Women taking back the spring

Nabi Saleh | April 28,2012

Palestinian women held a picnic last Sunday, April 26th at Nabi Saleh’s water spring which in 2009 was annexed by the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish. Some forty Palestinian, international, and Israeli women congregated at the spring in reiterating Nabi Saleh’s rightful ownership of it.

In advance, most of us did not expect to reach the spring and were prepared for violence and arrests. Although several Israeli jeeps and soldiers were awaiting on scene, they just watched as we walked up to the picnic benches beside the spring. A collective sigh was felt and we all began to cheer, clap, and sing. Everyone, especially those from Nabi Saleh or familiar with their struggle, were overjoyed to reach the spring which has been the goal of Nabi Saleh’s weekly protests for the past two and a half years.

Women arriving at Nabi Saleh's fresh water spring amidst Israeli jeeps and soldiers | Rana Hamadeh | 22/04/2012

In December 2009, the Halamish settlement claimed Nabi Saleh’s fresh-water spring and Israeli courts and army have since supported the theft. Following this, Nabi Saleh has held regular Friday marches towards the water spring demanding an end to Israeli colonialism and occupation. More specifically, the demonstrations are about the nearby settlement of Halamish. Halamish was built on privately owned Palestinian and continues to expand. Halamish and the 250 other Israeli colonies and outposts in the Palestinian West Bank, are considered illegal under international law as they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the illegality has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice.

The peaceful demonstrations are consistently met with extreme Israeli army brutality. Last Friday, Israeli soldiers and border police attacked several of us women with batons, and violently arrested journalist Bilal Tamimi. The week prior, on April 13th, Bilal’s sixteen-year old son was shot above the eye with a tear gas canister and evacuated to hospital.

An Israeli soldier hits us with a baton at a peaceful protest | Tamimi Press 20/04/2012

Arrest of journalist Bilal Tamimi | Activestills 20/04/2012

The Israeli Occupation Force weekly attempts to suppress the protests with the use of rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, sound bombs, and the ‘skunk truck’, which propels torrents of a foul-smelling liquid. Live ammunition is also occasionally used. Last December, Mustafa Tamimi was killed when a tear gas canister was shot directly at his face.

Thus, the women’s scepticism at reaching the spring was not without reason. Despite expectations of a violent reaction by Israeli soldiers or settlers the picnic proceeded without problems, due at least in part to the high level of journalists and cameras that accompanied the group.

Women celebrating at the Nabi Saleh spring | Rana Hamadeh 22/04/2012

“If only we could just walk up to the spring like this on Fridays,” was a joke that passed tirelessly between us.

Our group sang songs about the Palestinian struggle and dipped our feet into the cool water. A couple of hours into the action, a bus of Israeli settlers attempted to reach the picnic but after speaking to Israeli soldiers they left.

After we had joyfully exhausted ourselves, we sat down and held a discussion about the significance of such an action and of congregating exclusively as women in a male-dominated activist world.

Women have always had a strong role in the Palestinian struggle and this generation is no different.

Girls from Nabi Saleh confront an Israeli officer | Rana Nazzal Hamadeh 20/04/2012

Girls from Nabi Saleh confront an Israeli soldier | Rana Hamadeh 20/04/2012

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Mural in the Nablus old city

Rana Hamadeh | April 11, 2012 | Nablus

A French activist and a good friend of mine, Mita, came up with the idea to paint a mural on a wall in the old city of Nablus. Back in France, she is practicing graffiti artist so she had the experience to plan a project like this. She told me, “I did not want the project to be a French project, a French activist coming to paint, I wanted it to be a Palestinian project.”

Children crowd around Mita in the Yasmine neighborhood | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Mita teamed up with the Tanweer cultural centre in Nablus who assisted with coordination and provided volunteers. They acquired permission from the municipality and had all their paints donated by the local Arabic Painting Company (APC).

In Arabic, "by learning we will liberate our land and destroy the wall" | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

The painting began with the statement “by learning we will liberate our land and destroy the wall” and from there, volunteers compiled ideas and manifested them into images.

In Arabic, "we will return" | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Mural in the Yasmine neighborhood | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

The grand opening was on April 7th, 2012 and volunteers got together with residents of the Yasmine neighborhood to simultaneously do a clean up of the street

"Free Palestine" and Handala | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

"To a killer: If you contemplated the victim's face and thought you would remember your mother in the gas chamber, you would liberate yourself from the rifle's wisdom and change your mind: this is not how identity is reclaimed" - Mahmoud Darwish | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

In Arabic, "to a killer: If you contemplated the victim's face and thought you would remember your mother in the gas chamber, you would liberate yourself from the rifle's wisdom and change your mind: this is not how identity is reclaimed" - Mahmoud Darwish | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

“I wanted the volunteers to express themselves” says Mita, and indeed they did, bringing up issues of education, the right of return, the apartheid wall, prisoners, and national liberation.

Israel opens fire on the Global March to Jerusalem in Qalandia and across Palestine

Rana Hamadeh | March 31, 2012

Yesterday the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) opened fire on marchers as they headed towards Jerusalem marking Palestinian Land Day.

The Global March to Jerusalem is an initiative taking place across the world, with hundreds of thousands of people involved. Marches were organized within Palestine, 1948 territories, and Gaza, as well as all surrounding countries and parts of Asia, North America, and Europe. Among other things, the march was calling for an end to the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and Palestine at large, the right of return for all refugees, and the protection of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish holy sites which are currently at risk. At least two hundred people were injured by the IOF in protests across Palestine, and one young man was killed in Gaza.

The Israeli military employed a series of weapons on the unarmed protesters, including the ‘siren’, which emits a defeaning ringing; the ‘skunk truck’ which propels torrents of a sewage-like liquid; rubber-coated steel bullets; sound bombs; high-velocity tear gas; and live ammunition.

Soldiers prepare to fire at protesters. Behind them the 'skunk truck', which propels sewage-like liquid, is parked. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When I arrived at the protest area, people were running away as tear gas was fired. I ran towards the soldiers, trying to get to the area behind them where journalists were set up. The ‘siren’ was already put in use, getting unbearably louder as I approached, and the street already had a grim look only minutes into the march. People hid behind cement blocks and smoke filled the air. As soon as I reached the soldiers, the ‘siren’ became a quiet ringing. The technology used allows the IOF to propel the sound in a specific direction.

