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.”

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Nabi Saleh mark International Women’s Day and protest the killing of Mu’taz Washaha by IOF

Photos and Report by Haim Schwarczenberg: 7 March 2014

Honoring Mu’taz Washaha from Bir Zeit, an activist murdered by the IOF a week prior, Palestinians and solidarity activists marched from Martyrs’ Square at the centre of Nabi Saleh towards the main road. Marking also international women’s day, prominent female protesters also confronted the soldiers who attempted to brutally disperse the march. One woman was severely beaten and transferred to a Ramallah hospital. Several other protesters were injured from rubber-coated steel bullets.

Video by David Reeb

 

Haim - sister

haim - kids marching

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haim - iof firing

haim - teargas and iof

haim - boshra

haim - iof  haim - marah

  haim  soldier and marah

haim - soldiers and girls

haim - injuredhaim - road

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 stands in solidarity with Ein Hijleh

Nabi Saleh Solidarity: 31 January 2014

Late on Friday afternoon (Palestinian time), more than 300 Palestinians from across the Occupied West Bank repopulated the village of Ein Hijleh in the Jordan valley in opposition to Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing and occupation.  By early evening the number had grown to more than 500 people, with Palestinians from Nablus, Jerusalem, Bilin, Nabi Saleh and many other towns and villages joining the protest camp.

ein hijleh activestills group shot500 Palestinians repopulation Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley. Photo by Activestills
nabi saleh arrive - diana alzeerNabi Saleh residents arrive in Ein Hijleh. Photo by Diana Alzeer.
nabi saleh in ein hijleh - bilal tamimiNabi Saleh residents arriving in Ein Hijleh. Photo by Bilal Tamimi

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committe release the following statement:

PRESS RELEASE Friday, 31 January 2014

PalestiniansLaunch “Melh Al-Ard” Campaign by Reviving Ein Hijleh Village inthe Jordan Valley

Hundreds of Palestinians announced today the launching of “Melh Al-Ard” (Salt of the Earth) campaign by reviving the village of Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley on land belonging to the Orthodox Church and St. Gerassimos monastery. The campaign is launched in refusal of Israeli policies aimed at Judaizing and annexing the Jordan Valley.

Campaign organizers and participants declared,

We, the daughters and sons of Palestine, announce today the revival of Ein Hijleh village as part of Melh Al-Ard campaign in the Jordan Valley. The action aims at refusing the political status quo, especially given futile negotiations destroying the rights of our people for liberation and claim to their land.

Accordingly we have decided to revive an old Palestinian Canaanite village in the Jordan Valley next to so called “Route 90” linking the Dead Sea to Bisan. The action is part of a continuous step against the Israeli occupation’s plan to take over and annex the Jordan Valley. This step is a popular act against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and the constant Judaization of the land.

From the village of Ein Hijleh, we the participants announce that we hold tight to our right to all occupied Palestinian lands. We refuse Kerry’s Plan that will establish a disfigured Palestinian state and recognizes the Israeli entity as a Jewish State. Such a state will turn Palestinians living inside lands occupied in 1948 into residents and visitors that can be deported at anytime. We affirm the unity of our people and their struggle wherever they are for our inalienable rights.

Ein Hijleh village is located in what is called “Area C” in the Jordan Valley, which is under threat of annexation by Israeli policies and Kerry’s plan. Therefore, we have decided to take charge and call for a national action to protect the Jordan Valley and put an end to the constant Judaization of Palestinian lands.

Based on our support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) we call upon our friends and international solidarity groups to stand with the demands of the Palestinian people and boycott all Israeli companies including Israeli factories and companies that work in the Jordan Valley and profit from Palestinian natural resources.  

For instance, we ask you to boycott Mehadrin, the largest Israeli exporter of fruits and vegetables, some of which grown in the Jordan Valley. In addition, Hadiklaim, that exports dates produced by Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley. We also call on you to boycott both Ahava and Premier, cosmetics companies that use Dead Sea minerals to produce its products.

