It was the day before Eid al-Adha last summer, and millions of Palestinian Muslims across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Israel were preparing for the biggest holiday of the year.
But when the residents of the Ramallah-area village of Kafr Ni’ma woke up, expecting to spend the day decorating their homes and preparing sweets for the visitors they would receive the following morning, they were shocked to find a group of visitors on the outskirts of the town.
“The settlers came in the middle of the night, no one knew. By morning they had paved a road up to the mountain, set up their tents, and had soldiers protecting them,” Zafer Attayah, a resident of Kfar Ni’ma told Mondoweiss.
Attayah pointed to the top of Risan mountain, located just 500 meters northeast of the village. “You can see now they have set up a caravan, and there are some soldiers around them,” he said.
The family of settlers, which Attayah estimates numbers around 10, first showed up on Risan mountain on September 7th. “Every day since then, the soldiers have been present in the area. Day and night they are there,” Attayah said.
The Risan mountain is nestled between three villages northwest of Ramallah, just a few kilometers from the Green Line — Kafr Ni’ma, Ras Karkar, and Kharbetha Bani Hareth.
“People from all three villages own land on the mountain,” Attayah said, noting that his family is among the landowners.
“After the settlers came, the Israeli occupation authorities told us that they were confiscating the land for the settlers,” he said. “They want to take 1,000 dunums [about 250 acres] of our land.”
Ever since the settlers showed up two months ago, the Palestinians from Risan’s three surrounding villages have been staging weekly Friday protests on the mountain in attempts to stop the confiscation.
“We have to maintain our presence in the area,” Attayah said. “They think they can just come and take the land, but we will not make it easy for them.”
A history of resistance
The villagers of Kafr Ni’ma are no strangers to resisting the Israeli occupation. The village sits just four kilometers from the Green Line, the skyline of Israel’s large coastal cities clearly visible beyond the hills of the West Bank.
Just a few hundred meters west of the village is Israel’s separation wall. Its 26 foot tall concrete panels weave through the lands of Kfar Ni’ma’s famous neighbor, Bil’in village.
Hundreds of Kafr Ni’ma’s residents participated in Bili’in’s years long nonviolent resistance campaign against the wall. “Many men and youth from our village were imprisoned for their activism in the Bil’in protests,” Attayah told Mondoweiss.
When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1995, 30% of the villages lands were designated as “Area C,” and put under the full civilian and security control of Israel.
Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Israel established hundreds of military checkpoints and watchtowers across the West Bank. One of those watchtowers was built on a road connecting Kafr Nima with its neighboring village, Ras Karkar.
Israel confiscated 120 dunums of land from the village and its neighbors for the construction of Israeli bypass road No. 463. The villagers protested against that as well.
The confiscation of Risan mountain has ignited a dormant flame in the people of Kafr Ni’ma and its surrounding villages, who are determined to stage peaceful resistance.
“Every Friday, at least 150 to 200 youth and men from all three villages take to the mountain and we perform Friday prayers before we stage the demonstration,” Attayah, who has been participating in the demonstrations since day one, told Mondoweiss.
“These are peaceful, non-violent demonstrations,” Attayah insisted, “there are young boys and old men participating. We are trying to get as much attention from the media and from the popular resistance in Palestine so we can put pressure on the Israelis to stop,” he said.
Friday: Prayers & Protest
On the road to Risan mountain, just minutes before the Friday prayer was scheduled to begin, sounds of rubber bullets firing and sound bombs exploding filled the air.
“Look, they already started to attack the people,” Attayah said as he exited the car, pulling his sweater over his face to shield himself from the overwhelming smell of tear gas.
Dozens of armed Israeli soldiers dotted the mountaintop around the settlers’ caravan, while dozens more descended into the valley firing tear gas at protesters who were attempting to reach the top of the mountain.
Eventually, as protesters receded and soldiers established new positions in the valley below Risan mountain, the Israelis held their fire just long enough for demonstrators to perform prayers under an olive grove.
Within minutes after the conclusion of the prayer, soldiers started firing tear gas again, sending protesters and journalists running in the other direction. Several Palestinians, including at least one child, were treated by medics on the scene.
One of the protesters was the Mayor of Kafr Ni’ma, Khader al-Dik, who spoke to Mondoweiss just moments after he was tear gassed.
“Today, the people tried to reach the area close to the land that they confiscated in order to perform Friday prayers there,” al-Dik said. “But the Israeli forces prevented people from reaching the mountain for the prayer, and attacked the people with tear gas and rubber bullets as you see.”
According to al-Dik, when the protests began, residents were able to perform prayers at the top of the mountain. But he says every week since, the soldiers have been pushing the protesters further and further down, away from the settlers.
“Even with the peaceful protests, the Israeli occupation refuses to keep the peace,” al-Dik said. “They always escalate the situation and respond with violence.”
As part of their efforts to suppress resistance from the Palestinians against the land confiscation on Risan mountain, Israeli forces have been engaging in other intimidation tactics, according to the villagers.
Mariam Attayah, 55, told Mondoweiss that in the weeks since the demonstrations began, Israeli forces have escalated their nightly raids on the village.
“They come into the village every two or three days, to intimidate and arrest people who are involved in the protests,” she said, adding that at least seven young men have been arrested from Kafr Ni’ma since September.
“One of them was 12 years old, and they made his family pay a 3,000 shekel bail,” she said, adding that the boy spent 15 days in detention.
“The Israelis have always raided and arrested people from Kafr Ni’ma, as they do all across Palestine,” Attayah, who goes by ‘Umm Hassan’, said. “But things have gotten worse over the past two months.”
“Sometimes they raid the village just to go ransack people’s homes and break things and scare people,” she said.
When asked if she believed the raids were meant to scare villagers into not protesting against the confiscation of Risan mountain, Umm Hasan responded with an emphatic “Of course.”
“This is obvious,” she said. “We have been working to defend the mountain, so the soldiers come here and attack all the people as part of what they say is their protection of the settlers.”
“They think they can just come here and claim this land as their own, but we are telling them ‘no’,” she continued.
‘No one can stop us’
Despite the fact that the mountain is in Area C, Umm Hasan said that up until September, villagers would go tend to their land on the mountain, and take their families to enjoy the weather in the spring and summer.
But since the settlers arrived, Israeli forces have prevented any of the villagers from reaching their lands on the mountain, including Umm Hasan’s family.
“This land has been in our families for generations,” said Umm Hasan, whose family owns tens of dunums of land on Risan mountain. “It should be our right to go to this land whenever we want. Who are they to tell us no?”
“We feel sadness, we feel it deep inside. We are trying everything we can to protect our land, but this is very difficult on us,” she said.
“The settlers do not keep anything for us Palestinians to use. They took every mountain, every street. There is not a single hill in Palestine that the settlers have not put their hands on,” she continued.
In the face of it all, Umm Hasan said she is determined to continued supporting the popular resistance in the villages, and to return the land to her family and all the other Palestinians in the area.
“No one can stop us from going to our land,” she said. “We will go there day and night, we will sleep there if we have to. But no matter what they say or do, we will never give it up.”