Small-Town Palestinians Are Fighting the Israeli Occupation With Their Cameras

By Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery June 24, 2014 | Vice News

Rani Burnat spends every Friday afternoon engulfed in tear gas. For the past nine years, his hometown of Bil’in, a small Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank, has held weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, and Burnat photographs the clashes from his battered wheelchair.

Friday protests in the West Bank are hardly unique to Bil’in. The village of Nabi Saleh protests against the seizure of its only water source by an illegal Israeli settlement nearby, while people in Kufr Qaddoum protest Israel’s blockade of its main road to the nearby city of Nablus. Like Bil’in, residents of the villages of Al-Walaja and Ni’lin protest against Israel’s separation wall, which runs through their land.

Media outlets don’t cover these protests, so people like Burnat have stepped in and taken on the role of citizen journalist for their communities. With no formal training, they document the struggles of their fellow villagers, filming and photographing clashes and posting what they record online.

“My hope is that we will become liberated and then we will throw all the cameras away,” Burnat tells VICE News. “But something tells me the occupation won’t end, and I will continue fighting through my camera.”

* * *

Burnat was part of the Palestinian resistance movement long before he started taking photos. On the first day of the second intifada in 2000, he was shot in the neck by an Israeli sniper while protesting the Israeli occupation on the streets of Ramallah.

“They declared me a martyr,” Burnat says. “The Palestinian media reported me as killed because my injuries were so bad that they assumed I would die. The next day, I was still alive and they moved me from the hospital in Ramallah to a hospital in Jordan. I spent six months in the Jordanian hospital, three of them in a coma.”

Burnat photographs a protester in Bil’in. Photo by Sheren Khalel

Burnat is now paralyzed from the chest down. He is confined to a wheelchair, has lost much of his ability to speak, and has normal motor function in only one hand. He wanted to continue participating in the resistance, but he needed to find another way to do it.

When Bil’in began its Friday protests, he found it.

“The army started to confiscate land and properties in Bil’in to begin building the separation wall,” he says. “It was then that I decided to be a photographer.”

His photography helped the village win a rare victory: After six years of demonstrating every Friday, Bil’in succeeded in changing the path of the wall, reclaiming half of the village’s land that had been taken. Protests continue in hopes of reclaiming the rest.

* * *

Burnat says he’s been shot with rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas canisters more than 10 times since he was confined to his wheelchair. Because he has no feeling from the chest down, he must check his body after every protest in case he’s been shot without realizing it.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Palestinian journalists like Burnat are commonly targeted by soldiers, even though they often wear clothing identifying themselves as press.

“There is no question that Palestinian journalists are more at risk of arrest, harassment, or you name it than an international journalist,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior researcher at HRW. “And they are much more likely to be subjected to Israeli military law rather than civil law.”

Bilal Tamimi, a village journalist in Nabi Saleh, has experienced this first hand. Like his fellow journalists around the occupied West Bank, he is not accredited with any media organization, which means no company advocates on his behalf when he is arrested for filming soldiers — which is actually legal under Israeli law — and he and his family are responsible for posting bail and paying any fines or hospital bills that result from his work.

Tamimi says he’s been arrested four times, and has been beaten on several occasions. His family endures Israeli military raids in the middle of the night so often that his teenage children sleep with their shoes on.

“They target me with tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and many times they’ve pushed me and beat me to keep me away,” Tamimi says. “But of course I believe that what I am doing for the village here is very important and that I should stay close to [the soldiers] so I can document everything.”

Al-Qaddoumi covers protests in Kufr Qaddoum. Photo by Sheren Khalel

While Bil’in’s popular resistance got results, Tamimi’s village of Nabi Saleh has gotten attention. It’s been the focus of a New York Times Magazine story and the documentary Thank God It’s Friday, and it has hosted political figures from around the world.

Many in the town credit its notoriety to Tamimi and the small team of volunteers he has gathered under the umbrella of the Tamimi Press.

“Before in Nabi Saleh, if you googled us you would find just information on the prophet Saleh, because Nabi means prophet in Arabic,” Tamimi tells us. “But now if you google Nabi Saleh you will find millions and millions of films and reports, pictures, articles — everything.”

Tamimi Press regularly posts updates on its website and its Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. It also sends updates to local news outlets and human rights organizations.

Tamimi Press is just incredible — they have an entire do-it-yourself news service that they created themselves to get information out,” Van Esveld tells VICE News. “They [village journalists] often have the first information on something that is going on, which is extremely important. They have access to witnesses, they have stories told direct from the ground, information that has not been filtered through spokespeople.”

