Jose Bove takes his magic potion to the West Bank

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The Independent Online

Jose Bove thrust out his walrus moustache, threw a defiant scowl at the Israeli policemen and soldiers barring his way, linked arms with his friends and then started to shove at the wall of muscle and guns before him.

The celebrated French sheep farmer ­ wrecker of his local McDonalds fast food outlet, destroyer of genetically-modified crops and commando-in-chief in the anti-globalisation war ­ arrived in the West Bank yesterday to serve notice that he was in favour of globalisation, after all.

"We want to show the world what is happening here," he explained, during a break in the shoving-match, "We need people and governments everywhere to understand that there must be international protection for the Palestinian people. What is happening to them is a crime," he said.

The French media has given the short and stocky Mr Bovéthe soubriquet of Asterix after the diminutive cartoon character who spends his time duffing up the hapless Roman occupiers, aided by slugs of Magic Potion.

Yesterday, Asterix was in action anew, although this time the occupiers ­ no less daunting and imperious than Caesar's men ­ were equipped not with spears and swords but M-16s, riot batons, tear gas canisters, flak jackets and a fleet of armoured jeeps. And the magic potion? That was us, the reporters and cameramen on whom the 48-year-old Frenchman depends to get his message across to the outside world.

Mr Bové arrived in Al-Khader, a Palestinian village on the southern edge of Bethlehem, accompanied by about 70 activists, including a group of Israelis. He was among the crowd who clambered by foot over the giant mound of rubble with which Israeli army bulldozers have blockaded the village, in a vain attempt to walk up a nearby hill to a cluster of three cabins ­ the beginnings of another Jewish settlement, erected in contravention to international law on land stolen from Al-Khader, and now defended by Israel's security forces.

Among the protesters was 23-year-old Liad Kantorowicz, a graduate of philosophy who returned home to Israel seven months ago after 11 years in the US in order to fight for justice for the Palestinians. She, too, knows about the powers of Magic Potion. Why else, if not to secure headlines, would she have admitted to us that her last job was as a dominatrix in a Seattle sex parlour, strutting around in her stilettos and smalls and brandishing a whip.

And the crowd also included Neta Golan, the fearless Israeli radical who has spent the last eight months out in the battle-zones, tirelessly trying to stop Israel's soldiers and settlers from tearing up Palestinian olive orchards, shooting into Arab villages, or taking land for settlements.

In a protest in the same village on Friday, an Israeli policeman broke her arm at the elbow, yanking it behind her back. Yesterday, in sling and plaster, she was back on the frontline.

It started peacefully enough. Mr Bové was greeted by the local Israeli police commander, Ephriam Arditi, plus around 60 police and soldiers. Surrounded by cameras, the Frenchman put his case. What were the Israelis doing defending land that was not theirs? If it was ­ as the police claim ­ a closed military area, then why were settlers allowed access to it? Did they not realise this was a crime?

"I'm a farmer, and these (Palestinian) people are farmers too. So I am fighting with them to help them protect their land," Mr Bové told the watching media.

With Mr Arditi caught in the middle of the crowd, the soldiers started elbowing reporters out of the way, and the shoving began. Minutes later one of the activists was arrested and dragged away. "No violence! No violence!" chanted Mr Bové and his friends. A group of Palestinians nearby took up chanting but maybe misheard theFrench accent as they shouted: "No peace! No peace!"

Then, Mr Bové and his friend changed their slogan: "We want to be arrested! We want to be arrested!" The Frenchman got his wish as did seven others amid a haze of Israeli tear gas. It was Mr Bove's first visit to the occupied territories to drum up publicity for the Palestinians' plight, and for the need for an international protection force.

He arrived five days ago, and has seen enough violence to be dismissive of the current ceasefire, which officially remained in place yesterday despite two more deaths. "If this is a ceasefire, then war here must be truly horrible," remarked the Asterix of the peace movement.