Fearless Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh defines popular protest

Israel/Palestine
on 23 Comments

Nabi Saleh … The name of this little Palestinian village half way between Jerusalem and Nablus has resonated in my mind for years. Gotta go there, I’ve said to myself. Gotta go see how their weekly, anti-occupation protests unfold, up close and personal.

A forty-five-minute drive north of Ramallah

A few years ago I visited Bil’in, another Palestinian village just outside Ramallah, where popular protests have also been taking place each Friday. Courageous folks, for sure. But their demonstration seemed sadly futile: marching up to the section of Israel’s Apartheid Wall blocking them from their farmland, where illegal Modi’in Illit settlement now sits, only to get rained on by high velocity tear gas canisters, rubber-coated bullets and skunk water fired by police safely perched on the top of the wall, as amused settler kids watch from a nearby hill. Save for the most fearless, rock-hurling shebab, everyone takes cover, or flees.

This past Friday, I found out that popular protest Nabi Saleh-style is a very different affair. Little Nabi Saleh, population 500 (all from one family — the Tamimis), has had a reputation for militant protest since late 2009, when their spring and adjacent agricultural lands were stolen by Halamish settlement, a stone’s throw to the south. Several villagers have been killed in the course of these demonstrations, including Mustafa Tamimi, hit in the chest by a high velocity tear gas canister. I had no idea how militant peaceful, popular protest could be.

Last Friday, a hundred villagers ranging in age from nine or ten to senior citizens pointed fingers, shook fists and waved flags in the faces of heavily armed police. They pushed the cops back, sitting down on the pavement when the teargas began to fly.

Israeli-American activist Miko Peled gives Israeli police commander a piece of his mind.

The protest began, as is the custom, after noontime prayers. By early afternoon, a large crowd had gathered in the parking lot outside Nabi Saleh’s mosque. The mood was festive. Folks mingled in circles, flags flapping in the breeze.

Then the march began, down the narrow road leading to the coils of barbed wire, yellow steel gate and observation tower blocking access to the main drag where Jewish settlers drive. Next to the lovely spring that once was Nabi Saleh’s, beneath the hillside of olive trees that Nabi Saleh once harvested, now controlled by neat and tidy, red-roofed Halamish settlement.

At the vanguard of the march, two familiar faces: Eleven year-old ‘Janna Jihad’ — the ‘World’s Youngest Journalist’, reporting into her smart phone — and sixteen year-old lioness Ahed Tamimi, topped by an improbably wild explosion of wavy blonde hair.

Eleven year-old Janna Jihad reports live, beside her cousin Ahed.

Down the road the villagers marched, a dozen members of the media racing to keep up. Around the bend, eight Israeli police came into view: helmeted, automatic weapons at their side; two of them armed with still and video cameras; the commander shouting into a megaphone, warning the crowd to cease and desist.

To borrow a famous click bait line — I never imagined what would happen next.

Direct engagement

Surely, protesters would slow down and halt a prudent distance from the cops. If they didn’t, tear gas would be hurled, shots fired, and injuries sustained.

But no, protesters marched right up to the police. For almost half an hour, they faced down the cops, nose to nose. Shoulder to shoulder the cops stood, helmet visors up, guns and tear gas grenades at their sides, passively receiving the abuse hurled in their faces. Media rushed this way and that, searching for prime purchase to capture the mayhem.

Holding the line in Nabi Saleh

At times police were surrounded, separated from their jeeps by media and protesters. Several small boys walked over to cops hanging back in front of their vehicles, attempting to engage them in conversation.

Boys engage with boys.

Back and forth the police commander marched, between the jeeps and ‘front line’, occasionally tapping messages into his smartphone. This was the same guy who presided over the fatal shooting of young Saba Nidal Obeid on May 12, here in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian medic told me. Today, the commander may have been minding his p’s and q’s.

At one point, the commander returned from a jeep with a Palestinian flag that had been seized, handing it back to one of the protesters.

Police commander returns a confiscated flag.

Most incredibly, the crowd kept pushing the line of police back. With each few feet of retreat, the crowd cheered and chanted, taunting the police, sticking their fingers, fists and flags in their faces. The police remained calm. I tried to engage a few in conversation. “This must be really difficult for you,” I asked. No reply.