In 2011, the small village of Kufr Qaddoum, nestled between hills in the north West Bank and surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements, was cut off from the city of Nablus — and the jobs it provided to many Kufr Qaddoum residents — when the Israeli army set up a blockade on the road out of the village. Residents protested, but there was almost no media coverage. Kamaal al-Qaddoumi was one of the villagers affected, and he found himself taking on the mantle of unofficial village photographer.

Just a typical Friday for Burnat. Photo by Sheren Khalel

“I started the same year the protests here started,” he says. “I noticed there was no media, nobody cared about what was happening in Kufr Qaddoum. So I started to take pictures and put them on the Internet to let people see.”

Like Burnat and Tamimi, Quddoumi believes his role is to show the world what’s happening in his small area of the occupied West Bank. But the men are more than just documentarians. For starters, footage village journalists shoot is frequently used in court to get Palestinian protestors released from detention after being wrongfully arrested. In addition, the presence of their cameras during clashes can often protect their fellow villagers from increased army backlash.

That’s one reason why the Israeli human rights group B’tselem launched its Camera Project to provide free cameras and advice to budding citizen journalists in the Occupied Territories. Tamimi, who was one of the project’s first recipients, says the presence of cameras in Nabi Saleh makes soldiers think twice about how much force they use.

“If they know that there will not be a punishment or that no one will know about what they are doing because there are no cameras, they will be very tough with the people, and they would be much worse at demonstrations — and all the time really,” Tamimi says.

While the Coalition for the Protection of Journalists tells VICE News that they consider Burnat, Tamimi, Qaddoumi and others like them journalists, all three seem torn between the identities of journalist and protestor. Tamimi proudly wears a high-visibility vest which, rather than having the word Press emblazoned on it, states: We will refuse to stay silent.

“Everybody has their own role in the resistance,” Quddoumi says. “Some people throw stones, some people take video, some people take pictures, some people help with medical things. What they do is for Palestine. Me taking pictures is like the same as another throwing stones.”

APRIL 4: demonstration in support of Palestinian political prisoners

by Nabi Saleh Solidarity: 4 April 2014

Popular protests in Nabi Saleh, Nilin and Bilin today have been replaced with the central march outside Ofer prison, in support of Palestinian political prisoners.

Activists reported that several hundred Palestinians from villages across the West Bank (including Nabi Saleh, Bilin and Nilin) have demonstrated out of Ofer Prison in support of Palestinian political prisoners. Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have open fired with tear gas, rubber coated steal bullets and live ammunition. Reports of at least 5 protestors injured, including at least 2 women shot directly from two meters away. Muhamad Yassin from Bil’in has been shot twice – in the face and stomach – and is currently undergoing surgery.

 

ofer prison 4 aprPhoto by Active Stills

ofer prison  4 april teargasPhoto by Jihad Qade

ofer prison 4 april Photo by Quique Kierszenbaum

ofer prison 4 april protest

Photo: Muhammed Yassin from Bilin injured in face and stomach

Bil’in marks 9th anniversary of it’s popular struggle against the wall and occupation

By Claire Matsunami –  Palestine Monitor: March 06, 2014


This past Friday approximately 500 people gathered in the West Bank village of Bil’in to commemorate the 9-year anniversary of theirweekly Friday demonstrations.

Demonstrators began at the mosque and marched in a procession towards the wall surrounding the neighboring settlement of Modi’in Illit. People came from all over Palestine to participate, including many demonstrators from other villages participating in the popular struggle protests such as Nabi Saleh.  It is worth noting that numbers were minimized due to the scores of people who chose to attend the public funeral of Moatazz Washaha.

Demonstrators reached the wall and broke open the gate meant to deter protesters from the rest of their land and the neighboring settlement.  Several young Palestinian men scaled the wall to secure Palestinian flags at the top. The Israeli military responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. Youths scattered throughout the hills, hurling stones over the wall towards the soldiers.

Settlers from the neighboring Jewish settlement gathered in the streets to watch the events unfold. Clashes lasted for a few hours, before the army came out and arrested two demonstrators: Sameh Tayseer Sa’adar and Kufr Nimeh.

Nine years of demonstrations

Bil’in is a small village located in the West Bank about half an hour north from Ramallah.  The local economy relies primarily on olive trees for income. Citizens of Bil’in began staging these weekly protests in February of 2005 after Israel set up a separation barrier (then just a fence) that cut the residents of Bil’in off from 200 acres of their agricultural land. The settlement of Modi’in Ilit, illegal under international law, now sits on a portion of the village’s land.

Demonstrators adopted the method of popular resistance, choosing to partake in unarmed protests and coordinated action by demonstrating every Friday after prayer ended.

