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Funeral for Mohammed Asfour who succumbed to injuries from a rubber bullet shot into his head by the Israeli Defense Forces on March 7th. His burial took place on March 8, 2013 in Aboud, near Ramallah. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)
Mohammed Asfour’s burial earlier this month in the village of Aboud near Ramallah was not a national event. The 23 year-old student of Bethlehem University and lover of sports may not be memorialized outside his small village, yet Asfour’s March 8th funeral was a turning point. His death, caused by a rubber bullet to his temple shot two weeks before by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), is a landmark in the escalating tensions between Israeli forces and the Palestinian countryside.
“Now the angels wash his clothes. If you smell the flag you are going to know what I speak of,” said the deceased’s cousin Loubna Asfour, 29, while motioning to a flag crumpled on a mattress that sat bare on the floor. The flag was the last piece of cloth to touch Asfour’s body. It covered him as he was carried from the village’s mosque to the cemetery, amidst a crowd of at least one thousand.
“He’s so lovely, he’s caring, he’s so nice,” said Loubna of her cousin, speaking of him in the present tense.
During the bereavement period, pictures of soccer players that appeared to be cut from magazines hung in the Asfour family home. Before his death the young Palestinian pasted them in a neat vertical row on the wall. Loubna pointed to the images—his lasting material marks on the family’s stone house—explaining that Asfour liked to play with the village’s children.
Loubna talked to me in a back room immediately following the procession. Although the interview began in the courtyard, it was abruptly moved inside to avoid tear gas that seeped through the village. It is commonplace at Palestinian funerals that within minutes of burying a martyr, a shaheed, a person—often a youth—whose death was caused by the Israeli military, clashes ensue between the local community and the IDF. As we rearranged, Loubna brought some of the children in the family indoors whose eyes were reddening by the second. In the living room around 30 women were seated in plastic chairs, including Asfour’s mother, who was addressed with the title of respect “um shaheed,” or “mother of the martyr.” As female visitors came and left, each greeted the matriarchs of the family. Yet Asfour’s mother was unable to speak. Overcome with grief, she tearfully gestured with her hands alone, her body sunken into the chair like collapsed fabric.
Nearly all of Aboud’s residents attended Asfour’s funeral. The recognizable faces of Palestinian notables highlighted the existence of popular resistance in unlikely places. Famed hunger striker Khader Adnan and scores of members of the Tamimi family from Nabi Saleh, one of the first Palestinian villages to begin Friday protests against the Israeli occupation, came to pay their respects.
Beyond the funeral procession streets were empty and every business closed.
Where months ago Aboud was known as a quiet village, excellent for hiking and lounging by one of its many natural springs, nearly every Friday for the past six weeks the sleepy town has railed against Israeli forces. Originally supporters of twelve high profile hunger strikers held in Israeli jails, including Samer Issawi who is lauded for surpassing 200 days of political fast, called for the demonstrations. Asfour was fatally wounded in one of these marches.
“He feels what others feel. For the prisoners, his sister’s husband is a prisoner,” said Loubna describing the motivation of her cousin. “He often went to demonstrations. He was very sad and happy for the cause of the Palestinians and prisoners,” she continued.
But now the protests have taken a local turn. Palestinians face-off with the Israeli military not only to support their arrested relatives and friends, but to remember one of their own. Indeed, as much as the prisoners’ call served as a lightening rod, so do the deaths of young Palestinians protesting in these marches.
Since Asfour’s funeral nearly two weeks ago, demonstrations in Aboud have grown, driven by the anger over the local death. Aboud is part of a series of new confrontations in West Bank regions that have not engaged in popular resistance since the end of the second Intifada. This spreading protest movement stands in stark contrast to the official position of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
In November 2012 Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas promised that there would be no third Intifada under his watch. Eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military fire since the beginning of 2013, and with each West Bank fatality daylight is growing between the rumbling popular support for prisoners and the leadership’s commitment to diplomatic measures.
Pressure on the leadership to squash resistance has even turned violent. Earlier this year, 300 PA Special Forces raided al-Amaari refugee camp located inside of Ramallah’s municipal borders in order to end a protest that began when prisoners’ families blocked a road from Ramallah to Qalandia, the main artery to Jerusalem. PA police dressed in black riot gear showered the densely populated neighborhood with live bullets, injuring dozens of Palestinians. However, the crackdown has yet to impede the proliferation of dissent.
For now, it is funerals like Asfour’s that seem to foreshadow the coming months; protests backed by an array of political parties and faction groups that do not support Abbas’s desire to return to negotiations and overarching statehood project. The prisoners’ hunger strike has pushed into small villages, re-invigorating popular dissent with flags from Hamas, Fatah and the DFLP in particular. And despite President Barack Obama’s much lauded arrival in the region this week to advocate for these same measures, a nascent uprising is forming.
All photographs are by the author taken on March 8, 2013.