IDF strikes back in the YouTube battle over Bil'in

Videos posted by activists show non-violent demonstration, while army chooses different footage to justify use of tear gas, "skunk" water.

By
January 10, 2011 19:08
Demonstrators slinging rocks at Bil'in

Bil'in demonstrators protestors slinging throwing rocks 311. (photo credit: AP)

In a rare move, the IDF this week posted a video on YouTube showing Palestinian violence at Friday’s anti-barrier demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

An IDF spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the video was made in response to the high level of media focus on the weekly Bil’in demonstrations following the death the previous Saturday in a Ramallah hospital of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a village resident. Palestinians claim that Abu Rahma died from tear gas she inhaled the day before at an anti-barrier protest. The IDF says she was being treated for medical complications unconnected to tear gas.

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For years, Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists have posted YouTube videos depicting IDF activities at the weekly protests and in other parts of the West Bank, including one in which a protester was shot in the leg, allegedly with live ammunition. Another depicts the death of Abu Rahma’s brother, Bassem, who died at Bil’in when a tear gas projectile hit him in the chest at an April 2009 demonstration.

Although the IDF has posted other videos on YouTube, this is the first portraying the weekly protest at Bil’in, with a focus on Palestinian violence.

By press time, the video of Friday’s protest – which was dedicated to the memory of Abu Rahma – had slightly more hits, at 1,172, than the activist video, which had registered 1,149 hits.

The video begins with an IDF warning to demonstrators over a megaphone. “You may protest and express your opinions,” a voice says. “You may not throw stones or cross the yellow gate. You may not damage the security fence.”

In the next shot, a male protester, wearing a white scarf around his head and another around his mouth, walks up to the wire fence that is part of the security barrier and cuts it, even though soldiers are standing just a few meters away on the other side. The IDF then issues another warning: “Any harm to the fence will force us to respond.” Upon hearing this, the Palestinian protester gives the IDF the finger.

The video then depicts many more shots of activists throwing stones at soldiers standing on the opposite side of the barrier.



The rocks sail over the barrier and over the heads of the soldiers; in some cases, the soldiers have to jump out of the way.

The IDF then uses a large white police truck, which sprays strong jets of foulsmelling water, which the rioters call “skunk.”

“Our approach is to enable a protest as long as it is nonviolent,” Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon of the GOC Central Command explains in the video. “We differentiate very clearly between a nonviolent demonstration, which is a legitimate form of protest, and a violent riot that involves the throwing of rocks and metal objects, physical harm and damage to the security barrier.”

But several videos of the same Friday demonstration that were posted by activists show a completely different side. Demonstrators are shown holding aloft posters of Abu Rahma, which describe her as a martyr. In one video, activists chant and wave flags as they walk from the mosque in the village, down the road, past the last house, down a hill, into a valley of olive trees and over to the barrier, which forms a half circle around their fields. Many are wearing eightpointed yellow badges that read “Palestine,” and chant “Free Palestine!” and “Let us pass.” One young woman climbs onto the barrier and waves a flag. Another protester waves a poster of Abu Rahma in front of the soldiers.

Only in one clip is a protester seen trying to dismantle the barrier with his hands.

After that there are several video shots of the white truck shooting streams of “skunk,” which completely clears the protesters from the wire fence.

Following this, soldiers shoot rounds of tear gas, and one protester is seen lying on the ground. Another is evacuated from the scene.

In another video, which was taken after activists reached a gate in the barrier, protesters can be seen running from thick clouds of tear gas from canisters that snake a path across the fields before bursting.

From its perch on a hilltop overlooking the site on Friday, The Jerusalem Post saw how both aspects of the protest, violent and nonviolent, took place at the same time.

Depending on where one stood and at what time, one could see a violent or a nonviolent demonstration.

Many marchers strode peacefully from the mosque and into the valley. They fell back when the white truck sprayed “skunk,” and dispersed altogether under clouds of tear gas.

Most of the stones were thrown by people who stood apart from the marchers, next to the fence and in a field away from the road.

In an event that lasted over an hour, soldiers shot many rounds of tear gas, sometimes at the main group of marchers and other times at the stonethrowers.

In places the tear gas was so thick it was hard to see through it, and on occasion the air was so heavy with gas that even the observers on the hilltop had to move back.

The Post saw members of an ambulance crew treat one protester for what appeared to be tear gas inhalation. A woman was observed sitting in a van and moaning, apparently from the effects of the gas.

Left-wing Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak insists that the intent of the weekly protests is to remove the barrier, which he and the Palestinians consider illegal. In the case of Bil’in, Pollak said, the High Court of Justice had agreed that the barrier’s present location was illegal.

The ruling came more than three years ago, he said, and since then the state had found the IDF in contempt for failing to relocate it.

The army began relocation efforts last February. An IDF spokesman said it would likely take another three months to move the structure, and that in the interim it was important that the existing stretch remain intact.


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