At night the young people of Budrus escape into the hills, and even during daytime the streets of the village look like a ghost town. At night the youths flee from the threatening wave of arrests by the Israel Defense Forces; by day, during the long broiling-hot hours of the Ramadan fast, they try to pass the time by sleeping at home.
The young men began slipping away at nights recently, after a fellow villager, Abdel Rahim Awad, 18, was arrested. On January 15, his younger brother, Samir, a boy of 16, was killed by three bullets fired by IDF soldiers. They had waited in ambush for him near the separation fence and shot him in the back at close range as he tried to flee; the army has promised to investigate this incident.
Four months after Samir was killed, soldiers entered the family’s home, wreaked destruction there, lobbed stun grenades inside, beat up the women of the family − four of whom required hospitalization − and arrested Abdel Rahim, the older son, rolling him down the steps from the home’s top floor, and injuring him.
We visited the home the day after Samir was killed, and again on the day after Abdel Rahim’s arrest, in May. It now turns out that Abdel Rahim, who has been in detention since then, apparently gave his interrogators the names of many activists involved in the prolonged, popular struggle against the separation fence in Budrus, which is located near Ramallah. That is how the wave of arrests began.
To date, 20 villagers have been apprehended, and the arrests are continuing. The young people know how Abdel Rahim was arrested in the middle of the night and they are afraid. Nearly all are involved in the struggle, nearly all are liable to be arrested.
It was because of the separation barrier, which runs some 200 meters away from the village high school, that student Samir was killed; it is against this barrier that for 10 years now the village has been waging a protest that it defines as nonviolent.
Budrus was one of the first villages to wage such a popular struggle. Of its roughly 1,500 residents, about 100 − nearly all the young men between the ages of 18 and 25 − have been taking to the hills every night in recent weeks.
In a handsome home on the slopes of the village sits the leader of the struggle, Ayed Morrar, groaning with the back pain caused by a slipped disc. He describes the fear that has gripped his town, referring to the young locals as “boys” or “children,” just as we Israelis call our soldiers “boys” or “children.”
Morrar: “In such a small village, more than 100 boys live in fear. They know that one night the soldiers will come to arrest them because someone told the investigators of the Shin Bet [security service] that this one or that one once threw stones at the fence. Most of the boys don’t sleep at home at night.
“I myself have been arrested five times, and I can tell you that the fear of arrest is worse than the arrest itself. The boys are waiting to be apprehended, and this creates tremendous pressure in the village and great fear among the boys and their parents. They have seen what the soldiers did in the home of a shahid [martyr]. Most have never been arrested before.
“It’s been this way for a month now. The hills around the village are full of boys at night. There are soldiers posted along the fence: Maybe tonight, or tomorrow night, they will come in again and make arrests. Think about what it will do to the village if all the boys are arrested.
“I think the reason for all this is not convincing: We don’t have [Jewish] settlements around us, no one is threatening anyone’s life. There are just children who throw stones at the separation fence, next to where armed soldiers are standing. There is no real danger coming from the village, and our boys don’t think that by throwing stones they will harm the soldiers. No one thinks that by throwing stones at the fence it is possible to ‘punish’ the occupation or to cause it any real damage.
“Our struggle since 2003 has been a nonviolent one. Throwing stones at the fence doesn’t kill and doesn’t cause suffering; it is intended only to show that we are resisting. It is a disgrace for us not to resist. No one here believes in the methods of killing or causing suffering. No one thinks it is necessary to go ahead and shoot. We just want to convey a message of resistance − with respect to the very presence of the fence and of the soldiers in the village. It’s a message that the soldiers and the fence are not wanted here. The people only want to protest. This game has been going on for 10 years now and everyone knows his role.
“But recently the Shin Bet has been taking action; it wants to pressure Budrus residents to stop the struggle. They always find a reason to put people into prison. [They take] the brother of a shahid,” he says, referring to Abdel Rahim Awad, “who had been arrested and wounded and taken to the hospital − and now the locals are afraid he will tell them everything they want to hear. [Security people] bring him pictures and he points to them. That is enough to lead to the arrest of someone. We have experience with giving information to the Shin Bet. We aren’t blaming either the shahid’s brother or anyone else. We know no one volunteers to talk; it’s because of the threats. Most of us have experienced interrogations and therefore are not angry. Our children say that if they were in his shoes they wouldn’t talk, but there are always those who break down. We understand.”
While Ayed speaks, his brother, Abdel Nasser Morrar, 43, listens. He was arrested in the middle of the night about three weeks ago, as part of the latest wave of arrests, on suspicion of having thrown stones back in 2009. Recently, Abdel Nasser also has been documenting the Budrus struggle with a camera given to him by B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Perhaps that also had something to do with his arrest? He says that, according to the charge sheet against him, he was not incriminated by Samir’s brother Abdel Rahim, but rather by another young villager who was also arrested.
Abdel Nasser spent two weeks in prison, during which he was hardly interrogated at all. He was released on bail of NIS 12,000 − a sum that very few people in the village are able to raise. Now he is awaiting trial. Only he and one other suspect, also relatively old like he is, were released. All the rest are still behind bars.
These days, residents of the village are forbidden to get any closer than 100 meter from the separation fence, but the barrier is relatively close to the school, which makes things difficult for the students. Ayed Morrar observes that because the IDF does a lot of filming, with sophisticated equipment, of what happens in Budrus, including inside people’s homes, the women must keep their head-coverings on at all times, in case they are filmed.
The struggle he is leading is different from that in other villages. In Budrus they do not demonstrate against the fence only on Fridays, as is generally the case in Bil’in, Na’alin, Nabi Saleh and the other protesting locales.
“In Budrus,” Morrar explains, “we think no one will give us our rights and so we have to struggle for them, as Martin Luther King said ... Therefore, the struggle goes on every single day. Our timing is dependent on the bulldozers or the soldiers who come. With you in Israel, the bulldozers don’t in fact work on Fridays, so what do we have to demonstrate against on a Friday?
“It’s good for the media but we don’t need to please them or the authorities. On the other side of the fence, across from the school, there is an IDF shooting range, and it too adds to the feeling of suffocation and fear. The shooting can be heard in the village all the time. There is hardly any talk here about the diplomatic negotiations. If there is one topic that nevertheless inspires some people here, it’s the release of the prisoners. But in the meantime, the number of prisoners and detainees is, in fact, just multiplying, here and elsewhere.”