IDF forces arrest 12 people at Al-Walajeh

21:00 Aug 10 2011 Al-Walajeh (Walaja)

By Amira Hass for Haaretz

An IDF force operating in Jerusalem arrested 12 people protesting for social justice.

This is not the opening to some futuristic piece about an open military takeover of Israel. It happened last Wednesday in the southeastern part of the city, on lands in the village of Walajeh, which were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967.

The Etzion brigade commander, Col. Yaniv Alalouf, had earlier signed an order declaring a closed military zone, seemingly giving him a basis to arrest the protesters.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now and Sarit Michaeli of B'Tselem checked and found that the map attached to the order also includes area within Jerusalem's boundaries, and that the arrests occurred there.

Consequently, Col. Alalouf and his soldiers apparently committed a double violation: sealing an area inside Jerusalem, where they do not have jurisdiction, and arresting citizens inside the capital. The IDF spokesman: "The claim is being reviewed."

About 25 protesters came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Walajeh at 9 A.M. Wednesday and joined a similar number of protesters from the village, who were demonstrating against the separation fence, which is actually more of a wall there.

The visiting protesters are already familiar with the anomaly: Somehow, in 1967, some of the village lands were annexed to Jerusalem, though their owners remained West Bank residents.

In the 1990s they were designated illegal residents in Israel, because they lived in their homes or went to their fields. This absurdity was corrected in a lengthy legal battle, but now there are new absurdities.

The Jerusalem demonstrators came with their drums and pounded them, in the hope of waking someone up. Perhaps their mates in the Rothschild tents or the High Court of Justice judges, who had already reviewed the petitions against the route of the wall in Walajeh.

When construction is completed, the village and its 2,500 residents will be surrounded on all sides by an eight-meter high concrete wall. The only access to the road connecting them to Beit Jala will probably be through a gate manned by soldiers.

The village will be separated from most of its agricultural plots. People will get up in the morning and instead of olive trees and fields and the sunrise, they will see a wall. Instead of stone terraces along the ridge, deemed architectural-agricultural gems, they will see concrete. Instead of a village, they will be living in a pen.

Beyond the pen, on the village's lands, neighborhoods for Jews only will rise and prosper.

The High Court of Justice still has not made a final decision regarding a route that even the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel opposes for severely impinging on the natural environment and the landscape.

At a November 2010 hearing, the judges "recorded" that the state promised to freeze work along the eastern edge of the route "until the question of narrowing the width of the route that harms the vista" is decided on.

For a few months, there was a break in the work, but recently the bulldozers and the private security firm have returned to the site and the yellowish wound in the green mountain is stretching longer and longer. With the return of the bulldozers, the social justice protesters also returned.

The soldiers arresting them within the municipal borders of Jerusalem were from the Dukhifat (Hoopoe ) battalion in the Kfir Brigade. At least one protester tried to argue and explain to them that they were outside their jurisdiction.

"It was a violent and illegal violation of public order," the IDF Spokesman's written response to Haaretz stated. "The rioters threw stones at IDF forces and refused to obey the security forces' directives. Some 11 protesters leading the rioting were arrested and charged with throwing stones, and they were taken away to be dealt with by the Israel Police and the Border Police."

Not true: Several of the youths began throwing stones only after 11 Israeli protesters were arrested. Then the Israeli soldiers arrested a village resident standing by the entrance of his house. The soldiers claim he threw stones. He and protesters not arrested deny this.

The detainees were gathered together and placed handcuffed in an archaeological excavation there. After a few hours they were taken to the military base at the entrance to Beit Jala. They were blindfolded and then taken in a single large armored vehicle to the Etzion Police Station.

They were left outside it for a few hours, in the armored vehicle, some with blindfolds, and some without; a few with handcuffs and a few without. On the way to the Etzion station, one of the arrestees heard an IDF soldier tell another soldier about others in their division who "were AWOL at that time."

Newspapers reported that the 11 absentee soldiers were protesting against the humiliating attitude they faced in their battalion and their commanders' lack of consideration.

The detained protester heard one of the soldiers say: "We turned out to be the pussies" (for failing to do what the AWOL soldiers did ).

According to the protesters, a few of the soldiers did not make do with arrests and also heckled: "Son of bitch"; "If only your family were to be killed in a terrorist attack and then you'd learn"; "You're lucky I'm in uniform now, otherwise I'd kill you; you transvestite."

One soldier tightened, instead of loosening the plastic handcuffs around the hands of the youngest protester, causing the youth to cry out in pain.

The soldiers lingered for an hour and a half until they allowed one of the handcuffed women to take an anti-epilepsy pill that was in her bag. According to the detained women, several soldiers pushed them gruffly while touching them in the chest and buttocks.

The IDF Spokesman's response: "The claims are being examined. The complainants are invited to submit a formal complaint to the relevant enforcement agents."

But the soldiers did provide water and allow the detainees to use the toilets.

In the evening, around 10 hours after they were arrested, soldiers from the Dukhifat battalion led them to the Border Police checkpoint at the northern exit of Bethlehem. A police interrogator saw them.

Arrest notices were shown to them (which they refused to sign ): The 11 Israelis were arrested for "rioting and violating a closed military zone order" (and without stone-throwing being attributed to them, contrary to the IDF spokesman's response ).

The Palestinian arrested at the entrance to his home was charged with stone throwing. Unlike protests in other villages, where Israeli detainees are released after a few hours and Palestinians kept longer for the same alleged offense, he was at least released with the rest at around 9:00 P.M. They have been summoned for questioning on Tuesday.
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