Protesters crossed the main gate in the separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2010. Around 200 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals walked from the Nativity Square toward Jerusalem, against the restrictions imposed by the Israelis. These restrictions were tighter than usual and directed toward the right to worship, as many Christians will not be able to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter.
The crowd managed to outnumber and surprise the Israeli soldiers and security forces at Bethlehem checkpoint and managed to walk through. After having walked 300 meters on the road to Jerusalem, they were stopped by Israeli soldiers. After having declared the march over and as they were walking back to Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers attacked the crowd and arrested around 15 persons, among them a Palestinian cameraman, an Israeli photographer, members of the popular committee from Al Ma'sara, and staff from Holy Land Trust.
Here's one account:
"More than 100 native Palestinian Christians and Muslims and internationals including Israelis, breached the tight security separating the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem from the occupied city of Jerusalem. Donkeys and people both were arrested! We were initially some 150 strong and started from the Church of Nativity at 11:45 AM carrying palm leaves and banners asking for freedom of worship and movement (as demanded by international law). The demonstration included individuals riding 2 donkeys and a horse. Appropriate since Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Like him, we knew this was not going to be an easy entry but we did believe in the goodness of humanity. We arrived at the main gate used for tourist buses at around 12:30 p.m. and decided to just keep going. The few soldiers and police at the gate tried to close it but we managed to get in and the huge 8 meter high metal gate stopped half way, perhaps as a safety mechanisms since there were dozens of people passing and they could be crushed if it continued.
The Israeli security forces tried to close other fences but we kept going. As word reached their offices, the Israeli army was mobilizing its forces and soon several army jeeps arrived and blocked the road half way between the gate and Deir Mar Elias (the monastery at the edge of the city). They blocked our way.
Ibrahim Salah riding his donkey was speaking to them in Hebrew and saying why can't we go to Jerusalem. It is our right to travel. He was the first to be violently knocked down off his donkey and arrested. The next was an American girl, then some Palestinians. All were violently wrestled to the ground when even many were just peacefully walking back to the gates. It seemed like a calculated move to punish some of us so that others get the message not to try this again.
Some 60 of us ended up being rounded up in between a wall, a hill, a gate, and a cordon of police officers. We all expected to be arrested. The occupation soldiers instead plucked random people that they thought were the key people.
We had significant local and national and international media coverage. The people are willing to pay the price. Israeli forces released 4 Israelis and the one American student. They kept 11 Palestinians that they kidnapped and are charging them with "incitement," "participating in an unauthorized demonstration," "entering 'Israel' without a permit," and "interfering in police business."
Oh and yes, a donkey and a horse belonging to Ibrahim were also arrested for they too need permits from the Israeli military to get in.
As this video shows, unlike some recent protests in Jerusalem, at no time were any members of the demonstration violent or threatening to the soldiers, police, and private security contractors, even as they were being forcefully detained. Police begin arresting protesters around 5:15 in the video:
Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).