Na'alin demonstration
A demonstration against the separation barrier in the West Bank city of Na'alin. Photo by AP
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The story of the Palestinian popular protest against Israel in several West Bank villages has recently garnered worldwide praise. However, as with any other massive movement, the popular protest too has its darker sides. The Palestinian Authority, as well as the leaders of the Palestinian popular protests in villages such as Bil'in, Na'alim, Umm Salmuna, have been trying to keep the following story away from both public knowledge and the media's eye: One of the more prominent Umm Salmuna activists – a village south of Bethlehem, long entrenched in a battle against the West Bank separation fence – is suspected of the attempted rape of an American peace activist who had been residing in the village as part of her support of the local protest.

Omar Aladdin, who had been arrested three months ago over suspicions he had attempted to rape the U.S. citizen, was subsequently released after agreeing to apologize to the young woman. However, Haaretz had learned that representatives of both the popular protest movement and the PA have since applied pressure on the American peace activist as to prevent her from making the story public.

The incident allegedly took place last April, as Aladdin, who had served a term in the Israeli jail in the past, arrived one evening at the guest house in which many of the foreign peace activists were staying. The European and American female activists reportedly agreed to let Aladdin stay with them after he had told them he feared the Israel Defense Forces were on his tail, adding that he had been severely beaten at an IDF checkpoint only a week before.

During his stay Aladdin allegedly attempted to rape a Muslim-American woman, nicknamed "Fegin" by fellow activists. The woman escaped, later accusing the popular protest man of the attempt. One villager who had encountered the American following the incident said she had been in a state of shock.

Aladdin then refused to apologize for the incident, when news of it reached the village's popular committee, the popular protests' governing body, allegedly saying that the incident had been marginal and normal. The American activist then asked the committee to notify authorities of the attempted rape, a request which resulted in the man being arrested by security forces in Bethlehem. After agreeing to apologize for the incident, Aladdin was released from custody by the PA police.

The U.S. citizen was then convinced to retract her complaint, as to avoid tainting the image of the popular protest, which had attracted praise from around the world in recent months.

However, the Umm Salmuna case is not the only one. Separation fence activists know of other incidents in which Palestinians molested and sexually assaulted foreign peace activists, a subject which was apparently raised in the discussions of the various popular committees.

Foreign female peace activists regularly participate in protests in the villages of Bil'in, Na'alin, and others, where the activists stay in separate houses. Some villagers do not agree with these housing arrangements, claiming that the villages' youth, who frequently visit the activists, are corrupted by the young women.

One villager said the female activists bring a different "culture with them, western, too open. The young people, especially from the villages, aren’t used to stay near other girls, they do not know their culture, certainly when it’s a young woman staying with other women in a strange house. They misinterpret it."

Mahmoud Zwahara, the popular committee's coordinator for the Umm Salmuna and Ma'sara region, said in response that "the struggle against the separation fence is a joint fight, which does not target Israeli identity or Jews. We hope that our activity will show the Israeli soldiers that they must cease their actions against us as well as human rights violations."