Israeli soldiers stand beside a cement block reading 'together we'll break the wall' | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

As I snapped photographs of the abundant Israeli soldiers in the area, and the murals covering the apartheid wall behind them, the ‘skunk truck’ moved forward and arbitrarily fired sewage water at the people, houses, and shops in its reach. Journalists ran for cover to save their cameras from damage. Others ran to save themselves from being marked with the foul smell for days to come. A mist carried back to where I stood and I almost choked. The scent is stronger and lingers longer than would even real sewage. One young woman marched up to the truck, and was drenched, but managed to place a Palestinian flag on it.

The steady stream of 'skunk' water fired by the IOF can be seen in the background as journalists run away. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When they finished with the ‘skunk’, the soldiers got into jeeps and moved forward, firing tear gas at the same time. The protesters ran in a frenzy to find clear air and avoid arrest by the approaching army.

Protesters run as soldiers approach and fire tear gas | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

I ran for cover behind a building from the onslaught of tear gas grenades. A handful of others joined me and we thought we had reached safety when the smell of tear gas overcame us. We ran deeper behind the building, stepping through piles of garbage and trying to find relief from the gas filling our eyes and lungs. To both directions was gas. There was no options. Most of us fell to the ground choking and trying to stay conscious. Someone was desperately shouting the name of a blind girl who they had lost track of in the chaos. When I was able to open my eyes a slit, I saw that the soldiers had come to our hideout and were beckoning everyone out. In the chaos of the moment we didn’t think about disobeying. As soon as we were out, a commander targeted one of the boys among us. It was an arbitrary choice. Another woman and I stood in between the soldiers and the young man, pointing out  their discrimination in that whatever he had done, we had also done. We attempted to de-arrest but soldiers surrounded us and aggressively took the young man away, still choking on tear gas.

A young Palestinian man is arbitrarily targeted by Israeli soldiers. We unsuccessfully attempt to de-arrest. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Fadi Arouri 30/03/2012

Across the street I found a group of soldiers banging on the door of an apartment building, trying to break it open. Faces of women and children looked down at them from the windows above. They broke the door’s window and continued to hammer the door until it was bent out of shape and able to be opened.

An Israeli soldier stands with his hands on his gun as others behind him break down the door to a Palestinian apartment building. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

Israeli soldiers break the door to a Palestinian apartment building. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When they finally go the door open, a group of soldiers stamped into the building and up the stairs. The last few walked backwards, with their guns pointed at us, comically as if myself and a few other journalists would attack. Other soldiers stayed at the door, guarding it. The group of soldiers made their way through the building then emerged on the roof from where they would shoot rubber-coated steel bullets at a wider range of people.

I grew frustrated of standing among the soldiers with the other journalists so amidst gun fire I ran back towards the protesters. The scene was much grimmer from this perspective. Every few minutes people would shout for an ambulance and the wounded would be carried away.

A young man is carried to an ambulance after being injured by a rubber-coated steel bullet. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

As time passed, the shooting of rubber-coated bullets seemed to escalate and people were no longer seen in the center of the street, but rather pressed against buildings and behind walls.

An injured man's feet are visible as medic volunteers attend to him.| Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

An injured medic volunteer is carried into an ambulance. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

It was draining to continue to duck at the sound of gunfire and watch as the ambulance workers crowded around a person, so eventually I asked a dozen people to come walk up to the soldiers with me. Many agreed so we stepped out into the street, arms and flags in the air and began to walk. The army continued to fire. I looked behind me and only one person was left walking with me. “Don’t worry about it, Rana,” he reassured me, “keep going.”

We stayed motivated and it was liberating to walk unabashedly towards the Israeli soldiers, dressed in military armor and carrying their range of weapons. At the sound of gun fire, we turned our heads away so that at least if injured, our eyes would be protected. We didn’t flinch as soldiers fired tear gas over our heads.

Marching towards Israeli soldiers. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Bahaa Nasser 30/03/2012

A handful of others caught up as we approached the soldiers. The idea was to stand in front of them and prevent them from firing at the protesters behind us. We were chanting slogans like, “no justice- no peace”, and “we are peaceful- what are you?” At first I didn’t see many journalists and the soldiers got aggressive quickly. An Israeli soldier grabbed the Palestinian flag from my hands and threw it on the ground. Me and another girl tried desperately to reach it but we were hit and shoved away.

We linked arms and formed a chain. When the Israeli military tried to move to the side, we moved with them. They attacked the group, clearly trying to break us up and make arrests. Soldiers kicked and beat the group. When one young woman put her arms in the air and shouted that she was unarmed, a soldier picked up a rock and smashed her hand with it. The young man to my left was dragged away and I felt myself taken in a headlock and pushed to the ground. Bodies and feet pressed on me and I focused only on keeping my head from hitting the pavement as chaos ensued around me. I felt people pulling, pushing, and hitting me. When I could lift my head to see, the same friend who had initially marched with me was holding on to me, and I am certain saved me from arrest.

I learned later that the other activists had been similarly attacked, but had managed to prevent any other arrests. We stood there stunned, injured, and exhausted.

We continued to chant as we backed away and returned to the rest of the protesters. Only a few meters away they began to shoot again and we saw more injuries carried into ambulances. Throughout the day I witnessed several people bleeding from injuries by rubber-coated bullets, but refusing to take up space in the ambulances.

Later, after many had left and the protesters were few, we were standing against a wall and turning our heads at the sound of gunfire. Suddenly, a rubber-coated bullet hit a young man standing beside us in the face. His expression was frozen as if he had lost consciousness with his eyes still open. We shouted for an ambulance and he was carried away.

A young man hit just under the eye by a rubber-coated steel bullet. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

That was our final straw and we decided to head home, having been at the protest for about six hours. Clashes continued until at least 10pm when my friend called me to say he was finally leaving, and completely drenched in ‘skunk water’.

