Local, international and Israeli activists gathered in Nabi Salih (النبي صالح) on Friday, 15 July, to demonstrate against the Israeli occupation and the encroachment of illegal settlements on Palestinian land near the village.
The now-weekly protests at Nabi Salih are often cited in the Israeli and international press as an example of the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army against what is a mostly peaceful crowd, one that poses no real danger to heavily armed soldiers.
“They began to attack us violently because they don’t want us to become a model for other villages,” Manal Tamimi, a member of the popular committee of Nabi Salih, explained.
“We are demonstrating against settlements and nearly every Palestinian village has a settlement nearby. So this could become something big,” she said. “Like a third intifada.”
“We began our struggle when they took our spring,” she explained, pointing at the Halamish settlement on the nearby hill. “It’s a small spring, but with it they took the whole mountain.”
“That was the spark for our demonstrations. We had to do something because if we kept silent they would just take more land.”
In fact, eight months ago the Civil Administration—the occupying authority of the West Bank—was ready to offer the spring back to the village in exchange for an end to the demonstrations.
But Nabi Saleh refused.
“They might give us back five dunums–but the settlement, the checkpoint, the watchtower, the gate, the suffering, the humiliations, these are staying. So what do I do with five dunums?” Tamimi poignantly remarked.
Another community member elaborated that after 44 years of occupation, the village has become wary of what the Civil Administration promises. In his experience, they promise one thing, but deliver another.
And so gradually the demonstrations acquired a much more ambitious goal: now they aim to bring down the occupation.
Back in the main square of Nabi Salih, after Friday prayers, the protesters began walking down the main road to a soundtrack of popular resistance songs.
The centerpiece of the demonstration was a wooden prison cell on wheels, holding two blindfolded prisoners. It stood as a symbol of the paralyzing effect of the occupation on Palestinian life.
Israeli army and border police had been positioning themselves strategically around the village since early morning.
Snipers perched on the hill facing the demonstrators, soldiers stood along the slope running parallel to the main road, and more soldiers stationed by Tamimi’s house, from where the crowds would be violently dispersed.
As soon as the peaceful protesters came into the soldiers’ view, the usual narrative unfolded.
Tear gas canisters and sound bombs landed among the activists causing them to flee. More tear gas would meet anyone trying to re-establish a presence on the main road.
Israeli soldiers made two arrests. Stones were thrown at the armored Israeli jeeps and also at the soldiers on foot entering the village.
After the dust settled, the smell of tear gas lingered in the air for hours inside and outside the houses. The stench of the skunk water–sprayed a few weeks ago–was still rising from the hot tarmac. But despite the endless arrests, night raids, and the general feeling of exhaustion after each protest, the village is nowhere near capitulating.
Tamimi feels that she is part of something that is gaining momentum. It’s going to last, she said.
Tamimi recognizes that the presence of Israeli and international activists as well as the press on Fridays is extremely important, but the village puts up with the occupation every day, not just on Fridays.
Its strength, she stressed, was drawn from the fact that, “We are 500 people here and we are one family. We are all relatives and we do everything together, not just demos.”
“Maybe that’s why this village is unique, Tamimi said. “We are truly united.”