Israeli police recruit keeps his cool, stays silent.

Then, the inevitable: the loud pop of a tear gas canister, a cloud of acrid, white smoke drifting through the air, and everyone flew, gasping for breath, covering their eyes. Others stayed put. If the cops could, so would they. One older woman sat down on the pavement, her harms crossed. Camera people rushed over to capture her sitting there.

Pop goes a tear gas round.

But the protest was about to become less up close and personal. “Skunk truck!” an Israeli activist murmured, interrupting our interview, pointing to a large white truck driving up the road from Halamish settlement, where it’s based and apparently refuels. I had just recovered from a minor whiff of tear gas. My eyes and chest burned, but with a gentle northwest wind blowing away from Nabi Saleh, towards the police and their checkpoint, it could have been worse.

The sight of that skunk truck lumbering up the road towards me, plume of brown liquid rocketing from an armored nozzle on its roof, sent me sprinting up the hill — stopping twice, though, to snap quick shots of the approaching filth and then turn on my heels. Not bad for a 64-year-old. “Fuck!” I yelled, as a fifty meter-long fountain of putrid fluid arched into the blue sky and back down towards me. “Fuck!”

Skunk trucks refill their load across the road, in Halamish settlement.

Thank G-d for the breeze, I said to myself, as I took up position next to a gas station near Nabi Saleh’s northern entrance road. There I watched as police and a few villagers stood their ground. Shebab took up positions along the road and on the hillside above, hurling rocks in their graceful, muscular ballet, an astonishing distance, and with great accuracy.

Freedom fighter ballet

Three police sustained hits, Palestinian medic Achmed Nasser told me — one in the leg and two in the head. The commander got hit on the side of his head, and a young female cop took a rock in the face. Nasser offered to provide assistance, but police said they could handle the situation themselves. The young lady was taken to hospital.

If only the police withdrew, the protest would wind down, I thought. Villagers would likely not march down to the main road, much less into Halamish, where they’d certainly get shot by settlers, someone confided to me.

But police stayed put, and so did a handful of Nabi Saleh protesters stubbornly engaging them face to face, as shebab fired off relentless volleys of rocks, set fire to tires and pushed the burned out shell of a car down the road. A few women rushed into a field to block police sniper fire. Two villagers were hit by live and rubber-coated bullets [the latter two points reported by Ma’an News Agency].

Police, protesters won’t let it go.

Rather than wandering back down into the fray, I decided to play it safe and withdraw. All I needed now was to get struck by a “Two-Two” (the sort of live round that entered young Saba Nidal Obeid’s chest on May 12, piercing his heart and killing him).

I stood on the road beside the gas station, watching weary protesters trudge back home. Having failed to dampen their testosterone levels through high-octane popular protest, youths raced up and down the road on a bright yellow all-terrain vehicle, spinning wildly as they laughed, creating lots of bothersome noise.

Amidst the incongruous hubbub, I managed to chat briefly with young Ahed Tamimi. An intense and thoughtful young lady. “We have to be strong because if we are not like this they will kill us, and they will destroy our land,” Ahed told me. “When I go to the demonstrations I feel I’m more strong,” she added. “I’m not scared, because if I don’t go and tell the police go from our land they will kill us and they will come to the village. They will do a lot of things to kill us and make us not happy.”

Ahed Tamimi

Later, biding our time over coffee and sweets, waiting for a service taxi back to Ramallah, medic Achmed Nasser and I had a lengthy conversation about life, politics, popular protest, now-comfortable sixties-generation politicians versus disenchanted eighties-generation youth, and the future of self-determination in Palestine. Plenty of food for thought. Powerful enticement to dig deeper into this most amazing, seemingly permanent national struggle.

Earlier in the day, I spoke with village leaders Bilal Tamimi and his wife Manal, who’ve been leading and documenting protests here in Nabi Saleh for years (and have a large collection of spent Israeli ordinance in their home to show for it). Listen to our conversation here:


 

Nabi Saleh shebab, illegal Halamish settlement in distance.

All images by David Kattenburg. A version of this article first appeared on David Kattenburg’s website Green Planet Monitor

About David Kattenburg

David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based radio/web broadcaster and science educator.

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23 Responses

  1. eljay
    May 29, 2017, 11:55 am

    My respect to the people of the not-Israel village of Nabi Saleh for their courage and determination in the face of evil.

