This week I attended a demonstration in the small village of Nabi Saleh. With around 550 residents the village has become a fairly well documented case attracting international press and activists.
In 1977 the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish was built upon privately owned village land. The residents of Nabi Saleh and nearby Deir Nidham lodged a court case in Israelâ€™s high court but were unable to stop the construction of the settlement, deemed illegal under international law. In 2008 settlers seized a number of springs located on land owned by Nabi Saleh residents, annexing yet more land and preventing those in the village from working the surrounding fields. In 2009, the village began weekly non-violent demonstrations opposing the theft of land.
Each time the demonstration make its way down the road between the village and settlement the protesters are confronted by Israeli occupation soldiers in armoured vehicles using excessive, and in some cases lethal force, to disperse, harm and arrest those demonstrating. This week would be no different as we walked down the road, mothers hand in hand with daughters chanting and singing, international press and activists and village elders. Having marched for no longer than two minutes, several armoured vehicles sped towards us and set up position. Immediately, tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets thundered towards the youth throwing stones on the hillside above those marching. This continued for a while, each time the explosive sound of rubber coated steel bullets being fired was followed by everyone, including the children, turning and ducking, hoping not to be hit. The soldiers advanced upwards towards the youth throwing stones whilst one of the vehicles, resembling more a tank than an armoured car, sped in our direction, driving straight through the crowd as people ran to each side to avoid being knocked down. The vehicle turned at the top of the hill and advanced once more at the crowd, some only managing to get back to their feet. Still, mothers, daughters, sons all instinctively lifted stones and bombarded the metal exterior accompanied by victorious cheers. As with those shot and murdered in Ofer in a previous update, their actions portray a legitimate refusal of a foreign occupier. It was uplifting to see the glimmer of happiness this evoked among the demonstrators.
In total, as of the 31st of March 2011, 64 village residents have been arrested. All but three were tried for participating in the non-violent demonstrations. Of those imprisoned, 29 have been minors under the age of 18 years and 4 have been women. The village is routinely the target of night raids, harassing families and arresting alleged stone throwers. Bassem Al-Tamimi, one of the leaders of the non-violent protests has been arrested twelve times, in one instance being held for three years under administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial, a method mentioned in the previous update. The village claimed further notoriety following the murder of Mustafa and Rushdi Tamimi. In 2011, Mustafa was shot in the face at close range by a teargas canister and later died. I decided against including the pictures of his horrific injuries, instead the following shows the obvious intent to harm and kill using methods of â€˜crowd dispersionâ€™. As the armoured vehicle speeds away from the demonstration, the barrel of the rifle can be seen peering through a gap in the door.
The following year, 28 year old Rushdi was shot and killed during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh in solidarity with those in Gaza during Israelâ€™s barbaric offensive "Pillar of Cloud".
For me, the increasingly bleak and constant oppression and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli state in Nabi Saleh cannot over shadow the unity and bravery the village illustrates. The resilience to demonstrate every Friday, knowing each time what will ensue, consistently putting yourself in harmâ€™s way in front of trigger happy soldiers is nothing short of astounding. This strength is a common trait that you come across in Palestine, when faced with unparallel levels of torture they stand strong with only the wish to exist and the right to freedom. The weekly demonstrations continue.