When Israeli police and soldiers manning Qalandia checkpoint prevented West Bank Muslims under the age of 50 from crossing into Jerusalem to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform the last Friday of Ramadan prayer, the dozens left behind decided to pray at the checkpoint.
When they finished, they, along with Israeli and international supporters from a movement called Olive Revolution, gathered facing Israeli police and soldiers separated only by cement blocks. They chanted anti-occupation slogans and demanded access to East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since June 1967.
Dressed in full riot gear, police and soldiers stood their ground, and so did the Palestinians and their supporters. Nothing happened for a short while until young Palestinians began to throw rocks.
Israeli forces responded with tear gas canisters and stun grenades. The crowds quickly dispersed. Shortly after, the situation at the checkpoint returned to normal with street vendors waiting for the thousands who had already crossed the checkpoint to Jerusalem to return to Ramallah in hopes of selling them something.
The Olive Revolution wants West Bank residents of all ages to have free access to East Jerusalem and its holy Muslim and Christian places.
“Our presence here is to challenge the concept that Israel has the right to deny people free access to Jerusalem,” said Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist and one of the organizers of the Olive Revolution protest.
“We want to create a popular movement that would challenge the system the Israeli occupation has created, and hopefully this will be the start of it,” he said.
Under the slogan “Knocking on Jerusalem’s Gates,” the Olive Revolution, which identifies itself as a popular, humanitarian, non-armed movement against the Israeli occupation, brought its supporters to Qalandia in an attempt to draw international attention to what happens at the checkpoint as people try to reach Jerusalem for worship.
It called on supporters to come to four different checkpoints in the north, south, east and west of Jerusalem to declare that East Jerusalem is part of the territories Israel had occupied in 1967 and that people should be able to reach it freely.
Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, a nonviolent activist who started the popular resistance struggle in his West Bank village of Bilin six years ago, was also at Qalandia.
Normally, he would be in Bilin on Fridays leading the weekly anti-barrier, anti-settlements protest in his village. This time he chose to be at Qalandia, advocating the same message of nonviolent popular resistance.
He did not even think of crossing the checkpoint to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque because, he said, he would not be allowed since he previously served time in Israeli jails for his role in resisting the occupation.
“The only way I can reach Jerusalem is if I force my way through the checkpoint, not wait for Israeli permission,” he said.
He and members of the Olive Revolution, who numbered in the dozens, tried to push their way through the Israeli police and army lines, but failed.
After the standoff, they called on their supporters to head back to the buses waiting for them to return to Bilin, about 15 miles northwest of Ramallah, to join the protest there.
But by the time they got there, the Israeli soldiers had already broken up the demonstration.
--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photos: (Top) An activist raising a sign as Israeli soldiers look on. (Bottom) The T-shirt of a member of Olive Revolution says,"No to Occupation."/ Credit: Maher Abukhater