The Israeli military categorized (and continues to categorize) the weekly protests in Bil’in as “violent disturbances of the peace,” according to B’Tselem.

Under Military Order 101, created in 1967 when Israel began it’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, Palestinians in the occupied territories have no right to the freedom of expression or assembly. The order contravenes both Israeli and International law.

The demonstrations in Bil’in have been met with brutal repression by the Israeli military as well as the settlers. Siblings Bassem and Jawaher Abu Rahmah were killed in separate occasions during clashes with the Israeli military. Night rides are a common occurrence in the village; olive trees have been burned, homes are raided, children are taken to jail, and unarmed demonstrators are often subjected to beatings and bullets.

Partial success

The protester’s persistence paid off in 2007 when Israel’s High Court of Justice found the fence to be illegal and ordered it to be removed.  However, it took three years for the fence to be removed and the new wall is to be rebuilt (this time made of concrete) around the edges of the Modi’in Illit settlement.  During the three-year wait, the settlement had expanded and thus the new barrier still prevents Bil’in residents from accessing 1,500 dunams (about half a square mile) of their land. Protests continue in attempt to regain the remaining land.

Rajai Abu Khalil, an activist at the demonstration, spoke to the Palestine Monitor, explaining that for him the protests are also about resisting the occupation. “The daily oppression, apartheid, segregation, discrimination and daily theft of lands for the benefits of the expansion of Israeli illegal settlements.”

Bil’in has become a rallying point for those involved in the popular resistance movement.  Their non-violent methods and success in moving the barrier have served as an inspiration for many activists throughout the occupied territories.  According to Abu Khalil, “The popular struggle has proven to be a very effective method and I believe it can bring change to the situation [in Palestine]”

The model of demonstration used in Bil’in is becoming increasingly popular as a form of resisting the occupation, notably in villages such as Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin, Kufr Qaddoum and Al-Maasara.

For us it is so important to continue to encourage other people in other places to use this type of resistance.  Through this action we will invite new people, Israeli, International, Palestinian together to give people support to continue their struggle… this is not just a vision for Bil’in, it is a vision for all of Palestine” said Popular Struggle Coordination Committee member and Bil’in leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah in an interview the Palestine Monitor. 

Activists in Bil’in intend to continue their weekly demonstrations until they receive the rest of their land.  For many, the struggle will continue until the occupation has ended entirely.

Abdallah Abu Rahmah expressed his most basic wish: “to have all of our land without any settlers, to live in peace and freedom and independence.”

Nabi Saleh join Friday demonstration in Bil’in to mark 9 years of struggle against wall and occupation

 in bilin - diana alzeerNabi Saleh residents join Friday demonstration in Bil’in to commemorate 9 years of popular struggle. Photo by Diana Alzeer

bilin march diana alzeerBilin demonstration to mark the village’s 9 years of struggle against Israel’s apartheid wall and occupation.

Protest against the wall, Bilin, West Bank, 28,2,2014A Palestinian youth places a flag on the Israeli wall during a protest marking nine years of struggle against the wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, February 28, 2014. Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

Video by David Reeb

PHOTOS: Palestinian activists dismantle Israeli roadblock

As reported previously: Palestinian activists from village across the West Bank, including Nabi Saleh, dismantle Israel road block. IOF detained Naji Tamimi,  Abdalah Abu Rahmeh and Mohammad Al Khateb on their way to participate in the action.  They were released after being blindfolded, handcuffed and detained for 4 hours.

PHOTOS: Palestinian activists dismantle Israeli roadblock
By |October 3, 2013

Palestinian activists, accompanied by international supporters, descended on an Israeli military roadblock in the Palestinian village of Al Walaja at noon Thursday, quickly dismantling it before Israeli forces could arrive on the scene.

Palestinian and International activists remove a gate built by the Israeli army blocking the road between the village of Al Walaja and the West Bank town of Beit Jala, October 3, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The activists used a sledge hammer to break the lock on a steel gate blocking the road between Al Walaja and the bordering village of Beit Jala. The gate had been installed by the Israeli military in the past year to prevent movement between the two Palestinian villages at the location where the Israeli separation wall will eventually be built.

Activists use the leverage of the opened gate to shift the concrete block on which it is mounted toward the edge of the hillside. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Activists used the leverage provided by the now-open gate to shift the massive concrete block on which it was anchored, eventually sending the entire apparatus tumbling down the steep hillside. The group then made a quick getaway, leaving the site before a single member of Israeli forces could arrive to interfere.