  2. Annie Robbins
    May 29, 2017, 2:04 pm

    This was the same guy who presided over the fatal shooting of young Saba Nidal Obeid on May 12

    Obeid, 22, was executed by an Israeli army sharpshooter with a live round to the heart.

    The young lady was taken to hospital.

    i can’t recall ever hearing/reading a female occupation soldier referenced as a “young lady”.

    Having failed to dampen their testosterone levels through high-octane popular protest, youths raced up and down the road on a bright yellow all-terrain vehicle, spinning wildly as they laughed, creating lots of bothersome noise.

    interesting.

    If only the police withdrew, the protest would wind down, I thought. Villagers would likely not march down to the main road, much less into Halamish, where they’d certainly get shot by settlers, someone confided to me.

    if the soldiers withdrew the villagers would most likely continue to march to their stolen spring.

    i’m curious by the authors alternating descriptions of soldiers and police. maan reports references “soldiers” and “Israeli army”. are these soldiers? or police? or both?

  3. David Kattenburg
    May 30, 2017, 12:28 am

    Thanks for your thoughts, Annie. By “presided over” I mean this was the police commander on the scene, commanding, at the time of Saba Nidal Obeid’s death on May 12, according to the medic I spoke with. Of course, all were police. My error, wherever ‘soldiers’ pop up. I shall fix.
    Re: “young lady,” perhaps I could have referred to her as a “young woman.” Must be my generation. Can’t help sensing a bit of humanity in these people, and conveying accordingly in my writing. A past article of mine, showing photos of smiling soldiers in Hebron (with similarly sympathetic caption) drew the ire of one reader. I see no point in demonizing Israeli soldiers and police in images of this sort. Check out the photo of woman in question in my Green Planet Monitor story — with caption. I borrowed caption thought from a local Palestinian activist, who must have been touched by the same sense of humanity.
    Take care, Annie.

    • Annie Robbins
      May 30, 2017, 1:27 am

      thanks for getting back to me david. actually, when an occupation soldier is in uniform, i can’t recall ever thinking of them as ladies or gentlemen (and we’re the same generation). and since they act like an occupation army in nabi saleh i always assumed they were the occupation army. turns out they’re occupation police. i wonder if it’s always israeli occupation police instead of army who invade nabi saleh, shoot and tear gas the civilians, and protect the settlers.

      • David Kattenburg
        May 30, 2017, 10:06 am

        Hello again, Annie. Great to be in touch and chatting. I’ve just changed all those sloppy references to ‘soldiers’ in my GPM piece, to ‘police’ or ‘cops’ — which they were/are (as best as I know). Border police wear grey-blue uniforms, as opposed to the “bag-heads” (as I like to call them), who wear olive-green. Re: ladies and gentleman, I some times slip into this stuff. Best to just call them what they are: soldiers or police. I’ve asked Adam/Phil to fix my sloppy ‘soldier’ references. Sigh.

      • Annie Robbins
        May 30, 2017, 3:01 pm

        well, i didn’t think it was sloppy. i think it’s normal to label them as they appear. and the militarization of police seems to erase the difference, uniforms being the only distinction. btw, the word “border” doesn’t even make sense, i suppose that’s for propaganda purposes. unless they are referencing all the borders of the illegal settlements or the borders of sections A,B,&C which is seemingly everywhere in the west bank, so use of the word border in this circumstance is meaningless. maybe ‘occupation forces’ is the most accurate description.

        btw, do you know what bag heads are for? do they keep the top of the head cool or something? or are they supposed to function as some sort of camouflage?

      • David Kattenburg
        May 31, 2017, 1:53 pm

        Yes indeed, re: “border” police. Another example of how the Zionists play it both ways — the West Bank isn’t ‘occupied’, just ‘disputed’; it’s actually all Israel’s land, into eternity. But they refuse to annex it, just extend their sovereignty there — when it suits them — and although it’s all undivided Jewish land, there are borders that police control.
        Regarding those bags … who knows! I think it makes them look goofy.

      • Annie Robbins
        May 31, 2017, 2:01 pm

        goofy? how generous of you!

  4. JosephA
    May 30, 2017, 12:53 am

    Hi David,

    Thank you for sharing this news and for bearing witness.