These experiences are so common in the Palestinian struggle that one easily becomes normalized in order to cope. As activists, this is something we are fighting, and nonetheless we are all deeply affected by these experiences whether we can still find the passion to express it or not.  Understand only that this was not a unique day. This is a regular response to the peaceful protesting which occurs at least weekly across Palestine. A young man being arbitrarily chosen for arrest is something every family has experienced. The IOF breaking down a door in order to use the roof of as a military base is a common practice. Breaking the windows of an ambulance with gun fire, targeting journalists, firing at homes and shops, can all be witnessed in a trip to Palestine.

Our [mis]understanding of history on day 12 of Hana al-Shalabi’s hunger strike

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 27, 2012

Hana Yahya al-Shalabi was among the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit in October 2011. When she was released she had been under administrative detention for two years already. On February 16th she was arrested again and given another detention order for six months. She began a hunger strike immediately, and continuing what Khader Adnan began, she is fighting against the illegal practice of administrative detention, and her cruel treatment at the hands of Israeli forces. Today is day 12 of her hunger strike.

Drawing connections in our understanding of history

Hana Al-Shalabi has reminded me of Black Panther activist Assata Shakur. After six attempts by American intelligence at framing her with various bank robberies and murders, all of which were dismissed in court, Assata was charged with the murder of two policemen. Her eventual conviction was the result of an unfair trial which ignored evidence in her favour in order to ensure her guilt. Records that have now surfaced show that a “counterintelligence campaign was conducted by the FBI in cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies designed to criminalize, defame, harass, and intimidate Assata.” The FBI systemically targeted black groups and individuals, Martin Luther King being among the first targets, but including thousands of less prominent ecivil rights activists. Assata experienced among the worst treatment of any woman prisoner in the US, even being jailed for a period in a men’s prison. After about two years, she escaped from prison and took exile in Cuba. [Assata: an autobiography]

In her own words, “although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.”

The name 'Assata' means 'she who struggles' - one reason I was reminded of hunger striking Hana al-Shalabi

What really perplexes me is that the dominant impression in the West is that of ‘racism has been abolished due to an evolution in human goodness’. The reality of racial oppression, to many in the West (not including visible minorities), is a thing of the past that could not return. Two things must be understood:

Slavery did not end in the United States due to a realization of human beings as equals, it was rather quite unimportant how many people were in support or against the cause. In reality, the North fought for the end of slavery because they could not economically compete in the cotton industry with the South who had slaves working without pay. The figure of the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was de facto an avid racist:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.. there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” – Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate September 18, 1858

Second, that while most people will be quick to outcry the crimes of racial segregation in North America in the 60s and 70s, they remain silent in the face of current crimes. One major difference between Assata and Hana, is that Israel did not have to frame Hana – it simply arrested her on ‘secret evidence’ and just skipped the trial. There is a common view that the worst evils (often considered to be Hitler) are in the past. Rather than studying history to avoid repeating the same crimes, history has been used to distance genocide and oppression from the present. Subconsciously, we cannot comprehend that the very crimes of the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in North America, the slavery of blacks, or the holocaust of millions by the Nazis, are continuing today in different forms – such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This is what brought me to unlearn my history education and realize that change did not come about necesssarily through a collective understanding of humanity and equality. As long as there is a group that has something to gain from the oppression of another, those ‘winners’ will not denounce their privilege unless they are economically or militarily forced to. The reality is that if the people’s armies were to try to go up against governments of the world with military might, they would be crushed. Economically, however, we can force powers like Israel to conform to humanitarian law.

With a movement like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, raising awareness about Palestine has become more valuable. Awareness in itself cannot end oppression, it requires action alongside it. Hana al-Shalabi is raising awareness about the illegality of administrative detention, but what Israel fears is not the loss of her life to a hunger strike – it is the loss of a reputation and the investors that come along with it.

Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a process that permits Israel to arrest and detain Palestinians on ‘secret evidence’ without charging them or allowing for a trial. Military Order 1591 authorizes military commanders to detain someone with “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” The 6-month detention orders can be renewed indefinitely and are often renewed on or just before the expiry date. This leaves detainees not knowing why they were arrested nor for how long they will remain. The “security” grounds Israel cites are used frequently, and sometimes administrative detention is used as a form of collective punishment (a war crime). For example, from March- October 2002, during the second Intifada, Israeli Occupying Forces arrested over 15,000 Palestinians during mass arrest campaigns, rounding up males in cities and villages between the ages of 15 to 45. [IAK] Administrative detention, by international law, is allowed only in emergency situations, and detainees are still entitled to a trial and to defend themselves. Israel’s practices are thus evidently in violation of international law.

Gender-based sexual abuse and humiliation

HanaAl-Shalabi’s report with Addameer, a prisoner support association, gives the following details of her first arrest on 14 September 2009. At 1:30 am, a dozen Israeli military jeeps surrounded her house and ordered the entire family outside. They entered the house and searched it. One soldier, removed framed pictures of Hana’s brother Samer, who was killed in 2005 by the Israeli army, tore them apart, and walked over the pieces in front of the family. Soldiers began to curse at Hana and her family. When her father tried to intervene, a soldier assaulted him with the butt of his gun. Hana’s mother fainted and soldiers placed Hana under arrest.

As Hana was being transferred, her traditional Muslim dress worn over her home clothing came upon, uncovering parts of her body. She was handcuffed and could not prevent it. Male soldiers took pictures of her, “consciously exploiting her situation, knowing she would feel offended and humiliated by such photos.”

Hana was put in solitary confinement for 8 days, in a cell without any natural light. She could not differentiate between day and night. Since it was the month of Ramadan, Hana refused all meals and water throughout the 8 days in order to respect her fast.

Not unlike other Palestinians in Israeli custody, Hana was subject to sexual and physical abuse. During her questioning, one of the interrogators called her “habibti” (“my darling”) in a provocative manner. “Feeling humiliated and angry at the interrogator’s offensive use of an intimate term, Hana started shouting at him. The interrogators responded by slapping her on her face and beating her on her arms and hands. The guards then took her back to her cell where they tied her to the bed frame and continued humiliating her by taking pictures of her laying in that position.”

