Friday, November 24, 2017

Commemorations, new strategies, and clashes in West Bank resistance village

Juicebox Gallery

By Mike J.C. - December 10, 2013
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [popular struggle] [Popular Struggle Coordination Committee ] [nonviolent resistance] [Nabi Saleh] [popular resistance]

Photography by Gabriel R.
 
On Saturday, 7 December, the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh hosted a special event commemorating several important milestones and a new beginning for the Popular Struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Approximately three hundred people, including 70 or 80 Israeli activists and a dozen or more internationals, were in attendance. The day was marked by speeches, traditional dances, demonstrations, and a barrage of teargas and rubber bullets from the Israeli army stationed outside the village. 
 
This December is the fourth anniversary of the first weekly demonstration held in Nabi Saleh. Home to about 550 people, the small village began its organized resistance in 2009 when Israeli settlers from the adjacent settlement of Halamish seized a small natural water spring, called al-Qaws, on the outlying slopes of Nabi Saleh. Settlers of Halamish enjoy the rights and protections of Israeli citizenship, even though the community lies 10 kilometers outside of the Green Line. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. Meanwhile, the people of Nabi Saleh, like millions of other Palestinians across the West Bank, are denied democratic rights and legal protections, subject instead to Israeli military control. With the loss of their water spring, the villagers collectively decided to take up the Popular Struggle, following the model set in recent years by numerous other villages facing similar plights, and drawing especially from the vital examples of Budrus and Bil’in, both of which have won small victories and are now the subjects of documentary films (one of which recently earned an Emmy Award). 
 
Since adopting the Popular Struggle in 2009, the people of Nabi Saleh have held demonstrations every Friday, focused primarily and symbolically around determined marches to reach their expropriated spring. And each week, their efforts are rebuffed, blocked and beat back by the Israeli military’s brutal crowd control, including the rampant use of tear gas, concussion grenades, skunk cannons, rubber-coated bullets, and, sometimes, live ammunition. 
 
Still, the people of Nabi Saleh are committed to unarmed struggle. “We don’t want our resistance to be armed resistance,” Bassem Tamimi explained to the Palestine Monitor this week, although he stressed that under international law, occupied people have the right to resist by all means. “After the Holocaust, we became the victims of the victims. Our struggle is for justice and freedom. Our vision is to build a global Intifada in which everyone in the world has the opportunity to participate. For this reason, we don’t want to be armed.”
 
A prominent figure in Nabi Saleh’s resistance, Bassem spent several years in Israeli prisons, once suffering a near-fatal head injury during interrogations. The European Union and Amnesty International have named him a human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience. Today, he is acutely aware of the importance of international perceptions and the power of popular resistance.  
 
“We don’t want Israel to make the link between our struggle and violence. Israel used our Second Intifada [2000-2005] against us. It was our mistake of suicide bombing. We want to rebuild.” 
 
For these reasons, the support of Israeli activists and other internationals has been welcomed from the beginning, not just in Nabi Saleh, but in each of the villages of the Popular Struggle since it began almost ten years ago.
 
“The Zionists want a religious conflict, Muslims against Jews. But this is not true,” Bassem continued. “We are against Zionism, and against occupation. For us, it is very important to show the international community that we have Israeli partners, we have Jewish partners, and we have international partners.”
 
Israeli supporters present at Saturday’s event echoed this message. “Israel’s long-term strategy of segregation is to separate the two populations, to detach Israelis and Palestinians, in a way to prevent solidarity,” according to Israeli activist and blogger, Haggai Matar. “And to a great extent, that’s been working.” 
 
Through joint struggle, in solidarity and direct action, Israelis and Palestinians in the Popular Struggle hope to transform international perceptions. “It’s ever so common abroad to define positions as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, as if they cannot be reconciled. I think, basically, that’s not the issue,” Haggai continued. “You can support the Palestinian struggle based on equality and human rights, and that does not mean you’re anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic.”
 
The fourth anniversary of Nabi Saleh’s Friday protests was just one watershed honored on Saturday. This December is also the second anniversary of the death of local activist Mustafa Tamimi, who was shot and killed at close range by an Israeli teargas cannon during one of the village’s weekly demonstrations. Even though the incident was caught on camera, and Israeli military regulations prohibit firing the canisters directly at demonstrators from close range, an internal military probe cleared the soldier of any wrongdoing in a decision released just days before this weekend’s event. Mustafa is not the only martyr of Nabi Saleh’s resistance. Another local, Rushdi Tamimi, was shot and killed with live ammunition during another demonstration in November 2012, and innumerable others have been seriously wounded over the years. 
 