    Am I correct in assuming that the Israeli theft of Palestinian land, specifically in this village, is now legal (in Israel only, obviously it would not be recognized internationally) due to recent changes in the law there?

    It’s amazing what terrible things can occur when one group of people has complete control over another and seems to act with impunity.

    • David Kattenburg
      May 30, 2017, 10:10 am

      Hey Joseph … Thanks for your note. I’d never call Halamish/Israel’s theft Nabi Saleh’s land ‘legal’. It’s certainly permanent, as far as the settler-thieves are concerned.

  5. jd65
    May 30, 2017, 1:05 am

    Thank you for the excellent article, David. Small note/point [correction?]: In the third pic down from the top of the article – the one w/ the caption “Nabi Saleh resident gives an Israeli police commander a piece of his mind.” – the gentleman getting in the commander’s face looks an awful lot like Miko Peled.

    More power to the Tamimi’s!!!!!!!

  6. jd65
    May 30, 2017, 11:32 am

    Every single person standing up to the IOF in this video is a hero. HEROES:

    • David Kattenburg
      May 30, 2017, 2:00 pm

      Thanks for filming this, Bilal. Thanks for posting it here, jd65. I obviously missed a lot, up on the hill and out of danger. Mind blower.

    • Annie Robbins
      May 30, 2017, 3:27 pm

      excellent video! thank you.

      • Brewer
        June 1, 2017, 3:53 am

        Having just read Gershon Shafir’s tortuous piece which left me feeling steamrollered by colonialism and Nathan Thrall’s which I found rather defeatist, this article and especially this vid stirred such emotion I probably shouldn’t comment – my eyes filled up!!
        I already knew Miko was a Saint but I didn’t know the extent of his heroism, didn’t know he was active on the front line.
        Deepest gratitude to all involved for renewed hope. These people will prevail – even the stormtroopers seem to sense it.

  7. kathychristison
    May 30, 2017, 9:25 pm

    Hi, David — This is a great article, and a wonderful testimony to the courage and spirit of Nabi Saleh and its residents. I’d just like to insert a caution re your initial remarks about Bil’in, which is also a very courageous resistance village. Bil’in has been holding a protest every Friday since February 2005, over 12 years. Lots of Israelis and internationals go to that weekly protest also. At least two residents have been killed as far as I know–a young guy, a village favorite, who was hit in the chest with a teargas grenade in the spring of 2009, and his sister, who died of teargas inhalation a few months later. Many, many others have been shot and injured, some seriously, through the years. As for the Bil’in protest being “futile,” this little village did succeed in getting the Israeli Supreme Court to order the IDF to move the wall farther away, returning some of the village lands. The IDF took its own sweet time about moving the wall, but this was finally accomplished about 8-10 years ago. But Bil’in has still lost a good bit of its land. So the protests aren’t futile, and they aren’t just play-acting or kabuki theater, as the NYT once claimed. All Palestinians in all villages are suffering from the occupation and the wall and the checkpoints, etc, etc. Palestinian resistance is not a competition for who suffers more or who yells more loudly or who is more effective on a given day. You did a superb job of honoring Nabi Saleh, for which I thank you. We must honor Bil’in also, and all villages, all Palestinians. Thanks.

    • David Kattenburg
      May 31, 2017, 12:39 am

      Thanks for these thoughts, Kathy, and for taking the time to put them down here. Much appreciated. I agree with you entirely. The struggles of communities like Bi’lin, Nabi Saleh and Kaffr Qaddum are a wonder to behold. Each face their own challenges. All are worthy of admiration and praise, and our encourgement.

    • David Kattenburg
      May 31, 2017, 12:40 am

      Thanks for these thoughts, Kathy, and for taking the time to put them down here. Much appreciated. I agree with you entirely. The struggles of communities like Bi’lin, Nabi Saleh and Kaffr Qaddum are a wonder to behold. Each face their own challenges. All are worthy of admiration and praise, and our encouragement.

      • kathychristison
        May 31, 2017, 9:44 am

        Thanks for your solidarity, David. The Palestinians are amazing in their steadfastness/sumud, and articles like yours are so important, for everyone in the Palestinian struggle and for those back here who wouldn’t otherwise know what’s going on.

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