Mustafa Tamimi was killed last December; and still deadly munitions fly in Nabi Saleh
972’s cover story on Saturday featured pleasant photos of children playing in a spring under the triumphant headline: “For first time, weekly protest in Nabi Saleh reaches destination: its own spring.” The story is brief, just four short paragraphs that give some facts about past arrests during the three years of weekly protests in the town – though oddly no mention of Mustafa Tamimi, who was killed by a tear gas canister last December.
The spring – recently renamed “Mustafa’s Spring” after the late Tamimi – has been off-limits to Palestinians since the establishment of the Halamish settlement next door. The town has held weekly protests every Friday for the last two and a half years, and it’s become a kind of routine:
Residents march down a hill on one side of town, attempting to cross a settler road to reach their historic land, including this spring. Usually they are met with tear gas canisters, the skunk gun and rubber bullets on the hill before reaching the settlers’ road that divides Nabi Saleh from its historic lands, which are now part of a settlement, including the spring. People start running back up the hill, the shabab (young boys) throw stones to push back the IDF, and later in the evening the IDF comes into town.
None of this is interesting anymore. For Nabi Saleh and other villages in the West Bank, it’s as regular as Friday prayers. The newsworthy event this past week is that the protesters actually crossed the street and reached the spring without police or IDF confrontation.
Last Friday was my first time at the Nabi Saleh Friday protests, but even to me the scene at the spring felt newsworthy – an unusual few moments of joy at a routine marked more often by death, injury or fear. Kids chanted anti-Occupation songs while splashing in the spring; their playfulness was a face of Palestinian resistance that isn’t shown so often in the news.
That’s the optimistic version of last Friday’s Nabi Saleh protest – a brief victory for Palestinian nonviolent resistance. But 972’s article, written by the activist collective that organizes the weekly Friday protests, ends prematurely.
After about forty-five minutes at the spring, settlers from neighboring Halamish, built illegally according to a 1977 Israeli High Court ruling, came down to speak with the soldiers. I’m not sure what they discussed, but shortly afterward, the soldiers told us to leave. I assumed we would simply walk back to the village to continue the celebration.
I took off a bandana another American activist had lent me, to use in case of tear gas.
“I guess I won’t be needing this today,” I told her.
“You can hold onto it,” she said. “Let’s just wait and see what happens.”
Instead of walking back up the hill across the street, we marched for a few yards along the settler bypass road, which is also off-limits to Palestinians. The IDF got angry, repeatedly telling people to get off the road. Most did; a few didn’t.
I’m not exactly sure the order of what happened next. The skunk gun started spraying protestors at the bottom of the hill, but I was already further up.
Then came the tear gas canisters, just a few feet below us. We started running.
Most of us gathered in a safehouse between the hill and the village center while the shabab threw stones at the IDF to push them away from the village. After some time there, we thought we were safe to walk back into the village.
But the IDF followed, pushing back at the rock-throwing shabab and following us into the village. The tear gas canisters continued in all directions, as did the rubber bullets. We also saw a bullet shell on the ground, but it could have been from another time.
I found myself trapped on a street inside the village with two other protesters, one an experienced Israeli activist, the other a frightened and confused American activist getting tear gassed for the first time. The sounds of rubber bullets were getting louder, closer. A tear gas canister fell a few feet away from us. None of us was sure what was going on, what the IDF would do next, or how to get out of there safely.
We eventually made it out without injury, finding our way to a gas station at the edge of the village where we regrouped with other activists. The shabab and the IDF were still out there. I’m not sure if the IDF came into the town that night, as they often do.That’s not part of last Friday’s story.
Nor was the skunk gas, or the tear gas, or the bullets. Nor were Abdullah Yasin, 19, or Ahmed Burnat, 18, hit by a high-velocity gas canister in the head and a rubber bullet in the foot respectively. These components of the protest are taken for granted – of course there was some tear gas and rubber bullets. That’s life here.
The 972 magazine article is revealing of a larger trend in the media’s narrative of this conflict. The horrors of the Occupation – of which the severe IDF response to non-violent protest is only one small part – have become mundane, not just to international and Israeli audiences, but to 972mag’s leftist/activist readership as well.
This is a place where children playing at a spring make headlines, but children getting shot don’t. The problem is no longer that the Occupation is “complicated,” as the pro-Israel camp likes to say; the problem is that the Occupation and its daily manifestations of violence and abuse have become normal, not even worth a mention.
And as this violence becomes normalized, Israelis and the international community forget that it exists. Occasionally, we read NGO reports that turn personal tragedies and traumas into easily digestible statistics. More often, we – the international community, that is – reserve our shock for the Occupation’s most terrifying moments, when it shows a face so ugly we cannot turn away – like Bassem Abu Rahme’s death in Bil’in in 2009, or, of course, the death of Nabi Saleh’s own Mustafa Tamimi in 2011.
But these instances are also fleeting; we express our outrage about the Occupation at appropriate moments, and then forget about it the rest of the time. The authors of 972’s article might not care to mention the normalized horrors of the occupation at last week’s Nabi Saleh protest, but they certainly haven’t forgotten about it.
And as these everyday acts of violence disappear from even the most local media, the Occupation intensifies. The same type of high-velocity tear gas canister that killed Abu Rahme also killed Tamimi two years later. According to one Nabi Saleh resident, the Israeli police/IDF have become even more aggressive at their weekly protests since Tamimi’s death.
No one wants to read about this. Readers either know it’s happening – the case, I assume with 972’s audience – or they’d rather not know at all. There are very few blogs or other media outfits that diligently report all of the home raids, arrests, detentions, and instances of police and settler violence – things that are normal but shouldn’t be. I talked with the editor of one of them, intifadamedia.wordpress.com, last week. “The motto of the blog is, ‘every detainee has a voice,” she told me. “But it sounds better in Hebrew.”
I think it sounds fine in English, too. It may not always be a reasonable goal for journalists in the region, but we’d do well to keep its ethos in mind.