I don't have much time tonight, so this report will be brief. I attended a demonstration today, protesting Israeli closure on the territories. Approximately 300 people, including a large number of foreigners working in Palestine, walked peacefully to an Israeli military checkpoint at A-Ram, located on the northern border of Jerusalem on the way to Ramallah. Behind the marchers followed several ambulance vehicles, many of which had bullet holes all over. "They won't shoot when this many of us foreigners are in the crowd," to my remark my friend replied.” Well, THEORETICALLY, no."
As we were marching towards the checkpoint with our chants and signs Israeli military jeeps came our way, soldiers yelling and blocking the road. We walked passed between jeeps and preceded to the checkpoint.
At the checkpoint, a group of people started the sit-in, while others were standing and continuing their chants. Israeli soldiers were apparently unhappy with the peaceful demonstration, and tried intimidating us by yelling, forcing people to stand up. Nobody was throwing rocks or anything, and it was a complete non-violent demonstration.
Then all of the sudden we heard large explosions, and started running away from the checkpoint. Israelis started to throw sound bombs directly into the crowd. Medics quickly got up from their stand-by position and carried two women into the ambulance. Sound bombs do make a small explosion, and one could get hurt by pins that fly out of it. Assaults by tear gas followed, and we were dispersed to all directions in the white smoke that stung our eyes and throats, but kept trying to be near the checkpoint to show our message.
I was with my South African friend Mandy, a long-time anti-apartheid activist. She remarked stunningly: "I can't believe this. Even in the worst days of Apartheid, South African army wasn't this vicious."
Some young girls walked by us, with a backpack and in school uniform. They had an extreme terrified look and walked by quickly. In a store nearby, a shopkeeper was tending children who inhaled tear gas: “Hide here until it finishes."
In the meantime, soldiers started to beat-up some sit-in demonstrators and grabbing them into the military jeep. Sound bombs and tear gas assaults continued. People kept on falling, and were taken onto a stretcher and ferried to the ambulance. I also saw one of the medics rushed to the ambulance on the stretcher.
Then, I heard this sharp 'pan-pan-pan' noise in the air, as everyone started to run for life. Israelis started to shoot live ammunitions to demonstrators. It was too dangerous to be there anymore. As we left the scene, several ambulances passed us rushing towards the checkpoint.
I have been to the scenes of clashes before, but today’s experience was shocking - the fact that a non-violent demonstration was encountered by such violent attacks. CNN news footage tonight showed an Israeli soldier lying on the ground (did he shoot himself??), and not a single demonstrator hurt.