The Palestinian protests against Israel in several West Bank villages have garnered worldwide praise. However, as with other massive movements, the Palestinian popular protest has its darker side.
The Palestinian Authority, as well as the leaders of the popular protests in villages such as Bil'in, Na'alin, Umm Salamuna, have been trying to keep the following story from both public knowledge and the media's eye: One of the more prominent activists in Umm Salamuna - 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 a show of her support for the protest.
Omar Aladdin, who was arrested three months ago on suspicions of attempted rape, was subsequently released after agreeing to apologize to the young woman. However, Haaretz learned that representatives of both the popular protest movement and the PA have since pressured the American peace activist to prevent her from going public with the story.
The incident allegedly took place last April when Aladdin, who had served a term in an Israeli jail in the past, arrived one evening at the guest house where many foreign peace activists were staying. The European and American female activists there reportedly agreed to let Aladdin stay with them after he told them he feared the Israel Defense Forces were on his tail, adding that he'd been severely beaten at an IDF checkpoint only a week before.
During his stay, Aladdin allegedly attempted to rape a Muslim-American woman. The woman managed to escape; one villager who encountered her after the incident said she appeared to be in a state of shock.
When news of the incident reached the village's popular committee, the protests' governing body, Aladdin reportedly refused to apologize - saying the encounter had been marginal and normal. The American activist then asked the committee to notify the authorities of the attempted rape, resulting in the man's arrest in Bethlehem. After Aladdin agreed to apologize for the incident, the PA police released him from custody.
The woman was subsequently convinced to retract her complaint to avoid tainting the image of the popular protest.
However, the Umm Salamuna case does not appear to be the only one. Activists know of other incidents in which Palestinians have allegedly sexually assaulted foreign peace activists, a subject apparently raised in discussions held among various popular committees.
Foreign female 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 the villages' youth, who frequently visit the activists, are corrupted by the young women.
Mahmoud Zwahara, the popular committee's coordinator for the Umm Salamuna and Ma'sara region, said in response: "The struggle against the separation fence is a joint battle, 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 committing human rights violations."