Read part 7 of Haggai Matar’s Wall project: Al-Walaja – A village turned prison

Some participants even drove through the newly opened road, passing through Beit Jala land, including the Cremisan monastery, that will be even further divided by the separation wall if it is built as planned. Many of the activists who participated in this action were attending the Bil’in International Popular Resistance Conference, taking place this week.

Palestinian and international activists move the roadblock inch by inch toward the edge of the hill. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The block and gate tumble down the hillside in a cloud of dust as the activists cheer. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Activists celebrate their victory before quickly vacating the scene before Israeli forces arrive. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

West Bank boiling as popular resistance grows

by Maan News: 01,03,2013 (updated on 03.03.2013)

  
Protester uses a sling shot to throw stones towards Israeli forces
during clashes at Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of
Nablus March 1, 2013. (Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Dozens of Palestinian protesters were hit by rubber-coated bullets while others suffered from tear gas during clashes Friday across the West Bank between Israeli troops and protesters.

Hundreds of young Palestinians rallied after Friday prayers to protest the death of a young Palestinian man, Arafat Jaradat, last week only five days after he was detained and interrogated by Israeli intelligence, and to show solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

A Ma’an reporter in Ramallah in the central West Bank said clashes broke out in different areas in the district including nearby al-Bireh, a neighborhood in Beitunia close to Israel’s Ofer detention center, the Qalandiya checkpoint and the town of Bilin west of Ramallah.

He highlighted that more than 15 young men were hit by rubber-coated bullets in addition to dozens who were hurt by tear gas which Israeli troops fired heavily near Ofer detention center.

Large numbers of Israeli troops deployed heavily in the area. They showered the protesters with foul-smelling liquids. The protesters, for their part, threw stones and empty bottles at the soldiers.

Similar clashes erupted near Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem during which six young Palestinians were hit by rubber-coated gunshots, and several others were hurt by tear gas.

The Ma’an reporter highlighted that high velocity tear-gas canisters the soldiers fired hit some vehicles as they traveled on the main road near Qalandia.

In Bilin to the west of Ramallah, locals marched after the Friday prayer commemorating the eighth anniversary of the popular resistance movement which started in the village when Israel started to build the separation wall.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad joined the rally in Bilin along with Palestinian officials and faction leaders. Among the participants were the governor of Nablus Layla Ghannam, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Front Wasil Abu Yousif, DFLP official Ramzi Rabah, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi, official in the Popular Struggle Front Rizq Nammura, and others.

Fayyad and the governor of Ramallah were among hundreds who choked seriously as they inhaled tear gas. Foreign solidarity activists who joined the rally were hurt as well, while four young Palestinian men were hit by high-velocity tear gas canisters.

According to a Ma’an reporter, Israeli soldiers showered the participants with tear gas canisters, stun grenades, and foul-smelling liquids while others fired rubber-coated bullets.

The soldiers, he said, chased the protesters in military jeeps between olive trees in the fields. As a result four young men were hit by high-velocity tear gas canisters. They were identified as 17-year-old Muatasim Mansour, 20-year-old Issam Yasin, 22-year-old cameraman Ali Abu Rahma, and 18-year-old assistant paramedic Nimir Malasa. Two of the victims were hit right in the head, and were evacuated to Palestine Medical Compound in Ramallah. The other two were hit in the abdomen and one on the foot.

Two ambulances were also hit by tear gas canisters smashing their windshields.

Bethlehem district in the southern West Bank saw clashes after Friday prayers in several locations across the district including in Tuqu to the east where Israeli troops dispersed a rally using tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets. No injuries have been reported.

Other skirmishes broke out in the town of al-Khader south of Bethlehem city. The clashes took place near al-Nashash gas station very close to the Israeli bypass road known as route 60. Locals told Ma’an that dozens choked as a result of inhaling tear gas.

More clashes erupted in Nabi Salih village after Israeli forces forcibly dispersed the village’s weekly protest against Israel’s separation wall and settlement activities. A statement by a local popular resistance committee said Israeli forces assaulted the participants using tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets as they arrived at Mustafa Tamimi Street. Six demonstrators were hit by rubber-coated bullets and a foreign female activist fainted during the clashes.

Confrontations were also reported at the entrance to the east Jerusalem town of Anata. Witnesses said several young men were hit by high-velocity tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets.

Fierce clashes also erupted in the central West Bank city of Salfit, namely on lands belonging to the Palestinian ministry of endowment.

Locals said the ministry decided to perform Friday prayers on that land to protest damages to the land by the Israeli Ariel industrial zone. After the prayer, hundreds of worshipers rallied before Israeli soldiers stopped them using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets. Several demonstrators were hurt.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said hundreds of people in Abu Dis, Nablus and Bilin threw rocks at Israeli forces, who responded with riot dispersal means.