The Judean hills south of Jerusalem might be the setting for an act of human solidarity yet to be seen in these parts, as settler groups hope to join forces with Palestinians in a protest march against the security barrier to be erected in the Walaje range.
“Residents of the mountain unite against the barrier in Walaje. Despite the quiet in Judea and Bethlehem in the past five years, the Defense Ministry has begun to construct the separation barrier in Walaje,” the invitation to the protest, issued by the Kfar Etzion Field School’s dynamic head Yaron Rozental begins, leading to an appeal to all residents of the region – “Jews, Christians and Arabs, children and adults, women and men, to join a march and protest in the Walaje range, in order to prevent its destruction by bulldozers.”
Rozental led the successful legal struggle in 2004-2006 to reroute part of the security barrier in Gush Etzion – then too collaborating with the Palestinians of Wadi Fukin to that end – though the activities never achieved the magnitude of a joint march against a Defense Ministry project; which might be the case on Thursday.
“We are facing huge damage – to the landscape, the economy and society,” Rozental told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the protest. “It has been proven that the separation barrier doesn’t improve security. There are other ways to provide security that don’t entail excessive monetary expenditure and unnecessary harm to Jewish and Arab civilians. It is time to think differently,” he added.
Despite good ties between most of the Palestinians and settlers in the area around Bethlehem and the Etzion Bloc, the residents of Walaje are still undecided over whether to join the march. The wording of the invitation, they say, does not note them as equal parties in the struggle. But the deeper problem lies in the embedded suspicion of the settlers’ true intentions.
“Some Palestinians say the reason settlers are opposing the security barrier is to prevent a situation in which their scope of expansion might be limited,” Sami Awad, director of the Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based organization committed to promoting non-violent resistance to oppression in Palestinians areas, told Post on Wednesday.
“It is very important for the people of Walaje that Israelis will be demonstrating alongside them,” Awad said, while noting that the settlements are illegal according to international law and, as such, obstacles to peace. Palestinians would consider freezing the settlements a means to create better communication between them and the settlers, he stressed.
Awad noted the potential damage of a security barrier not only to the Palestinians, but even to the security of the Jewish residents in the area.
“The barrier creates more anger and greater potential for violence, and even the settlers don’t want violence or conflicts with their Palestinian neighbors,” he said.
To liaise with the Palestinian locals, Rozental approached Nachum Pachenick, a resident of the Gush Etzion outpost Sede Boaz. Six months ago, Pachenick founded the Eretzshalom (landpeace) movement dedicated to promoting direct dialogue between settlers and Palestinians, and is currently active in promoting the support and participation of both groups in the upcoming protest.
“We share their interests,” Pachenick, speaking as a settler, said of the Palestinian residents of Walaje and the area ahead of Thursday’s protest march. “They understand that our participation would constitute a far more powerful statement than a leftist group taking part in any kind of demonstration against the [security barrier].
“The power here lies in the fact that the core of the conflict is speaking in one voice. What do we need a fence for, if we can do things together? You don’t need a fence for peace, it will only lead to war,” he stressed.
Pachenick refused to be politically defined in the conventional fashion.
“I am against evacuating settlements; does that make me a Right-winger?
he asked. “Removing people from their homes will not bring peace,” he
added. “Peace is not reached through separation, but rather through
acquaintanceship. Separation is an act of despair.
“Right and Left are empty definitions, they are not the real person,”
Pachenick continued. “We are in favor of dialogue and will meet with
anyone who will talk to us,” he said of his movement.
Both Pachenick and Awad were hoping to see many Palestinians and
settlers join the Thursday march, but stressed that the changes within
the societies would be lengthy and not immediate processes.
“Many Palestinians see settlers solely as people here to take their
land. It would be very good for Palestinians to see that there are
different voices from within the settlers,” Awad said.