Monday, August 03, 2020

Bab al-Shams Village (Gateway to the Sun)

By Editor - January 13, 2013
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [IDF] [settlement construction] [Mustafa Bargouthi] [ Bab al-Shams ] [E1]

During the late evening on Thursday, 12th January, work began in constructing the Bab al-Shams Village in the infamous E-1 district of the West Bank. Consisting of 22 large tents, this operation marks the largest and most courageous Palestinian tent station ever attempted.

Just over two days later, over 500 Israeli soldiers forcibly evacuated the peaceful village, named after Elias Khoury’s novel of resistance and return, injuring six activists and arresting dozens more–all who were later released. However, the significance of the site has caused reverberations throughout many communities, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, but also across the globe.

The construction of the “Gateway to the Sun” village has one of many aims; to resist Israeli plans to build another permanent settler colony in the area.

If these plans went ahead, the Israeli settlement would cut across the already thin corridor of E1 that Palestinians have to link the north and south regions of the West Bank.

The Israelis would affectively cut the West Bank into two segments, completely negating the already slim chances of a two-state solution and the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.

Of the 3,000 acres allocated for construction of the Israeli settler colony, 375 acres are deemed 'privately owned Palestinian land’ by the Israeli Civil Administration. Yet not even this is legitimate enough for the Israeli authorities to allow a few Palestinian tents to be erected, let alone buildings.

The Israeli settlement construction plans in E1 were condemned by the United States when they were announced in November, and the European Union summoned its Israeli ambassadors to explain themselves.

Understandably frustrated at the lack of genuine pressure on Israel to stop its plans, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Committee put considerable effort into co-ordinating this scheme.

“A permanent village”

Photo by Lazar Simeonov

 At least 250 activists arrived to establish the camp, co-ordinated by some of the highest authorities of the Palestinian resistance scene, who came from all over the West Bank.

Most of the tents were erected by 9.30 am on Friday. There was a specifically allocated 'media tent’, 'food and drinks tent’ and a Palestinian Medical Relief Society tent. The other 20 or so were allocated with piles of blankets, pillows and mattresses.

The arrival of two stilted shacks, with roughly cut square holes on the floor prompted much laughter amongst the population: the toilets had arrived. One activist described the scene as “very jubilant, and the amount of unity here is unprecedented.”

By 10.00 am, Israeli police had stationed themselves at the entrance/exit point. No more vehicles were allowed to pass. However, as some stated, the Palestinians know their own land better than the Israeli police. Another entrance point was found and established, albeit much further away and accessible if not by foot then only by van or 4×4.

At around 13.00 p.m. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society arrived. He described the scene as the “peak of a qualitative change of Palestinian non-violent resistance in the last 10 years”. He further stated how the event had “shocked and surprised the Israelis, whilst unifying Palestinians in support of the village”.

As a few military helicopters flew above, camp leaders officially opened the village, proclaiming it as a “permanent village, legitimated by the people living inside it.”

Bab al-Shams had taken the Israelis completely by surprise, causing confusion and some glaring contradictory statements between the power centres of Israeli political society. Seven hours after the first tents were erected, the Israeli Supreme Court stated the tents could remain for six days. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later declared the site to be illegal and must be evacuated with immediate effect. The court later retorted that its earlier statement should be upheld.

Whilst the political and legal in-fighting ensued, the Israeli military had already planned an assault on the hilltop.

Early the next morning the military declared that it would follow the court order and allow the tents to remain there for the allocated six days. However, it also declared that the new inhabitants are there illegally and must leave with immediate effect.

With forcible eviction imminent, Bab al-Shams was honoured with the sight of dozens of waving Palestinian flags high on an adjacent hilltop. Reinforcements had arrived.

The legal owner of the land also appeared, brandishing documents including detailed maps for all to see. He describes how the Israelis gave him this piece of land as a 'gesture’ for forcibly displacing him from his home many years ago. The land however is barely habitable, and he described how his large family struggle to exist upon it. The camp leaders and the land owner declared their unity in the face of Israeli adversity.

Forced eviction, but Bab al-Shams lives on

Israeli special forces violently evicting the non-violent protesters. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

As nightfall engulfed the village on Saturday night, Bab al-Shams’ population became increasingly aware of the increased Israeli presence surrounding it. Two 4×4 patrols drive straight through the village, to the sounds of jeering and chanting from the inhabitants.

Around 3.00 a.m. calls were made by the activists to declare that the army were on their way. Some spotted as many as 20 jeeps, carrying approximately 500 soldiers from the nearby police station.

The villagers congregated, but quickly separated into two factions as the soldiers arrived from all directions. As the soldiers advanced, the eviction order was declared through a loudspeaker. They dazzled the crowd with bright lights, but the Palestinians remained resilient and in an outstanding sight, they all simultaneously sat down, with their arms linked.

After a few minutes, the soldiers forcibly broke up the pack, arresting the leaders and pulling away those that dare resist them.

One soldier grabbed a woman’s arm and pulled her to the ground whilst beating her back. She was swiftly taken out of the media’s glare into a nearby ambulance.

Those who were left were pushed away to be arrested or taken by military bus to the nearby checkpoint of Qalandia and dropped off, but not before an hour-long wait in the bitter cold whilst being forced to sit on a rocky outcrop.

The international community maintained their complicit silence at the blatant act of ethnic cleansing a small Palestinian village, made up of only tents, built on Palestinian owned land.

The power of the Israeli soldiers was always going to be too much to overcome. Yet Bab al-Shams stands as one of the most creative and intelligent resistance initiatives ever undertaken by Palestinians. Its legacy, as Dr. Barghouti points out, will be to spur on and inspire other creative acts of non-violent resistance. This shall be the legacy of Bab al-Shams village.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti being detained by Israeli special forces. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.


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