movement?
Besides the demonstrations we have to think of other activities too. For example, there was an area which Israel wanted to use for settlement building, but it was prevented by an environmental organization because there were endangered plants on it. We should know about such species and plant them in different places and then try to appeal to the environmentalists around the world to support it. In this framework we can also have a project about water, because right now Israel is controlling almost all the water. Finally it is important to attract more tourists to Palestine, and inform them about the situation. Right now the majority of the tourists come with Israeli companies and they only visit the holy places in Bethlehem, without learning anything about occupation.
Interview with Fatima Brijia
My name is Fatima, or Umm Hasan (mother of Hasan). I have four sons, one was assassinated in Germany in 1999 and another one is 15 years in prison. I am a farmer; I work on the land four hours a day. In the morning I go to the school to make meals for the children and I am active in the women association in the village.
How did the Israeli occupation affect your live?
It is the worst occupation in the world! They stole our land, our water. It is inhuman, unjust. All we can do is to resist. Sometimes the army came at 1AM in the night and took the whole family outside the home shouting “you can’t go to the demonstration tomorrow!” So we resist even more. We will have our freedom! Everyone in the world who believes in freedom is with us. Israel wants us to shut up. That is very undemocratic… We have the right to speak up and give our opinion.
So how did it affect your personal life?
My son was killed by the Mossad, we believe. He was first studying in Italy and then got a scholarship to go to Germany. He studied physics and wanted to continue in nuclear science. He was the only person from the 3rd world. We all advised him not to do this, but he insisted. Then he was taken for investigations and later he was dead. The police did an investigation, but we still don’t know what the official cause of his death is. I sometimes had 4 children in jail. There are 11.000 Palestinian political prisoners, but no-one gives it attention. On the other hand, there is Gilad Shalit, who was a soldier on mission, and he gets all the attention. It was in 2009 that all of my sons were arrested. Then the women of the village decided to go the demonstrations on Friday, to show that we can continue without the men. We are also able to lead demonstrations! We celebrated Mother’s Day, Prisoners Day and even Christmas.
How many women were you, and why are there so few these days?
We were about 70 women. I think the women want to avoid the violence during the demonstrations. Teargas and bullets do not differentiate between men and women.
What motivates you to join the demonstration?
Injustice motivates me. I call for freedom. It is the same as what motivated Rachel Corrie and Vittorio Arrigoni; they are lovers of freedom. I want peace for the children of Palestine. They don’t have the same opportunities as children in Israel. They are much richer, they can have good education and travel abroad.
When do you think that the children of Palestine will see peace?
The international policy is against our liberation. This is the longest occupation in history. There were many UN resolutions, but they are not implemented. The UN General Assembly is with the Palestinians, but governments have made secret agreements with Israel. All the surrounding countries are allies of the US. But they will change under public pressure. That’s what happened in Egypt. One day we will all have our Human Rights.
One last thing: I want to tell you that we are happy you are here. It is easier to face Israel when we have international support. We can also show you what is happening here. I want to ask you to send others our message and explain our situation.
Thanks to ISM