Video from the June 10 protest in Nabi Saleh.
My first taste of 'fire' today, 10 June 2011, in solidarity with the pastoral Palestinian village of Nebi Saleh. Like everyone else, first-timers and seasoned demonstrators, I was shocked at the violence used by the soldiers against non-violent protesters - men, women and children, Palestinians, Israelis, and foreigners alike!
I can confirm that there was absolutely no provocation on the part of the demonstrators. We'd hardly taken our first steps through this sleepy village when tear gas canisters started falling all around us, the air became filled with the acrid smoke, and our eyes, mouths and skin took the impact of the tear gas.
Is this not chemical warfare? Personally, I can't think of any other description that fits. No matter what you call it, it is being used in the most vengeful way imaginable against an innocent, civilian population who want nothing other than to legitimately walk down to their spring of water without harassment by the settlers who have built a village on their land (the red-roofed settlement of Halamish) or the soldiers who use sophisticated chemical weaponry to prevent them from even walking down the road in their own village.
Aside from the tear gas and rubber bullets, there's also - by way of a grande finale - the notorious 'skunk', which is driven through the village spraying homes and people with a putrid, sticky chemical concoction, the ingredients of which are a mystery. Fortunately, I didn't get to smell it at close range. It was bad enough to get a whiff of it from afar as our group, like the sheep ahead of us, eventually turned tail, and made our way back across country to our cars, leaving Nebi Saleh's brave inhabitants behind us.
Next Friday, they will once again find themselves in a "closed military zone" face-to-face with a force that with impunity douses them, their children, their homes and village with chemicals and sows confusion and chaos. As we seem to be unable to stop the establishment's terrible tactics, I think the very least we can do is be there with the Tamimi clan in Nebi Saleh. It's scary, I know. But if you live in Israel, you should at least experience it once. That way you will know and never forget.
If you have never heard of Nebi Saleh (alternative spelling Nabi Salah), allow me to introduce the village, which is based deep in the heart of the West Bank or Palestine, for the many who already call it by that name. The village is home to just over 500 members of the Tamimi clan.
In 1976, the Israeli government appropriated swathes of Nebi Saleh land to build the settlement of Hallamish - hundreds of spacious red-roofed villas for religious settlers. Further encroachments of Nebi Saleh land followed, with settlers' bravado very much on the rise since 2000. In the summer of 2008, the settlers laid claim to the fresh spring fountain and pools belonging to one of the Tamimi family and used by the villagers to water the flocks that are the main source of their livelihood.
Hallamish youths - by this time the settlement was calling itself Neve Tsuf - thought a spa would be a nice thing to have on their doorstep and so simply took over the site, walling it in, building, renovating and doing as they pleased, even going so far as to list it on an Israeli portal of springs and water sources! There the spring is listed as the Meir Spring, thus named in memory of one of their kind, 'who bravely fought for the unification of the whole of Israel'.
Nebi Saleh opted for peaceful protest against the appropriation of the spring and ever since, the villagers and their Israeli and international supporters, have been trying every Friday to walk en masse to the waters. They never get there. Each week, the army and the Border Police appear to be curtailing their march and using more and more force to keep them ever further away from their spring.
Jenny Levin first came to Israel with a youth leadership course in 1968, and she moved there in 1969. After a decade in England she has been back in Israel since 2009 and is increasingly active in trying to stop "our downward spiral into the racist, apartheid, bigotted society that is all too reminiscent of the apartheid South Africa of my childhood and Fascist Germany, which my father managed to leave in 1935."