The villagers also used the occasion to celebrate the legacy of the First Intifada, which broke out this week in December 1987. Despite popular misconceptions, the mass uprising was almost entirely unarmed, and it was not just about throwing stones. For more than three years, nearly the entire population acted virtually as one, coordinating street demonstrations, labor strikes, tax strikes, economic boycotts, mass resignations, establishing alternative community-based education, medical, and agricultural infrastructures—all with the unified goal of ending the occupation and establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The goals of the revolution were never achieved, extinguished when the Palestinian Liberation Organization, operating in exile from its base in Tunisia, signed the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993 and agreed to end the resistance. 
 
For the contemporary Popular Struggle, the First Intifada remains the model par excellence. “Our vision is to build a Third Intifada, a popular Intifada, like the First Intifida, in which every person of every age has the opportunity to participate, to do his or her duty,” said Bassem Tamimi. 
 
The day’s event was further fueled by the death last week of human rights icon, Nelson Mandela. Mandela was a strong supporter of the Palestinian struggle, at times dawning the kuffiyeh, the traditional headdress of Palestinian farmers and symbol of resistance, meeting with Yasser Arafat, and famously remarking, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” For these reasons, and for his long struggle against South African Apartheid, Palestinians paid homage to Mandela in Nabi Saleh, displaying his proud, smiling face on dozens of posters and banners and brandishing them before lines of Israeli soldiers. 
 
Many observers have drawn parallels between the system of South African Apartheid and life under occupation in the West Bank, due to the different system of laws that Israel applies to the two nations, the segregation it maintains with Jewish-only roads and communities, and the separation walls dividing Palestinian communities into smaller and smaller Bantustan-like enclaves. This connection was made by South Africa’s number two icon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a harsh critic of the Israeli occupation, who penned an article in 2002 called “Apartheid in the Holy Land.”
 
In addition to marking these occasions, the organizers also vowed to revitalize the Popular Struggle, and signaled some new strategies toward that end. For example, an opportunity to expand coordination with the Arab Druze community of Israel was opened when a Druze man named Omar Sa'ad was sentenced to prison this week for conscientiously refusing to serve in the Israeli military, and optimistic vows of solidarity between the two communities were a common theme of the day’s speeches. 
 
Perhaps more significant, the Popular Struggle also revealed a potentially game-changing strategic adjustment on Saturday. Since the first village initiated the Popular Struggle almost ten years ago, each site has held its demonstrations on Friday afternoons, when school is out and when the fewest number of people are working. But the commitment to Fridays came at a cost, spreading the resources of the Popular Struggle thin.
 
“In the last years, we found every village committee working alone, without any coordination with the other committees,” Abdullah Abu Rahma, a leading figure in the Popular Struggle from Bil’in, explained. “For this, reason, we want to start to collect all of our activists in one place.” The innovative solution is to add a single monthly event on a Saturday at rotating sites, of which this past Saturday in Nabi Saleh became the first. This way, activists and supporters from across the Popular Struggle can converge, “to focus on one place every month, to give one village the power and support to continue the resistance.” 
 
Once the formal event was over, an inspired crowd of Palestinians, young and old, men and women, accompanied by Israeli supporters and internationals, gathered up the flags and Mandela posters and marched, chanting and singing, down the road toward the military tower and road block.
 
The clashes went on for more than two hours like cat-and-mouse pitched battles, shifting across the village outskirts, sometimes forcing gasping and choking demonstrators back into the village, with clouds of noxious teargas drifting down the streets. In the end, four people sustained significant injuries, most notably Oday Tamimi—brother of the late Mustafa—whose jaw was broken by a rubber bullet. 
 
“We are ready to go forward in the resistance,” Bassem Tamimi said during a lull in Saturday’s clashes. “We can’t accept the way the Americans and Israelis deal with our issue. If negotiations will not lead to our rights, our alternative is to make the Third Intifada, as the First Intifada, popular resistance, but it must be global because it’s the duty and responsibility of everyone in the world who believes in justice and freedom and human rights.” 
 
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