Protest: An Nabi Salih
Storm clouds were looming overhead as mist rolled over the hills surrounding the small West Bank village of An Nabi Salih that Friday morning. Three of us had left Ramallah early to avoid the closure of the checkpoints that the Israeli military were imposing as part of their crack-down on the demonstrations organised by the Palestinian Popular Committees.
From the hilltop above the village, we could see the pointed, regimented roofs of the Israeli Hallamish (Neve Zuf) settlement that lies on the other side of the valley. The European-style houses lay in stark contrast to the traditional, square houses of the Palestinian villages of the West Bank. On the road below, Israeli army jeeps were beginning to assemble; the reason for our presence here.
The protest is against the illegal seizure of Palestinian agricultural land. Furthermore, the settlers have tried to re-annex more of the An Nabi Salih land despite an Israeli court ruling that the land belonged to the Palestinian village. They have also uprooted hundreds of the village’s olive trees, and have poured concrete into their well.
Entering the house of the organiser of the demonstration, the smell of cooking filling the air as his wife prepared a buffet for the international and Israeli demonstrators who come to lend their support to the Palestinians every Friday. Warming ourselves by the wood-fuelled fire, drinking sweet, strong shay, a video was playing on the computer. It was footage from a previous demonstration here, where Israeli troops were forcefully removing Palestinian women from the streets and subsequently arresting them. Violent repression by the Israeli Defence Forces was commonplace; the large presence of international and Israeli demonstrators here, week after week, was hoped to reduce the level of aggression used. The previous week, one of our fellow volunteers required stitches after being hit in the mouth by a rubber-bullet.
The protest began in the village square with groups of children holding posters that were present at all of the West Bank demonstrations that day. They pronounced solidarity against the recent announcement by President Netanyahu that two West Bank shrines would be added to Israel’s national heritage list. (An article on the BBC.)
We crossed over to the grassy hillside, walking towards the agricultural land that the Israeli settlement restricts. On the road below, the assembly of IDF soldiers began to fire-off large amounts of tear gas towards the demonstrators. The troops began to advance on us, firing more tear gas indiscriminately at the men, women and children above. A woman stood with a raised Palestinian flag as the clouds of tear-gas began to reach us. The local shebab (youths) then began to respond, throwing stones at the soldiers. This was the first time I had witnessed such resistance at a demonstration, which has become known as the archetype of Palestinian resistance.
The sound of the Israeli shots suddenly changed. When firing tear-gas, the fizz of the canisters is preceded by a softer, deeper resonance. I could now see the muzzle-fire from their rifles, accompanied by a shorter crack as the sound reached us. They were firing rubber bullets. The intensity of shots, and its retaliatory stone-throwing, increased as the soldiers made ground further up the hill. As we retreated back to the village, at my side was Ellen, a fellow demonstrator. She was hit by a rubber bullet as we ran. We ushered her back into the house, before continuing to document the violence that was being used to repress this protest.
People ran through the village, and tear-gas was now entering into houses. An Israeli jeep drove up into the village, fired-off forty tear-gas canisters in rapid succession, before quickly driving away. On the opposite hillside, further Israeli troops were advancing upon the village, faced with a line of the shebab who responded with stones and slingshots.
It was on this hillside that the rest of the exchanged occurred. Soldiers would advance on the shebab, firing rubber-bullets and tear-gas, and this would be countered by stone-throwing. As the IDF would retire in order to re-arm, the positions that they previously occupied were taken by the Palestinians. The soldiers then re-advanced on the shebab. These protracted exchanges continued for the next couple of hours, as Palestinians and IDF soldiers conducted a drawn-out dance across the hillside.
I left this demonstration with a lot of questions. What had been achieved here today? My previous experience at demonstrations had involved some close-contact with the soldiers, but today’s events seemed to be played-out with large distances between the two sides. This led to a feeling of little “discourse”. It was the first time I had witnessed a demonstration that was not “non-violent”, with the retaliation by the Palestinian youths. Speaking with veterans of this protest, the events today were the norm. This scene had been played-out time and time again over the preceding weeks; in all likelihood, they would be re-enacted in the weeks to come. As we drank tea and ate fresh almonds back in the organiser’s house, it seemed to be a case of “business as normal”.
» See the collection of photographs from this demonstration.