Several weeks ago, Israeli military courts sentenced the leader of the popular resistance in Bil’in, Abdullah Abu Rahmeh to one year in prison and a hefty fine for his role in the organization of the weekly protests against the Israeli apartheid wall that is cutting villagers off from their land. The court also gave the prosecution one month to appeal the ruling as the Israelis were looking for a more severe sentence to make an example of Abu Rahmeh. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the arrest of Abu Rahmeh intended “to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest.”
Despite the international condemnation that reigned down on Israel from the EU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Israeli military repeatedly attempts to silence what is becoming a massive non-violent protest against the Israeli occupation.
I spent yesterday at the small village of An-Nabi Salah, a small village north-west of Ramallah, where weekly non-violent gatherings protest against the annexation of village land by the nearby illegal Halamish settlement. Three recent events made the protest particularly interesting and well attended (especially by the media). First, the last two weekly protests were marked by intense violence by the Israeli soldiers, including multiple arrests, the use of rubber-coated steel bullets. Last week soldiers broke both legs of one protesters. Secondly, settlers from the Halamish settlement recently took control of a natural spring well that had belonged to the village for over a century. And finally, on Thursday night, Israeli forces entered the village and raided the houses of Basem and Mahmoud At-Tamimim – the two main organizers of the protests. When I asked Basem about the intrusion, he replied that the soldiers claimed that his house was in a military zone and that they had the right to search the house. Basem continued to say that the soldiers purposefully woke the whole family at 2-3 in the morning and, oddly, emptied the contents of his fridge. Basem was told that he would be arrested on the spot if he was seen at the protests.
[tweetmeme] When I first arrived in An-Nabi Salah, I went directly to Basem’s house; soldiers were already stations not 30 meters from the non-violent leader’s house. More soldiers gathered on the hilltops surrounding the village while border police cut off the entrance to the town. Protesters started to gather at around 11:30 and marched down to the entry road to stand against the border police. While some cut of the road with rocks and burning tires, others sat still in the field next to the road – an area unilaterally decreed as a security zone on Fridays – until the IDF forced them to return to the village.
Soon, protesters retreated back into the village and the army and border police began shooting tear gas and sound grenades. Fortunately, there were no major injuries this week – most likely due to the presence of the media – though one protester was shot in the arm with a tear gas container. Another gas container was shot through the window of a house where many women and small children had gathered to avoid the constant barrage of gas.
While I have been to several of the weekly protests around Palestine, I was struck yesterday by how the soldiers were aiming. Military protocol requires soldiers to aim tear gas up; to shoot the container in an arching fashion to avoid unnecessary injuries. Of course, there are many examples of soldiers ignoring this rule, resulting in various degrees of injuries – most recently when American activist Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye after being shot with a canister. Yet yesterday, it was depressingly obvious that the soldiers and border police were aiming at protesters, nearly hitting many – myself included, while trying to put out a burning tree.
It seems as though the Israeli military establishment and the Palestinian resistance is perhaps stuck in a vicious cycle. Palestinians want freedom and Israel seems content to violently stomp it out at every turn. In this cycle, though, it is clear that the more popular non-violent resistance becomes and the more vicious the Israeli response is, the international community will see how illegitimate, repressive and violent Israel’s occupation actually is.
Photos taken by Chris, An-Nabi Salah, 2010 – find more photos from the demonstration here