Saturday, January 16, 2021

Ni‘lin: Still steadfast, still in resistance

By John Space - February 03, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Ni‘lin] [Apartheid Wall] [popular resistance] [popular struggle] [Popular struggle committee]

This article is part of a series on the weekly popular protests that take place in various West Bank villages. Each week, the Palestine Monitor will profile a different village where the Popular Struggle has taken root. The Monitor will explore the unique challenges facing these villages and the unique responses of the Palestinian people to the injustice of occupation.

Despite deaths, severe injuries, land confiscation and settler attacks, the people of Ni'lin remain steadfast in their struggle against the Israeli occupation and the Apartheid Wall. 

At a demonstration on Friday, January 26th, demonstrators from the village climbed the Wall and planted a Palestinian flag where it could be clearly seen by Israeli soldiers and the settlers of nearby Hashmona'im.

"Unarmed resistance is not new to Palestine. We were using this in 1936 against the British occupation," said local village activist  Sa'eed Amireh. "It is one of the most effective strategies Palestinians have ever used."

Resisting the Apartheid Wall

Through nonviolent resistance, the people of Ni'lin have already won several major victories. The Wall was originally built directly next to Amireh's family home, but due to the strength of the popular resistance, the Israeli government was forced to change its plans, and the Wall was instead re erected four years later at the bottom of a hill, freeing up crucial farmland for use by the village.

Unarmed resistance is not new to Palestine. It is one of the most effective strategies Palestinians have ever used.

"All the village came at once and started to camp in the fields (next to the planned route of the Wall)," Amireh said. "We succeeded to stop it for four years, and we managed to make it go back to where it is, which is still not enough." 

Of 5,800 hectares of land belonging to Ni'lin, only 800 remain, due to land theft by settlers and occupation forces, Amireh said.

When construction of the Wall finally began in 2008, it was projected to take six months. But thanks to the resistance of the people of Ni'lin, the Wall was not completed until a year and a half after construction began, according to Hassan Mousa, the spokesman for the popular committee in Ni'lin. 

Due to the strength of the resistance, two companies left the project after deciding that building the Wall near Ni'lin would not be profitable. Mousa said the people of Ni'lin also succeeded in dismantling an electric fence erected to keep demonstrators away from the Wall, and twice knocked down completed sections of the concrete wall, a feat unique in the West Bank. 

In order to ensure that it is not knocked down again, the rebuilt Wall is held together by metal bars placed behind it, making it impossible to topple. Now, at demonstrations in Ni'lin, the villagers pile tires and other flammable objects at specific points on the Wall, and holes have formed in certain parts of the concrete from the intense heat of the fires.

But this has not deterred the people of Ni'lin in their struggle, and Mousa said that they would not give up hope, no matter the tactics used by the occupation forces. 

"We are struggling, hoping we can dismantle the Wall and find understanding with the Israelis," he said. "We still have a ray of hope that we will be able to dismantle the Wall and all the farmers will be able to go to their land, harvest, grow and go with their children." 

The many forms of resistance

Demonstrations are far from the only strategy employed by the popular committee in Ni'lin. Amireh said the popular committee in Ni'lin organizes youth-oriented cultural events under the title "Challenging the Catastrophe" to teach children and teenagers in Ni'lin about the history of the occupation and the meaning of popular resistance. 

"We try to educate the people on the importance of steadfastness and also to teach people what is our occupier," he said. "We try to create different events to focus on the social life and help people maintain their existence. Even existence is an act of resistance here."

The popular committee also organizes campaigns to give assistance to farmers suffering from settler attacks or the theft of land by the military.

"The biggest and most important (campaign) is the one to support the farmers," Amireh said. "Whenever they uproot or cut a tree, we plant ten instead."

Arrests of demonstrators and organizers are a common fact of life under the Israeli occupation, and the popular committee also raises money to bail activists out of jail when they are arrested. The funds are raised from mosques, shops, and families, and there is no formal organization donating money to help Palestinian activists from Ni'lin to secure their release from jail, Amireh said.

The organization also raises money to support students who want to go to university.

"This is one of the most important tasks that is needed and that the occupation is trying to suppress," Amireh said.

Starting in June 2010, the popular committee in Ni'lin began to put more focus on documenting abuses and spreading their message through social media, he said. The popular committee also created a website to raise awareness about the effects of the occupation. They are raising funds to build a media center to train the youth of Ni'lin to film, edit and upload documentary evidence of Israeli crimes.

"We have started to create a voice for the village, for the world to see what is happening," Amireh said. "This is our weapon here."

The price of resistance

The struggle in Ni'lin has led to an increasingly violent response from settlers and occupation forces. In July 2008, occupation forces murdered ten-year-old Ahmed Mousa while firing live rounds at unarmed demonstrators, and the violence continues today, with Israeli soldiers frequently storming into the village and attacking civilians.

"We have paid a very heavy price," Mousa said. "Five people have died in protests, hundreds have been injured and hundreds have been arrested, especially the leaders of the struggle."

In a highly publicized incident in 2009, Israeli troops in Ni'lin shot American activist Tristan Anderson in the head with a tear gas canister, leaving him in a coma for over a year.

Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest civilians from Ni'lin on spurious charges. Amireh said they will usually only be released if they are able to pay a large fine, and even then they are given conditions of release subjecting them to heavy punishment if they continue to resist the occupation. After a second arrest, Palestinians will often sit in jail for ten months to a year before they are allowed to see a judge, Amireh said.

"The price they will pay for even joining the demonstration will be four to five years in jail, he said.

Amireh himself was arrested in December 2008, interrupting his studies. He believes he was targeted for arrest because his father is the head of the popular committee in the village.

"My average (in school) was around 95 percent," he said. "It was a way to destroy my future and also to punish my father."

Occupation forces regularly shoot exploding bullets at unarmed demonstrators, Amireh said. Exploding bullets (also known as "dum-dum rounds") are illegal under international law.

"At least 50 people (in Ni'lin) can't run because they have been shot in the legs with exploding bullets," Amireh said. 

Despite the attempts of occupation forces to break their will, the people of Ni'lin have remained strong and united against the occupation.

"The Israeli soldiers have been so very brutal against our civilians," Hassan Mousa said. "But this will not break our will."

Unarmed struggle: Building towards a truly popular resistance

In fact, the oppressive and illegal tactics of the occupation forces have only served to strengthen the resolve of the villagers of Ni'lin. 

"When the Wall started, we started to have unity and get Fatah and Hamas and everyone together under a Palestinian flag," Amireh said.

Mousa said the unity the people of Ni'lin feel with one another is an important tool in the struggle against the occupation. 

"We are all in unity with one goal: to end the occupation and dismantle the Wall," Mousa said. "We consider ourselves one family, so all the people of Ni'lin have a part in the struggle."

He said the people of Ni'lin use social media and other tactics to draw Israeli peace activists and internationals into the resistance movement. 

"We consider the Palestinian issue is not only for Palestine. It is for Arabs too, and all the people of the world," he said. "We are in need of support of the freedom- and peace-loving people all over the world. It's time for the occupation to end."

In pursuit of this goal, Amireh recently spent four months touring Europe in support of the boycott campaign against the company G4S, which profits from Israel's inhumane detention practices. 

"The BDS movement is one of the most powerful movements that Palestinians have ever called for," he said. "As long as this occupation is getting funded, it will never stop."

"Our movement needs to start as an action, not as a reaction. We need a very big push," Amireh said. "We want to expand the unarmed and popular struggle all over the West Bank."

"No wall has ever succeeded anywhere in the world. And this Wall will fall," he said.

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