During my time working with the International Women’s Peace Service I have witnessed many human rights abuses in the West Bank, Palestine – house demolitions, settler violence, army and settler destruction of olive trees and fields, army intimidation of workers – the list goes on. But none has been more heart - rending than the Israeli attempt to crush the nonviolent Popular Resistance to the Occupation in the small village of Nabi Saleh. The objectives of the resistance are to end the occupation of Palestine and to protest against the confiscation of 50% of the village land by the illegal settlement of Halamish. This settlement also cuts off access to the village spring which is now fenced off and out of bounds to the village.
The nonviolent demonstrations, which have taken place each Friday since December 2009, are supported by many international groups as well as Israeli activists, particularly Anarchists Against the Wall. Not many villages in the West Bank hold protests now, Bil’in, Ni’ilin, Beit Ommar and Nabi Saleh being the exceptions.
After 42 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians are tired and depressed, I have been told. Also the veneer of an improved life is perceived through the relaxing of checkpoints while, at the same time, basic human rights are still ignored.
It was while taking part in the Friday demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, that I met the families of Nargey and his wife Boshra, and Bassem and his wife Nariman. Nargey and Bassem head up the village Popular Committee against the occupation. They are warm and hospitable people who host both Israeli activists and internationals each week – this includes delicious meals!
In complete contrast to this spirit of generosity, the Israeli army, or the International Occupation Force (IOF) as we prefer to call them, greet the marchers with violence. They blockade the entry and exit to the village and the demonstrations are met with the firing of tear gas canisters, sound bombs, skunk water, rubber bullets, pepper spray (and sometimes live ammunition) aimed directly at the marchers, often causing injuries. The village is then invaded and tear gas is sometimes fired directly into houses irrespective of whether there are children present or the inhabitants actually took part in the demonstration.
There are frequent detentions and arrests. Bassem’s wife Nariman herself was beaten and in prison for nine days and now B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, has given her a camcorder to record the human rights abuse. I asked them how they could go on week after week. “It is our life” is the reply.
The indiscriminate actions of the IOF of has meant that fewer women and children take part in the marches. But the IOF have another way to intimidate and persecute. During January this year a number of night raids were made to photograph the shabab (young men) of the village. The shabab are well known for throwing stones at the army during demonstrations, rather like a David and Goliath scenario. However, as Boshra’s brother says, it is the demonstrations that have taught the young people not to be victims but to stand up for their rights. Stone-throwing is a way they can express their frustration and anger.
After the photographing, Islam Tamimi, 14, was targeted and arrested on 23 January. The soldiers applied stress position techniques and sleep deprivation. The exhausted child was then taken to an unnamed police station where he was interrogated without his parents or a lawyer present. After an eight hour interrogation with prolonged exposure, and after his 11 year old brother was interrogated for five hours on 25 January Islam signed a “confession” dictated by the army. Lawyers only gained access to him after five hours of interrogation. Tamimi’s parents, who have the right to be present when a child is under investigation under international law, were denied access. Defence of Children International has filed many complaints regarding the treatment of Islam whilst Israeli authorities have remained silent.
So then we come to the second part of the attempt to crush the resistance, after taking the children – arrest the leaders – simple! On 6 March at 1.30am, Nagey was arrested, blindfolded and handcuffed, by dozens of soldiers. At the same time, soldiers raided Bassem’s home. When soldiers broke down the door they found Nariman was standing by herself filming with her camcorder. This they attempted to destroy and proceeded to search the house. Since Bassem was not at home, they left. Islam’s coerced testimony will be used at Nagey Tamimi’s trial today, 17 March. The charges will be incitement and illegal gatherings.
How long can these protests go on? The march on 11 March was led by some of the girls of the village including Nargey and Boshra’s daughters despite the fact that their father had been arrested only four days before.
But their presence did not deter the IOF from breaking up the march using its “normal” tactics and we demonstrators, overcome by tear gas, took refuge in nearby houses. It astounds me that the “only democracy in the Middle East” and the “Moral Army” can get away with this when they are clearly in breach of international law. Also astounding is the resilience of the Palestinians. For me, when they ask me “why has nothing changed?” after all the reports written by NGOs and groups like IWPS on the suffering of the Palestinians since the second intifada – I have no real answer to give.
We can blame our governments but how can we change their policies? Bassem’s vision is a global intifada in which internationals are partners not just supporters. Can we give the Palestinians an answer to their question? Inshallah, one day soon.