Our Palestinian village is located near Deir Hijleh or St. Gerassimos monastery, on land that is property of the Orthodox monastery. The land mainly consists of few deserted old houses and palm trees. The white soil is highly concentrated with salt, and the area is surrounded by lands taken and used by Israeli settlers. An Israeli base is separating the land from Deir Hijleh monastery which owns a property of about 1000 dunams, some of which are taken by Israeli forces for the excuse of “security reasons.”  

The campaign, “Melh A-lArd” (Salt of the Earth), quotes a phrase from the bible, Matthew 13:5, which says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” The name of our village, Ein Hijleh, is based on the original Canaanite name and the water spring (Ein) present there.

We the sons and daughters of Ein Hijleh call upon our people to join the struggle to revive the village and protect our rights, history, culture, and land. Daughters and sons of Palestine, be the salt of this earth and stay steadfast on it.

Hundreds celebrate, vow to strengthen Palestinian popular struggle at conference in Nabi Saleh

Palestinian popular committees hold a convention in Nabi Saleh in bid to promote and unite the popular struggle against occupation and apartheid, launching a new type of weekly protest. The demonstration that followed was welcomed by soldiers with the traditional tear gas barrage.

Hundreds gather in Nabi Saleh to commemorate martyrs and the start of the First Intifada, November 7, 2013. (Photo: Haggai Matar)

The popular committees coordinating much of the unarmed struggle against the wall and settlements in the West Bank started a new campaign on Saturday. In addition to the weekly Friday protests in Bil’in, Ni’ilin, Nabi Saleh, al-Ma’asara, Qaddum and other places, each of which focuses on local issues, activists are now planning to hold a central gathering and protest in one of the villages once a month on Saturdays. These gatherings, organized also with Israeli activists (myself included) are meant to solidify existing forces and enhance them in order to promote the culture, tradition and tools of popular resistance.

The first event of this kind took place Saturday in Nabi Saleh. It was a symbolic date: 26 years since the beginning of First Intifada, which many in the movement see as a point of reference, four years since the start of demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, and two years since the killing of Mustafa Tamimi at a demonstration. Coincidentally, all in the same week, the IDF also decided to close the case against Tamimi’s killer, and supporter of the struggle Nelson Mandela passed away.

Palestinian, Israeli and international activists confront Israeli soldiers in Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2013. Some protestors made it near the army tower. Three were detained and later released. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Some 300 Palestinian and Israeli activists, with a few internationals as well, gathered at the village center at noon. Speeches were given in memory of the martyrs and about the lessons of the First Intifada. Speakers also linked the West Bank protests to those against the Prawer Plan and to the jailing of Druze conscientious objector Omar Sa’ad earlier in the week. The small convention was closed with a dance put on by Nabi Saleh youth, followed by a march toward the army tower at the entrance to the village.

As soon as the tower was in sight, and with no provocation whatsoever, demonstrators were bombarded with tear gas canisters and scattered in an attempt to seek shelter. It took some while before the protest reorganized into two groups: one of local youth throwing stones at soldiers from an open field, the other composed of demonstrators marching toward the tower once again.

Palestinian youth look for stones to throw at the Israeli army in Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

As the soldiers were preoccupied with stone throwers, shooting tear gas and rubber coated bullets at them, breaking the jaw of Mustafa Tamimi’s brother and chasing them into the village, the other group of demonstrators made it to the tower. Three were immediately detained and later released; the others were warned to leave. After a while demonstrators moved on to block the army jeeps that were now trying to exit the village after chasing stone throwers. The soldiers used force to clear the road. At the end of the protest another attempt was made to reach Nabi Saleh’s spring, which has been taken over by the nearby settlement of Halamish, and that too led to an army attack and storming on the village.

Activists blocking army jeeps were forcefully evicted (Activestills)

Activists attempting blocking army jeeps are forcefully removed. (Activestills)

The event ended after about five hours with one person hospitalized. Later, news came in that elsewhere in the West Bank soldiers killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy by shooting him in the back.