Friday October 22 2010
Al-Nabi Saleh is a village located North-West of Ramallah. The village's land and natural spring have been taken over by the Israeli military and an expanding Israeli settlement nearby called Halamish.
The villagers attempt to march to their agricultural land and spring every Friday. They have been consistently repelled by military force and arrests for the last year.
The last few weeks have seen a dramatic rise in the use of violence by the IDF. Tear gas and rubber bullets are now fired before the march commences. Two houses in the village have been taken over and turned into military outposts. Three houses were burned down last week. The frequency of arrests is increasing.
Challenge to oppression initially brings about harsher repression; that is a historical fact. Professor Gene Sharp, the eminent scholar on the dynamics of nonviolent actions, documents this thoroughly throughout his research. He offers eight methods of repression often used against nonviolent actors. All of these examples can be observed in Al-Nabi Saleh.
i. Control of Communication and Information: Last week the Israeli army attempted to arrest a Spanish journalist and tried to take away his Camera and destroy the footage he took (I will refrain from mentioning names in this post to ensure the safety of the people I speak about). The Israeli army attempts to control the message delivered through the media by acting differently when the cameras are running. I was arrested for a bit on International Peace Day and a soldier told me they were following the messages I was sending on facebook while planning the event (I was surprised to find out that it is illegal under Israeli military law to plan a volunteer or political event for more than 10 people without the Israeli forces' approval: US State department: "Israeli security forces used force against Palestinians and others involved in demonstrations, and military orders banned public gatherings of 10 or more persons without a permit.http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/nea/136070.htm ."
Most ironically, an Israeli general made a slip in which he indicated that he was in communication with high-ranking members of th Palestinian Authority to ensure that the message the people of Al-Nabi Saleh were trying to spread throughout the West Bank would not reach the public and influence public opinion. They were discussing how to silence this struggle.
ii. Psychological Pressure: Verbal abuse, swearing, slander and rumors are often employed in Al-Nabi Saleh. Abu Waed Al-Tamimi and his wife Nariman have been imprisoned many times, their 12 year old son, Waed, was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet and spent a few nights in the hospital. Dozens of houses have been purposefully tear-gassed in an attempt to turn some of the villagers against each other. Several juveniles and students have been targeted for abuse in prison to serve as an example when they are released.
iii. Confiscation: As mentioned above, most of Al-Nabi Saleh's land has already been confiscated before the marches began. Two houses were also confiscated last week.
iv. Economic Sanctions: The Tamimi family, and other families in Al-Nabi Saleh have received house demolition orders. One of the village's main water resources has been cut off, and many villagers were prevented from harvesting their olives - a main source of income in Palestine. The village was declared a closed military zone on our planned volunteer event for International peace day, and we were prevented from bringing food into the village on that day as well.
v. Bans and prohibitions: Assembly of more than 10 people is illegal. Curfews and court injunctions against certain behaviors associated with the struggle have also been used.
vi. Arrests and Imprisonment: A period of 3 months passed where all the youth between the ages of 17 and 24 living in the village were arrested. I was arrested twice, and Abu Waed and his wife have spent countless months in prison.
vii. Exceptional Acts and restrictions: The Israeli military uses a system that fires 64 teargas canisters at once, thus suffocating everyone in the village. Undercover agents have been sent to arrest activists and steal cameras and cell-phones with footage of the events.
viii. Direct physical violence: Bullets, rubber bullets, tear gas grenades, stun grenades, strangling, kicking, punching, dragging, and thrashing are common sites in Al-Nabi Saleh.
The Israeli army's reaction to the popular struggle in Al-Nabi Saleh fits the categories of repression described by Sharp.
Although the consequences we suffer in Al-nabi Saleh are harsh, the persistence of our struggle is beginning to yield its fruits. The soldiers had to be replaced. It was obvious that they were losing heart. Some soldiers even blurted out that they "did not want to be there, but had to follow orders." Many of them were clearly ashamed by what they were being ordered to do. Unfortunately, these soldiers and their commander were replaced by more brutal combatants who have no qualms about using more extreme violence.
A few days ago a general in the Israeli army approached the elders in the village in with a threat veiled underneath a compromise. He offered to leave the houses that were occupied and return a few acres of the land that was unjustly taken away from the villagers. In return they had to end the weekly march. If they did not accept this offer, the general promised that he would escalate the use of brute force. The villagers, in communion, responded that they would not accept even an iota of injustice. Whatever affects one directly in the village, affects all indirectly. As Gandhi put it, "in the code of the satyagrahi, there is no such thing as surrender to brute force."
In their response, and in the faces of the dozens of children in Al-Nabi Saleh, one senses fearlessness. It is this new found fearlessness - the belief that everything is possible if we innovate, work hard and persist in our struggle - that is the most beneficial aspect of this movement.
It is without a doubt that the form the struggle is taking in Al-Nabi Saleh is not perfect. A clear strategy has yet to be developed, and the tactics need to be revamped because the Israeli military is beginning to adapt to the situation and will further increase the amount of force it uses.
Moreover, it is time for the methods used in Al-Nabi Saleh and a few other villages to spread to every Palestinian home in every city, village and refugee camp. For it is only through such a struggle that we will achieve our Freedom.
How can that be achieved? What strategy should we as Palestinians employ? What should are demands be?
I will leave the answers to these questions for another post.