Kitaido and Nonviolent Resistance
by Aviv Tatarsky
[Translator’s note: Kitaido is a movement system and body/mind practice rooted in Japanese martial arts such as Shintaido and Karate. Wakame is a technique based on the movement of the Japanese kelp of the same name. For background on Bil’in and the joint struggle see links below.]
On Friday I joined a demonstration in Bil’in – a Palestinian village in the occupied territories – against the theft of more than half of the village’s lands as part of the construction of the separation fence. The event saw extremely violent behavior of the security forces, but this angering and frustrating behavior also gave me an unexpected opportunity to practice Kitaido.
It begins when 80 people from Jerusalem get on transit vans that are supposed to drive them from where the army stopped our buses to Bil’in. Three Humvees try to block the road in front of the cars. I join another three people and we stand in front of the Humvees so they can’t move. Soldiers get off the Humvees and push us aside. We get back in front of the Humvees. We stand, the soldiers shove us and we get back in front of the Humvees. Quickly the soldiers become more violent. We continue to resist passively. The Humvees advance but very slowly and our transits retreat. The soldiers’ violence increases. Harsh shoving, threatening, waving. They have no authority to stop the transit cars. The soldiers are stronger than me; I can’t prevent them from pushing me.
Instinctively I do Wakame with them. My body is soft and lets itself be pushed. Not only does it protect me from injury, it also allows me to lightly get back in front of the Humvee while using the momentum that the soldier gave me. A soldier with murder in his eyes rushes at me. He weighs much more than I do and intends to collide. The Wakame leaves me unharmed time after time.
The Wakame technique also has a significant psychological effect. First of all there is no fear. The shoving, the blows, the fact of being thrown in every direction are something to flow with, to become one with – there is no need to resist. And my body knows how to do that
instinctively. I don’t need to transmit any order or any calming signal. Usually I’m afraid to be injured. Here I am thrown to the curb of the road and might stagger among rocks and building debris – somehow I stay calm. Another psychological effect is even more significant. Since I want to prevent the Humvees from moving I might get too insistent, angry when the soldiers manage to move me. The frustration could turn into violence on my behalf or into despair, exhaustion. But the perseverance of Wakame always takes into account the force working on it (I almost wrote “against it”). Years ago I wrote about this: “Falling is good, getting up is good”. This time to my delight I manage not to fall and that old sentence changes to “Being thrown aside is good, and as soon as I can I get back in front of the Humvee, and that’s also good”. That way I don’t insist and also don’t give up. And there is no sense of exertion.
It is clear to me that I wouldn’t do well to resist the soldiers by force. I won’t be able to overcome a soldier pushing me and I may get hurt. So if any of my friends (we are four in all) stands in front of the leading Humvee (fortunately the road is narrow), it’s less important that I stand there. Once they manage to push him away I appear there instead of him. It reminds me of jumping in Kitaido when it’s important to me that there won’t be a moment when nobody is jumping, that even when I’m resting from jumping I pay attention to the others in the group and if it looks like in a moment there will be nobody jumping then I muster my will and hurry back. But this strategy also has another name. A major part of the art in martial art is the attention to gaps.
Creating a gap on the opponent’s side, identifying that gap and getting into it. Avoiding gaps on my side, identifying gaps and filling them. So that’s what I do. Where there is a gap I try to fill it. Sometimes I also manage to attract the attention of more than one soldier and the gap created allows another demonstrator to stand in front of the Humvee.
After 45 minutes the soldiers are tired of the game. They grab us. The others, who unlike me continue trying to reach the Humvees get seriously beaten up (without justification: none of us have raised their hand on a soldier all this while). To me it was clear that there’s not a chance – I spared myself the beating. Our hands are bound and the plastic
zip-cuffs cut Amnon’s skin. He grunts in pain. After ten minutes we are released from the cuffs. Amnon is hard to release because any attempts to cut the cuffs will also cut his wrists. At the end they saw it off with a mini-saw. The soldiers release us on condition that we go back to Jerusalem. To the taxi driver taking us they say: “you’ve got five minutes to get out of the village or we’ll slit your tires”. We go to Bil’in, of course. God knows why the soldiers needed this stupid game, at the end of which they let out their frustration with blows and
humiliations. Obviously they didn’t attain their goal – the transit vans with 80 people from Jerusalem arrived in Bil’in.
Israeli demonstrators also came from Tel-Aviv and Haifa and altogether we are 300 people. Together with the villagers a thousand of us march towards the route of the fence. On the other side I see the construction of the Matityahu East settlement, built on lands robbed from the village. In front of us stand about two hundred soldiers, border policemen, and riot cops. For some reason they will only let us demonstrate 500 meters away from the fence. The army decides that a certain line may not be crossed. Of course we ignore it. About thirty people pass but concussion grenades and baton blows stop the rest. Bloc facing bloc, soldiers confront demonstrators. I try to pass through the soldiers and get am thrust back. The strategy is clear now – creating a gap. Two soldiers who deal with me leave gap for other demonstrators to pass. But nobody joins me. It takes me a quarter of an hour to understand that I am being needlessly insistent in staying where I am. Nothing is going on here so I will go somewhere else – it’s OK to admit that the soldiers managed to stop me. In other places things are also stuck.
Finally something happens, movement begins and there is no way to stop the demonstrators without harsh violence. The violence is directed only against the “leaders” and one of them has his arm broken. Now there is the need to prevent the creation of a gap where we are. Five soldiers assault this or another leader and try to arrest him so others should immediately jump and join him together with another ten demonstrators to equal the forces.
We passed and we’re advancing towards the fence. I see that on my right a soldier is moving away to the side. He stops, aims his rifle, and fires towards the head of our column. One live bullet! I’m stunned. It’s clear to me what should be done but I’m afraid. Still, together with four others I run towards him and we stand in front of his gun. He managed to fire just one more bullet. That was also a situation of identifying the gap and rushing to fill it. To our luck the IDF still doesn’t so easily fire on Jews, so that there was no danger. An officer arrives and collects this nutter who lost his wits.
We arrive at the fence. OK, what happens now? We storm it? We destroy it? For less than half an hour people chanted slogans and sang songs. Then we turn to go back to the village.
The army lost, the demonstration made it to the fence and also proved that it is nonviolent. Clearly it cannot end this way. We return through a gate that is part of the complex of the fence. The riot police men face us. The final act. We stand in front of them and continue our demonstration. A few dozens of us take stones and start banging on a metal railing that is there – the din is deafening. And then it explodes. The policemen launch into us. When my turn arrives I am surprised by the force with which they yank me away. It’s scary. Other demonstrators grab me and manage to pull me to them. Border policemen jump on a single demonstrator, beating, throwing down, with truncheons too. I go to the side. All the wind is out of my sails. I don’t want to give in to them, but I also don’t want to get beaten up. After this release of rage, a few of the demonstrators go back to the railing and renew the din. Some of the demonstrators were injured by the truncheons, one has fainted. The demonstration is over.
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Translated by Uri Gordon, anarchyalive.com