Addameer states that they are ” greatly concerned by the verbal abuse Israeli detaining authorities display towards Palestinian female prisoners by directing sexual threats towards them and using inappropriate, vulgar language. Addameer contends that this behavior is done in a deliberate effort to exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society.”

Hana spent 17 days in Kishon Detention Center, and for the entire time was not given a change of clean clothes. After her administrative detention order was issued, she was moved to HaSharon Prison. Due to overcrowding, she was kept in the same area as female Israeli criminal offenders. It is a direct violation of Isralie Prison Service Regulations for administrative detaineees to be held with prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. “Moreover,” says Addameer, Palestinian female prisoners “detained in the same sections as Israeli criminal offenders… are almost always discriminated against, enjoy fewer recreation hours and are often subjected to humiliation and abusive language from Israeli prisoners, who threaten them of physical attack. As a result, Palestinian women live in constant fear and often experience insomnia, and other psychological problems for the entire time they are detained in the same sections with Israeli women.”

Freedom for hunger striking prisoner, Hana al-Shalabi

Guerilla theatre in the heart of Ottawa | mock Israeli checkpoint

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 20, 2012

Last weekend we staged an Israeli military checkpoint in the heart of Canada’s capital city in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli Apartheid and in particular with the residents of Al Khaleel/Hebron in their struggle to free their city. Al Khaleel is a powerful microcosm for Israeli apartheid practices all across Palestine:

Shuhada st in Al Khaleel has been turned into a ghost street for nearly 20 years now. Israelis and tourists are allowed on the street but Palestinians are prohibited.

500 Israeli armed settlers occupied Shuhada st in 1979. The 167,000 Palestinians living in the city have their freedom constricted as a result. This settlement is illegal under international law as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Participants hold signs while actors behind them wait in line at a mock Israeli checkpoint | Soha Kneen 2/20/2012

In 1994 an Israeli settler opened fire on people as they prayed in the Ibrahimi mosque killing 29 Palestinians and injuring over 100. Following this, Shuhada was closed to Palestinians, while settlers continued to travel freely and carry arms. Despite constant violent harassment from settlers, Palestinians are the ones subject to checkpoints, night raids, arbitrary searches and arrests, economic closure etc.

Palestinians are not allowed on this road, even if they still live on it. Palestinians still living here must climb down from neighbours’ roofs or use back doors to access their homes. In the area, Palestinians are not allowed to use cars, while Israelis are. Palestinians have also lost access to their cemetery because it borders Shuhada st. Since the second Intifada, all Palestinian shops on Shuhada st were sealed, and their owners prohibited from accessing them.

Shuhada street is symbolic of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements within the West Bank, a widespread policy of segregation, the lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians, and the Israeli occupation at large. This is why opening Shuhada is so significant.

Open Shuhada Street Day is coming up on Feb 24th and Al Khaleel residents are organizing events all this week. Read more here: http://www.youthagainstsettlements.org/upcoming-events.

Participants act as detainees to draw attention to the system of Israeli apartheid that obstructs Palestinian rights & freedoms | Soha Kneen 20/02/2012

Myself giving a monologue on behalf of pregnant Palestinian women | Charline Dequincey 18/02/2012

This is the monologue I read:

“I am Hurriyeh Mir’ieh who waited at a checkpoint for 6 hours before she began hemorrhaging. Finally, Israeli soldiers let her through, but said she couldn’t use a car. She walked 2km while bleeding before fainting and asking her husband to leave her to die. She lived but her baby girl died.

I am Samaher Zbaidat who was in labour when she reached an Israeli checkpoint but was delayed for an hour as soldiers demanded they go back and get an ambulance to be allowed to pass. She gave birth in her car and almost died when the placenta ruptured inside of her.

I am Bushra Sultan whose ambulance was deliberately stopped by Israeli soldiers and prevented from transferring her to hospital. She died at the checkpoint.

I am Maysoon al-Hayek who was having contractions when her car was stopped and searched for one hour. After being allowed through, Israeli soldiers fired at her car, shooting her husband and father-in-law and injuring her. Contractions were coming faster. Soldiers pulled her out of the car, made her undress to be examined, then left her on the street, bleeding and in labour. When she finally reached the hospital, she gave birth to a baby girl in the elevator. Her father-in-law was in coma for 40 days. Her husband died.

Between 2000 and 2007, 10 percent of all pregnant Palestinian women traveling to hospital were delayed 2-4 hours at checkpoints. 69 babies were born at checkpoints. 35 babies and 5 mothers have died as a result.”

More media coming soon including videos!

Palestinian prisoners released after a day of Israeli army attack on waiting families

On Sunday the 18th of December I witnessed a chaotic release of 550 prisoners from Israeli prisons to mark the last of the prisoner swap with Hamas. Every single person I asked in Ramallah was expecting to finally see a son or daughter, a sibling, a friend, or a family member.  Hundreds of people gathered outside Ofer prison around noon on Sunday, awaiting their release. Throughout the day the time of release was pushed later and later.

At some point in the afternoon, boys began to throw stones at Israeli jeeps and soldiers behind Ofer prison’s gate. The army responded by tear gassing the entire procession, including the many families that were waiting. They then operated an armoured truck that shoots a sewage-like liquid at people. “This is nothing – ” a journalist tells me as we watch from a good distance, “when the first half of the prisoners were released they sprayed so much that every media’s equipment was ruined. Consider yourself lucky.” While, yes I’m quite glad I wasn’t drenched in Israel’s manufactured-sewage water, I don’t see why anyone, ever, in any case, should have to be a victim of it. Although it isn’t a weapon created to injure (though a friend was arrested after being sprayed, and not allowed to change for several hours and now has an unknown skin disease), it is the inhumanity of it that penetrates.

The “scream” also came into use, an incredibly loud siren that can direct noise at us while not effecting soldiers. So deafening that you literally feel you cannot near it. Rubber-coated steel bullets were another favourite. A foot in front of my eyes I saw a boy get hit in the arm by one of these. He ran to the ambulance screaming.

