America's First Amendment guarantees free assembly. No matter. Demonstrators for social, economic and political justice are assaulted and arrested.
For weeks, hundreds of peaceful environmental protesters in front of the White House against a controversial 1,661-mile Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, TX pipeline have been arrested for exercising their constitutional rights - whatever the issue.
This one's important, involving TransCanada Corporation's history of spills, as well as plans to transport toxic oil from environmentally destructive tar sands.
Nonetheless, Obama backs construction to feed America's dirty oil appetite. To hell with environmental sanity and public health.
Friends of the Earth says the Keystone XL pipeline "will carry one of the world's dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil." Moreover, its route "could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, and would jeopardize public health."
If completed, the pipeline will double dirty tar sands oil into America, making its toxic environment more noxious. Bipartisan Washington criminals support it. So does Obama. Only profits and corporate favoritism matter. The public interest be damned as on so many other issues.
Angry protesters reacted peacefully. Their reward - arrests and for some roughed up. It's the same fate global justice, anti-war, and other demonstrators at times face. Too many times, in fact.
Palestinians Face Worse
Palestinians on their own land, in their own country, face much tougher crackdowns. B'Tselem addressed the issue in a new report titled, "Show of Force: Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations in a-Nabi Saleh."
West Bank a-Nabi Saleh is a Palestinian village near Ramallah. For over 18 months, every Friday, residents rally peacefully against Israel's Separation Wall and settlers stealing their land.
As a result, Israeli security forces regularly assault them. On May 13, it was especially violent with use of tear gas, stun grenades, pepper gas spray, and brutal beatings. Numerous injuries resulted.
B'Tselem documented four subsequent demonstrations in June and July. They studied available volunteer-produced video footage, collected testimonies from village residents, and monitored other demonstrations.
A-Nabi Saleh has about 550 residents in a largely farmland area, covering over 2,700 dunams. Since at least 2008, settlers increasingly encroached on them.
Residents filed unaddressed complaints. All got responses like "offender unknown" or "lack of evidence."
In January 2010, authorities ruled al-Qaws Spring used by residents an archeological site. The area was declared a closed military area. Palestinians were denied access.
In February 2010, land owners and residents of a-Nabi Saleh and Deir Nidham petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to no avail.
Henceforth, they lost access to their own land. At the same time, settlers built on it, planted trees, installed irrigation systems, besides other development activities. They have free access. Palestinians don't.
On December 15, 2009, the Popular Committee for Opposition to the Fence and Settlements began holding weekly demonstrations, following Friday prayers. Other nearby village residents joined them.
At issue is lawless land theft. Demonstrators act peacefully. Security forces disrupt them violently. Confrontations at times last hours.
Security forces also enter a-Nabi Saleh other times, including night raids to make arrests. Dozens have been affected, including children.
Prosecutions followed, including for violating Order 101, prohibiting West Bank demonstrations.
Arrested villagers include Naji Tamimi, a protest leader, arrested on March 6, 2011. He was then convicted of incitement and support of a hostile organization for having "organized, incited and executed disturbances of the public order and violent demonstrations."
He was also convicted for instructing children to throw stones. As a result, he got a year in prison, two years of conditional imprisonment, and a 10,000 shekel fine.
On March 24, another leader, Bassem Tamimi, was arrested and indicted for "incitement and support of a hostile organization....taking part in a procession without a permit, (and) conspiracy to throw objects (sic) at a person or property."
He's still in custody awaiting criminal proceedings against him.
Israel imprisons Palestinian children for allegedly throwing stones. When Israeli security forces bludgeon and injure Palestinians, they're ordered to keep doing it. No charges are filed, even for cases involving deaths.
The Red Crescent told B'Tselem that from January through August 11, 2011, 35 Palestinians were treated for injuries, some requiring hospitalization. Five were struck by rubber bullets, four by shrapnel, and ten affected by tear gas inhalation. Two others suffered shock. Others also sustained injuries.
Documentation of Demonstrations
Security forces deployed early each day, blocking roads, establishing checkpoints, and placing a metal gate at a-Nabi Saleh's main entrance. They also patrolled to prevent demonstrators from assembling.
After prayers ended around 1:15PM, residents began a procession at the village's center, then headed toward demonstrating at al-Qaws Spring. Peacefully, they carried placards and flags. They also chanted slogans as they walked.
Each time, security forces blocked their way, dispersing them violently. B'Tselem documented "confrontations of varying intensity....Often, youths and small children threw stones....usually from a considerable distance."
B'Tselem said security forces lawlessly infringed on peaceful demonstrators, used excessive force dispersing them, causing injuries.
Infringement of the Right to Demonstrate
Security forces did it multiple ways, including:
-- preventing demonstrators from reaching al-Qaws Spring, having illegally declared their property a closed military area;
-- declaring demonstrations "unlawful assembly;" on June 24, even children in costumes flying kites were designated the same way;
-- everyone (including Israelis and foreign nationals) were prohibited from participating in demonstrations;
-- curfews, arrests and violence accompanied them; on July 22, soldiers "went from house to house looking for Israelis and foreign nationals to remove them from the village;" in some cases, they broke in violently, weapons drawn; assaults occurred.
Use of Force and Crowd Control Measures
Israeli security forces systematically employ violence against peaceful demonstrators. Included are indiscriminate use of rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, stun grenades, "skunk" liquid, beatings, and at times live fire.
Tear gas causes severe eye irritation and burning. It also affects breathing, and creates a choking sensation. Two kinds are used. One made of rubber may be hurled manually or fired by special launchers.
The other is made of aluminum, fired from launchers or a separate device. Serious injuries and at times death can result if struck on head by canisters. Elderly or infirm persons may also be greatly harmed.
B'Tselem said security forces used tear gas excessively, at times firing canisters directly at individual demonstrators.
Canisters also damage property. In addition, some ignite and cause fires.
Stun grenades cause loud noise when they explode. They're used to distract, cause confusion and incite fear. Though not meant to inflict injuries, they can ignite and damage ear drums.
Pepper spray is used to moderately neutralize demonstrators. However, spraying directly at faces at close range impairs breathing and eyesight.
"Skunk" is a smelly liquid sprayed from tankers. It sticks to skin and gets absorbed in clothes. The foul odor is used to disperse crowds. Washing doesn't eliminate it entirely. In some cases, security forces "intentionally sprayed the liquid on houses and at demonstrators standing in the street."
Civilian bystanders are harmed as well as demonstrators. "The entire village, including the elderly, children, ill persons, and pregnant women, are exposed weekly to large quantities of tear gas, from which they have no place to flee."
Even in homes it's felt, though more intensely outside. Moreover, "anybody who leaves (their) house is met with another round of gas."
In addition, blocking roads, setting up checkpoints, and other repressive tactics "directly affect the 12,000 Palestinians living in five villages" nearby. Their lives and Friday activities are disrupted.
Israel calls peaceful demonstrations illegal "disturbances." This is how police states operate. It's the same in America where constitutional rights are violated with impunity.
Protected rights are infringed. Victims are called criminals. Arrests, prosecutions, imprisonment and fines follow. Freedom in both countries is a four-letter word with no meaning when authorities act outside the law.
Armed with plenty of muscle, everyone's at risk, especially society's best willing to confront them.
It's time everyone joined in to help before what few democratic remnants remain in both countries are gone.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.