Israeli military violent repress non-violent demonstration; carry out raids on houses in Nabi Saleh making numerous arbitary arrests

29 July, 2011: Popular Struggle Coordination Committee

Following a week of escalating violence against the people of Nabi Saleh, Armored military vehicles and dozens of soldiers stormed the village of Nabi Saleh and took over houses hours before the scheduled. Three were injured and seven were detained.

Military checkpoints were set up early in the morning on all roads leading in and out of Nabi Saleh this Friday, as the Israeli army does every Friday in its attempt to prevent people from outside the tiny village to support the villagers in their struggle for land and dignity under the Occupation.

A few hours before the demonstration was scheduled to begin, a number of armored military vehicles drove into the village and unloaded dozens of soldiers into its single street. In the clashes that ensued with local youth, the soldiers shot volleys of tear-gas and took over two houses. In the first of what seemed to be a systematic attempt to stifle media coverage, a Palestinian cameraman was beaten and then detained despite having showed his accreditation with the al-Ayyam daily newspaper, only to be released a few hours later without his camera’s memory card.

Meanwhile, and American activist on his way to the protest, was detained by the soldiers manning the checkpoint at the main entrance to the village. His wallet, phone, passport and driver’s license were taken away from him as he could see smoke and hear shooting coming from the direction of the village.

Eventually, his possessions were returned to him and he was told to turn around and head back to Ramallah. A military jeep was sent trailing his car to make sure  he indeed does so. Shortly after regaining his phone, the activist found out that soldiers at the checkpoint used his logged-in twitter account to post anti-protest messages in broken English.

A screencap of the activist's hijacked Twitter feed
A screencap of the activist’s hijacked Twitter feed

After the Friday midday prayer, people were able to gather next to the village’s mosque, but were attacked less than a hundred meters after the peaceful march began in a hail of tear-gas shot from multiple directions. Every attempt to regroup and resume marching was again answered by a shower of tear-gas projectiles, many of them shot directly at demonstrators. Three protesters were injured that way, including one in her head.

At some point, soldiers begun sweeping through houses, going door to door, randomly detaining people in the street or from inside their houses. Three Palestinians and three international activists were detained this way, only to be released later with no charge and without even being questioned. Soldiers also detained an Israeli cameraman who tried to film the soldiers wanton rampage through the village. His camera was violently snatched from him, causing it to break. Like the other detainees, he, too, was released shortly after.

Late in 2009, settlers began gradually taking over Ein al-Qaws (the Arch Spring), which personally belongs to Bashir Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council. The settlers, abetted by the army, erected a shed over the spring, renamed it Maayan Meir, after a late settler, and began driving away Palestinians who came to use the spring by force – at times throwing stones or even pointing guns at them, threatening to shoot.

While residents of Nabi Saleh have already endured decades of continuous land grab and expulsion to allow for the ever continuing expansion of the Halamish settlement, the takeover of the spring served as the last straw that lead to the beginning of the village’s grassroots protest campaign of weekly demonstrations in demand for the return of their lands.

While the model of regularly held protests around the construction of Israel’s Separation Barrier became a common one in recent years, the protests in Nabi Saleh mark a significant break from that tradition, in that protest there is entirely unrelated to the Barrier. This expansion of the popular resistance model symbolizes the growing support the model enjoys among Palestinians, and the growing positive discourse around it across the Palestinian political spectrum.

Protest in the tiny village enjoys the regular support of International and Israeli activists, as well as that of Palestinians from the surrounding areas. Demonstrations in Nabi Saleh are also unique in the level of women participation in them, and the role they hold in all their aspects, including organizing. Such participation, which often also includes the participation of children mirrors the village’s commitment to a truly popular grassroots mobilization, encompassing all segments of the community.

The Israeli military’s response to the protests has been especially brutal and includes regularly laying complete siege on village every Friday, accompanied by the declaration of the entire village, including the built up area, as a closed military zone. Prior and during the demonstrations themselves, the army often completely occupies the village, in effect enforcing an undeclared curfew of sort. Military nighttime raids and arrest operations are also a common tactic in the army’s strategy of intimidation, often targeting minors.

In order to prevent the villagers and their supporters from exercising their fundamental right to demonstrate and march to their lands, soldiers regularly use disproportional force against the unarmed protesters. The means utilized by the army to hinder demonstrations include, but are not limited to, the use of tear-gas projectiles, banned high-velocity tear-gas projectiles, rubber-coated bullets and, at times, even live ammunition.

The use of such practices have already caused countless injuries, several of them serious, including those of children – the most serious of which is that of 14 year-old Ehab Barghouthi, who was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet from short range on March 5th, 2010 and laid comatose in the hospital for three weeks.

In complete disregard to the army’s own open fire regulations, soldiers often shoot tear-gas projectiles directly at groups of protesters or individuals and rubber bullets are indiscriminately shot at protesters from short distances. The army has also resumed using high velocity tear-gas projectiles in Nabi Saleh, despite the fact that they have declared banned for use after causing the death of Bassem Abu Rahmah in Bil’in in April 2009, and the critical injury of American protester Tristan Anderson in Ni’ilin in March of the same year.

Tear-gas, as well as a foul liquid called “The Skunk”, which is shot from a water cannon, is often used inside the built up area of the village, or even directly pointed into houses, in a way that allows no refuge for the uninvolved residents of the village, including children and the elderly. The interior of at least one house caught fire and was severely damaged after soldiers shot a tear-gas projectile through its windows.

Since December 2009, when protest in the village was sparked, hundreds of demonstration-related injuries caused by disproportionate military violence have been recorded in Nabi Saleh.

Between January 2010 and June 2011, the Israeli Army has carried 76 arrests of people detained for 24 hours or more on suspicions related to protest in the village of Nabi Saleh, including those of women and of children as young as 11 years old. Of the 76, 18 were minors. Dozens more were detained for shorter periods.