It is very dark and very chaotic when I arrive at 7pm. The area smells nauseatingly of sewage. The clash has been going on for almost seven hours and the night makes it an entirely more dangerous scene than usual. Soldiers can’t see what they are aiming at – though in my experience they rarely use discretion anyways. I stand with the media under a tent at the edge. A woman is clearly visible to soldiers under the camera light, and reporting into a microphone. She is hopping around on a cane because one leg is in a cast.

Suddenly one, two, three, and four tear gas canisters come buzzing at us. Everyone runs, but as I’ve learned: never turn your back. I’m still close when I notice that the woman hasn’t moved her spot, unable to run with a broken leg. Gas fills the air around her. Her cane falls to the ground. She begins to sway. And in the next moment, men are running for her and hurriedly pick her up to safer ground. To run after her in the line of fire, one of the men put his arms in the air. Others didn’t care and just ran for her. Some gestured with their arms: WHY?

There was no popular celebration planned for this release. It was the worse half of the deal. The first group of political prisoners released last October included many serving life sentences while this group was largely young prisoners with short sentences, only a few weeks or months before they would have ordinarily have been released.As the mother of a young man in prison tells us, “my son is sick. He goes to the hospital in the prison. He still has years left before he comes out. But it’s not about me and my son. The sick should be released first; it’s on principle. They can’t heal in prison.”

I have heard time and again the name Gilad Shilat. I have been hearing his name for five years.I know his face like I know my friends’ faces. I have heard about all the ailing Israeli parents who worry about their own children. I have been told he was only nineteen when he was abducted or kidnapped, while every day I don’t hear about the arrest of Palestinian boys and men. Why is an Israeli soldier spoken about more than a Palestinian civilian? A Palestinian woman? A Palestinian child?

55 Palestinian children between 14-17 were released on Sunday. I don’t know any of their faces. Of the 106  Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, how many names do you or I know? After some searching I found the Guardian had reported a story I have heard a thousand times: A child, arrested arbitrarily, accused of throwing stones (a charge that usually brings 6 months imprisonment, but has a maximum penalty of 20 years), is interrogated without a lawyer, forced to confess, forced to sign a confession in Hebrew without being translated, and essentially treated no different from any adult arrested:

“Al-Hasan Muhtaseb was arrested early in the afternoon as he and his 10-year-old brother Amir were walking home through Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, after visiting their aunt.

“Two soldiers came to us and told us: ‘Come over here.’ We went to [see] them,” said Al-Hasan, a slight boy, neatly dressed, who barely looks his 13 years. “They took my brother and I don’t know where they took him. I was sent inside the station and I never saw him after that.”

They were detained separately. Amir was released later that night, deeply traumatised. “He was in a very, very bad psychological state,” said his father, Fadel Muhtaseb, 45. “He had wet himself. He was terrified.” The boy said he had been held with his eyes covered by a hat in a room where there was also a dog, which he could hear panting.

Al-Hasan was interrogated at an Israeli military post in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement in Hebron. “I was asked: ‘Did you throw stones? Did you hurt the soldiers or hit their vehicles? How close were you to the soldiers? Why were you throwing stones?’,” he said. Eventually he had admitted throwing stones, although in an interview last week Al-Hasan said it was untrue: on that day he had not thrown stones, although earlier in the week he had.

He had been made to sign a statement in Hebrew, a language he doesn’t speak or read. He was blindfolded and taken to Ofer military prison, where he arrived at 3.30am. “There were no other children,” he said. “I was afraid.” Three days after his arrest he appeared at a military court. But his father, who works as a tiler, could not afford the 2,000 shekels (£350) bail. “My father told them he couldn’t pay this much money,” said Al-Hasan. His father, who sat next to him through the interview, burst into tears.

Last Sunday the boy was freed under a bail arrangement in which his father faces arrest if his son does not appear at the next summons. “Even if he were throwing stones, he is only 13,” said Fadel. “They treated him like a terrorist. They claim they are democratic and human, but they are not.”” [Palestinian children’s rights violated Israel]

Israeli courts try Israelis as adults at 18, but Palestinians at 16. I wrote it in my last post, but I will keep repeating it: 99.74% of all Palestinians tried in Israeli military courts are convicted. Palestinians are tried for almost every crime in military court, where the judge and the prosecutor have all been soldiers, and the word of a soldier is proof enough to put you in prison. 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and detained by Israel. 30% to 40% of the population have been in prison and between 3 and 4 out of 5 Palestinian men have been in Israeli prisons.

Palestinians live with the insecurity of knowing that they could be arrested at any moment. Nobody shares the confidence I had growing up that I am innocent until proven guilty. Here, if you can’t prove your innocence, you are guilty. If you even have an opportunity to speak for yourself or see a lawyer.

How many stories have you heard of these prisoners since they’ve been released? Do you know that there has been a price placed on the head of many of them? Do you know that many of them have been visited by the Israeli armies in their homes at 2 in the morning – a reminder that just in case they began to feel safe at home, Israel is still in control. Do you know that many were exiled to Gaza, Turkey, or Egypt instead of being reunited with their families?

***

As the hour nears 9pm, everyone gets excited, boys stop throwing stones: it was almost time for release. At 9:10, reporters began stating to their cameras that the time has been delayed to 10pm. Every fifteen minutes a friend waiting at the presidential compound in Ramallah, where the several buses will be letting the prisoners off, calls me and I tell them that they must wait a little bit longer.

Stones came up against weapons for the next hour as we huddled behind a van’s engine for heat. A group of boys run out from behind some cars carrying something on fire – a molotov? Nope – wave after wave of fireworks flew out of his arms towards soldiers. Everyone around me is on the ground laughing at how the tense moment was broken into flashing colours.

My favourite part is when you see them leave those gates my friend tells me. He has been imprisoned five times. Though he hasn’t looked through the names, he knows he will see many brothers today. He won’t get to see them leave the gates today. They’ve let them out through another entrance! They’re on their way to Ramallah! we hear people shouting. People are running into cars and zooming away. We hitch a ride without any issues, and I stop and pick up my camera before we go.

It is a sea of people searching for people. The prisoners are greeted the moment they come out, grabbed into an embrace, or lifted into the air. Women sing, men clap, everyone cries.

Arrested by IOF for nearing a Jewish-only settlement

Yesterday was the one-week anniversary of Mustafa Tamimi’s death. The weekly protest in Nabi Saleh was going as usual last week: Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were responding to peaceful protesting with, among other weapons, tear gas canisters aimed like large bullets. The difference is that last week they didn’t miss. Mustafa was shot from a few meters away directly in the head. Two days later, IOF arrived with mourners at Mustafa’s funeral and began to fire the same tear gas projectiles only a few minutes after the funeral. The day ended with soldiers violently attacking us when confronted about Mustafa’s death, and arresting several.

This week was no better.

Car after car packed with people began arriving in Nabi Saleh from as early as 8am to avoid expected Israeli checkpoints. People wanted to commemorate Mustafa’s death. A bus arrived full of Israeli activists. By noon, everywhere I looked I saw Palestinian flags and keffiyehs.

Crowds of people head to confront soldiers | 16/12/2011 ICAI

As the protest left to confront soldiers at the entrance to the village, I headed in a car with others to the entrance of the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish, which along with annexing land has claimed Nabi Saleh’s only fresh-water spring for themselves. We wanted to make ourselves shown wearing t-shirts bearing the face of Mustafa Tamimi.

Other cars showed up with the same idea and at the entrance to Halamish, some ten people sat down peacefully just in time for three Israeli jeeps to arrive. Soldiers jumped out raid-style and began to arrest everyone they could get their hands on, but particularly those that were sitting, doing nothing other than sitting. There was no warning or threat – just a quick and violent arrest.

Soldiers make arrests outside Halamish settlement | 16/12/2011 activestills

It happened quickly. Women were desperately trying to hold onto each other, screaming and shaking from shock. Others were being dragged away, handcuffed, and gathered on the sidewalk. An older woman was screaming as four soldiers attacked her for arrest. I was torn between being a photographer or partaking, but as I kept going back and forth a commander recognized me from last week’s struggle and came directly for me. I tried to resist but they began to drag me, then another soldir came and grabbed one leg.

My arrest outside Halamish settlement | 16/12/2011 Ahmad Daghlas

I was piled with the others infront of a jeep. When I stood up, a soldier tried to push me down but I dodged him. I rushed back to see my friend from England was being grabbed by a soldier and was really panicking. I held her thinking we might resist arrest, but we were in a sea of soldiers, and instead they handcuffed me and her and stuffed us into a military jeep.

English activist, Holly and I are arrested | 16/12/2011 ICAI

Inside we were met with the older woman and soon after by an Israeli girl and Mohammed Khateeb who had just been attacked by an Israeli settler who had stopped. Of course soldiers arrested us for sitting, and not the settler for actual violence.

The Israeli girl who would later be hit by an Israeli settler while soldiers look on | 16/12/2011 Fadi Arouri

In the jeep there wasn’t enough room for us. Mohammed Khateeb was lying on the floor handcuffed and the soldier suggested the Israeli girl sit on a bucket full of tear gas canisters. She refused and brought our attention to the bags and bins full of weaponry and ammunition at the back of the jeep. There was no woman soldier in the jeep with us.

We were driven deeper into Halamish, and stopped outside a military base. Soldier men and women were walking around, some curious, most just laughing and making fun of us. None of them could look you in the eye for more than a couple seconds. A soldier opened my purse and pulled out my camera. I tried to stop them but was just shoved around between the many soldiers that were there. They pulled so hard on my arm that the plastic-tie handcuffs came loose and they had to redo it, this time behind my back and so tight that my hands instantly started swelling.

Meanwhile the same soldier that had attacked Khateeb had stopped his car infront of us. A man and his son. Soldiers didn’t interfere as he came up to us and began to take photographs of our faces. The Israeli girl stood up infront of him  and he slapped her across the face, knocking her back. This infront of at least ten soldiers. No one stopped him or arrested him. We began to chant the numbers of his license plate so we could later file a charge: 44322, 44322, 44322….but if history teaches us anything he won’t be charged.

The soldiers let us know we didn’t have the right to get angry. Khateeb was being pressed against the stone stairs by two soldiers. One soldier had his hand around Khateebs neck, and I tried to put my leg inbetween his head and the stones. Soldiers picked him up and threw him to the ground face-down. They were pulling at his arms, which were handcuffed underneath him. “I’ll give you my hands by myself!” He screamed repeatedly in Arabic, English and Hebrew.

It went on like this, leaving him with blood on his face and arm and dirt on his cheeks. I was thinking how he has such a warm face, wrinkles around his eyes and often smiling. Later on they would say he assaulted a soldier. I don’t know when this allegedly happened, him being in handcuffs the entire time. I do know that 99.74% of Palestinians tried in Israeli military court are convicted and that just the word of a soldier is proof.

We were taken to a room where we met a few others. Nothing was said to us, and we waited sitting on old cushions and mattress-less metal bed frames for hours. The entire time we were handcuffed. If your phone rang, a soldier would take it away. If we talked too loud, soldiers would interfere. The windows didn’t close and as the hours passed, we began to huddle together for warmth. When we needed to use the bathroom, we were told to wait. After half an hour, they started to take one person at a time to a bathroom outside the building, about a 10 minute trip. There were 23 of us.

Arrested we were 23 people in total, including 7 Palestinians, 12 Israelis, and 4 internationals – among them 12 women. Among them was Mohamed Tamimi, a young man my age, braces still on and resembling his late cousin, Mustafa Tamimi. Everytime he walked into the room he would put his cuffed arms in the air, resembling the famous picture of Marwan Barghouti. We would clap for him. He was pacing most of the time, red eyed. He was going to be charged with stone-throwing, which could land him 6 months. He doesn’t throw stones, he photographs and reports. He kept trying to talk to the soldiers – You killed Mustafa, isn’t that enough? How can you sleep at night, I just want to know….How can you sleep?

