In what has become a weekly non-violent demonstration against the Wall, Palestinian and Israeli peace activists came together Sunday afternoon in the town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Israeli forces launched a barrage of semi-lethal weapons at the demonstrators, injuring both participants in the demo and passers-by, according to eyewitnesses.Sunday’s protest began small, with only about a dozen Palestinians, and several Israelis gathered at the site of Wall construction in Beit Jala. According to eyewitness Joseph Dana, “Palestinians approached the construction site of the wall, which was fully active with cranes, drilling and a construction crew on site. Fifty meters from the construction site, the Israeli military erected a barrier of barbed wire and dispatched one unit authorized to use crowd dispersal methods such as stun bombs, high velocity tear gas canisters and arrest. After ten minutes of chanting and an attempt by one Palestinian to physically move the barbed wire, the Israeli military began firing tear gas canisters at the protesters and in the direction of the houses of the village.

“The crowd retreated into houses to escape the gas leaving a group of Palestinian and Israeli photographers standing near the line of troops. One soldier (an American from Ohio who studied at George Washington University) began asking the photographers where they were from in the world. As this conversation began a Palestinian from Beit Jala named M, who was standing among us, whispered in my ear that ‘this soldier is a nice one’. The soldier heard him and a conversation between the two broke out about the legitimacy of the soldiers presence in the village.”

According to Dana’s account, “The soldier maintained a clear line that the wall is necessary for the protection of Israeli citzens and he would not be there if it was not ‘for you people’ pointing at M. He kept repeating ‘there has been no terror since the wall has been built’ and grew frustrated with the questions regarding occupation like ‘do you know we live under an occupation’ that M was asking him. At one point, M asked about the route of the wall and why it was not placed on the green line. The response was that the green line is not an internationally recognized border, thus Israel had no obligation to follow its path. In the soldier’s mind, as he stood with an tear gas gun in his hand ready to suppress a non-violent protest, the green line was not valid and the occupation was an involuntary act forced upon Israel.

“The conversation continued for some time with small interruptions from the firing of tear gas canisters at civilian houses in the village. M kept looking at me and saying ‘this soldier is a good one’ and ‘he believes in the Palestinian struggle’. It was hard to take M’s comments seriously as I believe that, while this soldier was in good spirits and chatting, his demeanour could change in a matter of seconds. Yet, I live in Tel Aviv and return home after the demonstration while M is forced to remain occupied. His ability to see the decency in soldiers through a mere conversation was inspiring given their behaviour in his city. I guess the simple ability to talk with a soldier was something of great importance to M. The conversation between the two of them ended with a promise to ‘talk about the situation’ more in the future. Perhaps next week in Beit Jala they will continue where they left off.”

Dana reported that as the demonstration was dispersing, Israeli forces continued to fire tear gas canisters into the streets, where taxis were trying to drive and people were attempting to shop. He reports seeing tear gas canisters under cars, forcing their occupants out due to lack of oxygen.

Palestinians have been holding weekly Sunday afternoon protests against the construction of the Israeli separation wall which will cut their city in half and annex large parts of their land to Israel. Recent protests have seen in escalation of violence by Israeli soldiers which now routinely fire tear gas into the densely populated city irregardless of women, children and other bystanders.

Youtube video of demo: