Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nabi Saleh: A tiny village's struggle against the occupation

In just over one year of unarmed demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, a small Palestinian community in the West Bank, 155 of the village’s 500 residents were wounded (about 60 of them children); 35 homes were damaged and dozens of the village’s people were detained. Yet even after the protest’s leader was put behind bars by the army, the struggle for the Nabi Saleh’s land continues

The objects seen in the picture: a magazine (Rifle-Launched Anti-Protesters Grenade ) attached to a Tavor gun, and a human skull, attached to a neck. The gun is vertical; the neck is horizontal. You could say they’ve made contact.

Inside the magazine: 12 to 16 rubber-coated metal pellets. Inside the skull: soft, gray brain tissue. Thoughts and memories. A soul.

The purpose of the weapon: dispersing demonstrations at a minimum range of 40 meters. The purpose of the brain: to live. To remember such moments.

Will the rubber-metal pellets go through that brain? Probably not. However, the thought about it doubtlessly goes through the man’s mind. One could say that this is actually happening at the photographed moment. Does pressing the magazine to the head of a man lying on the ground constitute “dispersion of demonstrations” at a minimal range of 40 meters?

Pointless question. That is not the point here. The point is sowing fear and terror, emotional terror.

Was the picture taken out of context? Did the demonstrator “provoke” the soldiers, perhaps by throwing stones? That is a disingenuous question, the very answer for which takes it out of context. As if the “provocation” and the throwing of stones have no context; as if they do not occur against the background of the basic, unchanging context of occupation and dispossession. What the hell is an Israeli soldier doing on Palestinian land? Why is he protecting an unlawful settlement that robs its Palestinian neighbors, and how does he even expect the Palestinian to just sit there and do nothing when faced with this scandalous conduct?

This could have been the end of the post. For anyone who knows anything about the events at Nabi Saleh, this is quite enough. But not everyone knows, and truly, what can you even understand from this laconic, routine headline that appears on the Hebrew news sites every Friday, “Riots at Nabi Saleh”? So it is appropriate to say more. That every Israeli citizen know what has been done in his name, every week, for 15 months now.


The confrontations in Nabi Saleh over the past year are considered the most violent in the West Bank. In spite of the fact that the Palestinian side is adhering to the nonviolent popular protest, with women and children participating, Israel’s army has broken several records in brutality at Nabi Saleh.

In March 2010, a 14-year-old youth, Ihab Barghoutti, was shot with a rubber pellet in the course of a demonstration. The pellet hit his head and he went into a coma. Of the 500 residents of the village, 155 were wounded since the beginning of the demonstrations; that’s about 30% of the population. About 60 of the people wounded are children. 35 homes were damaged by the shooting of demonstration-dispersing weapons. Fires broke out in seven of these. Based ontestimonies from demonstrators, the Israeli army uses live firepower against them, too, in violation of the law.

Just to be clear: throwing stones at an occupying army which prevents you from demonstrating on your own land does not constitute “violent protest.” It is the expected response to someone who not only steals your land but also denies you the basic right to protest this. If the army stops acting against the residents of Nabi Saleh and just gets the hell off their lands, no one will throw stones at it.

The residents of Nabi Saleh are not trying to go to the nearby settlement of Halamish and they are not endangering the settlers. They insist – every Friday – to demonstrate by a spring that was appropriated from them.

The army does not even wait for the demonstrators to get out of the village. The Israeli army simply goes into the village and starts shooting at anything that moves – rubber-coated metal pellets, gas canisters, and other things. Sometimes it sprays entire streets with putrid skunk water: the houses, the windows, the potable water stored on the roofs. Not only is this collective punishment, this policy exposes the true provocateur: Village residents, who demonstrate without threatening any Israeli? Or the army, which invades their streets? (A quote from the testimony of Hedva Isscar: “The first gas canister was shot at us before we had time to get out of the village.”)

Like in Bil’in and Silwan, the Israeli army is trying to chop off the head of the popular protest by making arrests (did it help in Bil’in and Silwan? It did not. Does the Israeli army learn anything from this? It did not, either.) Protest leader Bassam Tamimi was arrested a month ago (in the 90’s Tamimi was tortured by the Internal Security Service [Shabak], after which he was paralyzed for a month). Like Abdallah Abu Rahme from Bil’in, Tamimi is 10 levels of morality above the army that arrested him. Here is what he says:

“We want to offer our people an example and pattern of popular struggle. Since the beginning of the revolution (the establishment of the PLO) and the armed struggle we have made cumulative mistakes which the Israelis used against us, although these were merely responses to the Israeli oppression. We do not have a military answer to Israel. History teaches us that if ever we had even partial success, it was in popular uprisings: in 1936 and in 1987. It is in the popular struggle that we can prove our moral superiority to all and sundry.”

People with that kind of dangerous idea must be put behind lock and key.

The wave of arrests at Nabi Saleh is characterized by the eradication of the difference between adults and minors. Since the protests began, more than a year ago, more than 60 residents of the village have been arrested and imprisoned (that’s approximately 13%). 29 of those imprisoned are minors. In an apparent effort to spare themselves the physical effort of running after demonstrators, Israel’s army has developed an original, new method: Army forces invade village homes at night, wakes up boys from their sleep, and photographs them. This is how they build up a database that will serve for future arrests – and to hell with civil rights and the presumption of innocence. Later, testimonies collected from minors, in violation of the law, without the presence of parents or attorneys and while denying them sleep, are used to incriminated village activists. More