Mohammed Tamimi being arrested. He is currently in Ofer prison. | 16/12/2011 Activestills

The older woman that was arrested with us had a ring of purple bruises around her upper arm and her entire arm was numb. We requested a doctor. Half an hour later, a medic-soldier came and did nothing but accuse her of making it up. I flipped out when he said it! She got to see a doctor after an hour of waiting, but nothing came out of it.

The entire time we were in Halamish we didn’t see one soldier or officer that spoke Arabic. Can you imagine if you were a Palestinian arrested alone without anyone to advise you not to sign or say anything – everything was done in Hebrew and if those among us didn’t translate, no one would have.

We were in Halamish for 9 hours. They filmed us while our charges were read in Hebrew, one by one. They searched us, took away everything except our money, and escorted us to the bus, one by one. When everyone was on the bus they started to call people, one by one, to have their charges read to them in Hebrew. Mohammed Khateeb translated. Most of us were charged with entering a closed military zone, then refusing to leave when asked. Do you have anything to add? no I replied. Do you want to sign? no. We were not in a CMZ  and were never asked to leave, but had we signed, we wouldn’t have gotten out.

The bus drove to Benyamin Gate police station, with soldiers posted at the back and the front.  They had taken our belts, and I wanted to tie a scarf around my waist: it took me about twenty minutes to manoeuvre with the handcuffs on. In Benyamin we were piled into a tiny room, some of us sitting on tables or the ground. Everyone had their handcuffs removed except Mohammed Tamimi. The smokers were still denied to smoke, and honestly this was the biggest object of stress in the room. At one point, soldiers agreed, then changed their mind when they reached outside. Taunting. We had been arrested for 10 hours before a soldier walked in, and threw a box of food on the ground. Before, two Israeli activists had come around giving everyone one bite of the food they happened to have. Inside the box was some fruit, several loaves of white wonder bread, a hundred small packages of chocolate spread, and two huge bags of yogurt (which remained largely untouched…).

This post is a jumble of words, but it expresses this experience. It was a jumble of confusion, anger and sadness. I felt so powerless without my camera in my hands. Everything in those rooms was between us and the IOF with no way to prove that we were treated like caged animals. As for the protest happening in Nabi Saleh, I obviously can’t testify but the pictures speak for themselves:

Tear gas is fired into a crowd of protesters | 16/12/2011 ICAI

A sound bomb explodes among protesters | 16/12/2011 Ahmad Doghlas

In Benyamin they began to take Israelis and Internationals for interrogation. Two hours passed and finally an officer who spoke Arabic came. He dealt with me and the four other Palestinians excluding the two Mohammeds with worse charges. As we walked by some officers, shivering, one of them looked at us pitiyingly and asked – did they get food? How ridiculous that these people, the backbones of the Israeli occupation, like to play the “humanitarian”. Am I supposed to thank you? My people wouldn’t be imprisoned if it weren’t for people like you. They may try to ease their conscience with small gestures, but until they put down the gun and stop invading our lands they must carry the responsibility on their backs.

An hour later, at almost 1 am after over 12 hours, he told us that he was going to do us a ‘favour’ and let us go.

We received our belongings in plastic bags, and weren’t allowed to say bye to the people we left behind. Mohammed Tamimi and Mohammed Khateeb were eventually transfered to Ofer prison. Throughout the night they joked that they would send our Salaams to Bassem Tamimi, a prisoner from Nabi Saleh. Somehow I thought that they would find a way to get out of the mess, but in reality there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and detained. 30% to 40% of the population have been in prison and between 3 and 4 out of 5 Palestinian men have been in prison. Why would these two be any different?

Israel sends military to funeral of Mustafa Tamimi, ending in violence against mourners

The Israeli Occupational Forces murdered Mustafa Tamimi last Friday at Nabi Saleh’s weekly protest, as he and a friend followed the armoured jeeps demanding that they leave the village. They were unarmed. They were facing one of the best-equipped militaries in the world. The photos are candid; an Israeli soldier is hiding behind the doors of his jeep, just the barrel of his tear-gas gun emerging.  But Mustafa and his friend Ibrahim were not afraid. The soldier shoots the canister as a bullet, from a couple meters away, aimed for Mustafa’s head. Then the jeep drives away.

Yesterday, Ibrahim told me of moment he thought his friend had just ducked down. He goes, rolls his friend over, and “of what I can say about it, it is worse than words can say. The whole half of his face was blown off … there was a pool of blood gathering under him. His whole body was trembling. It started from his feet, then up to his arms, then it reached his chest, and then his head, and then a gasp came out and I’m sure at that moment he died… Maybe later on they revived his heart for a while, but I knew that his soul had left.”

May he rest in peace, the martyr Mustafa Tamimi, 28 years old | Fri 9/12/2011 Active Stills

Commemoration

On Saturday we took to Ramallah’s streets chanting slogans like “the blood of our martyrs is not cheap!” and calling for the next Intifada. In my parents’ time the stores would have closed and the streets would be packed, instead many people walked by on the sidewalk and continued their conversation. What happened to the respect we had for our martyrs who die fighting against everyday Israeli brutality? Nonetheless, emotions were high. The youth were angry. This was their brother, their friend, or their comrade in the struggle for freedom. Many people broke down into tears in the streets, wailing. One who had sustained a rubber-coated bullet to the head at the same protest passed out and was sent to hospital. Women screamed out and grabbed each other for support. And hardest of all for me was to see the men turn into boys, because it reminded me that even the strongest and bravest people are just human and still have a heart that can shatter.

People gathered to commemorate the life and death of Mustafa Tamimi in Ramallah | Sat 10/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Marching through Ramallah's streets for the martyr Mustafa Tamimi | Sat 10/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Sunday morning a couple hundred people gathered at the hospital to receive Mustafa’s body into the ambulance. Men carried Mustafa on a plank on their shoulders, as I’ve seen time and again in photos. This time we marched, we marched with him. We got into cars and followed Mustafa to Nabi Saleh. As we neared the village, we began to see Israeli soldiers stationed along the route. Two military jeeps joined the caravan of cars. We saw the jeep equipped to fire gas, and the truck that shoots skunk-water. A girl in my car pulled down the window and screamed “you killed him!” at a group of soldiers. “Fuck you!” replied one.

My hands were shaking. It wasn’t a surprise but it still hurt to see – how could Israel send military to this man’s funeral after murdering him? Was it purely to disrespect Mustafa & his family?

There were at least 2000 people once we congregated in the village. Although Ramallah has become distracted, the surrounding villages are still united and came to pay respects. We marched to the mosque and as many people as could fit went in and prayed the noon prayer, and the janazah prayer for Mustafa. His body was then taken to his house, then to the cemetery and placed into the ground. People chanted and gave speeches with a deep seated conviction.

Mustafa Tamimi's body is brought to his home one last time | Sat 11/12/2011 Int'l Communities Against Israel

A few images stay stark in my mind. A little girl looking concerned as her mother breaks into tears. A young boy holding his friend and nuzzling him, trying to comfort him – his expression saying that he wished there was something more he could do. A young man collapsing and being held by his friends as he weeps. Women leading the chanting as their shouts broke into wails. And of course, the men carrying Mustafa’s body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag with keffiyeh on his head.

Only minutes after the funeral ended, the Israeli military is shooting tens of the same tear gas canister that killed Mustafa. Once again, they were breaking the law by aiming them at people instead of shooting them in an arch. I jump to the side and one speeds past me at stomach level. Cars are trying to get home and are being hit by the canisters. Tear gas fills our lungs and make it impossible to get air in; our eyes and faces burn. The worst part is if you panic. You hyperventilate and feel yourself suffocating. So I stay calm.

A man is hit in the arm by a tear gas canister fired minutes after the funeral of Mustafa Tamimi ended | 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

I cannot understand why the soldiers operating these weapons did not feel shame at what they were doing. The next thing to come out was the skunk-water truck: this shoots, at far distances, a clear liquid with a sewage-like smell that will likely cause you to burn or throw out your clothes if you’re touched. Mostly it just leaves the village smelling like shit.

Israeli "skunk truck" shoots a sewage-like liquid at protesters just minutes after Mustafa's funeral draws to a close|Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

Suddenly people were calling us back. At the bottom of the valley were several more soldiers stationed, and people wanted to confront them. I arrived to many of the women holding posters of Mustafa Tamimi into the face of these soldiers and screaming, WHO KILLED MUSTAFA? over and over again. A man was beside me, chanting “who killed him? Who killed him?…. Who killed my brother?” My heart plummeted.

"Who killed Mustafa?" | Sun 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

For a moment, I saw true fear in these soldiers’ eyes. They retreated, tripping over their feet. MURDERERS, MURDERERS, chanted the crowd of mostly young women. I noticed their commander budge past me and felt something hit my foot. I looked around for it as I saw him run to the side. 5 seconds later a sound bomb exploded. The ground moved under our feet and I couldn’t hear anything for half a minute. Tear gas went flying at protesters that had moved away slightly from the soldiers. They kept throwing sound bombs into our midst. One exploded on the back of my leg and I felt the burn.

Suddenly out of the commotion I saw two soldiers had an Israeli activist strangled and pressed to the concrete.

An Israeli activist is pressed by the neck into the concrete then arrested | Sun 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Then soldiers moved in to grab Jonathon Pollack, a well known Israeli activist. There was a railing inbetween them and a soldier had him in a chokehold and was strangling him against the railing. People grabbed onto him and soldiers tried to shove and kick them out of the way. I saw Jonathon’s face, so pale. More soldiers approached and me and a Spanish friend tried to stay inbetween. One soldier pushed the Spanish man backwards over the railing, landing on his back. Another shoved me, then lifted his leg and kicked me to the ground.

A soldier raises his fist towards a Palestinian woman, while another attempts to make an arrest, although an Israeli woman stands in his way (both wearing black) | Sun 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

People managed to protect Jonathon from arrest, but he was visibly weak. He had to be carried by others to safer ground but as they tried to get away, soldiers shot gas at them even though he was visibly injured and they were retreating. They had nowhere to go. They couldn’t carry him up the hill or take him to the road with the soldiers. It was only after all the commotion I’m about to describe that an ambulance arrived on the road and took Jonathon while soldiers attempted to arrest him.

An Israeli activist is carried after being choked by Israeli soldiers and inhaling tear gas | Sun 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

On the street, soldiers had officially given way to their brutal nature. A soldier grabbed a picture of Mustafa out of a girls hands and crumpled it up. I could see the fury and sorrow build up in her as she tried to get it back from him, screaming from her depths at this arrogant soldier. Not one soldier interfered when another kicked a woman, grabbed her by the hair, or dragged her across the street. Soldiers had decided to go for a friend of mine from France. I grabbed onto his body. We were knocked to the ground. Another girl grabbed onto me.

Being knocked over while trying to hold onto a French man targeted for arrest | Sun 11/12/2011 Anne Paq/Activestills

In the chaos I remember struggling to hold on as we were hit from behind. One soldier had his elbow on the French man’s neck turning his face red. It became clear to me that the soldiers were trying to arrest the men that were with us. My Spanish friend was targeted. All the women began to throw their bodies over these two men. One of the girls, Linah, was shouting like a mantra: “You’re not taking any of us. You’re not taking any of us. You’re not taking any of us,” and it still rings in my ears.

Women throw their bodies over those of the men that Israeli soldiers arbitrarily targeted for arrest | Sun 11/12/2011

A soldier presses a French activist to the ground with his elbow and later arrests him | Sun 11/12/2011 Int'l Communities Against Israel

They did manage to arrest the French man, but the Spanish one, the women clung onto, and some men made a circle around the women, and they walked him to the rail and let him go to run up the hill. While the others were busy with one man I saw the soldiers go for a man I don’t know. We clung on to each other to try to resist arrest but soldiers were trying to pull me away. One finally grabbed me by the hair and threw me to the ground. A pair of legs were over my head and a man, that seemed to come from one of the cars that stopped to watch, began shouting at the soldier in Hebrew: She’s my sister! My sister! The soldier didn’t care.

I don't know who snapped this photo, it was in the newspaper this morning. It's not the kind of picture I ideally would like to circulate but if it shows a hint of reality, I can get over it.

The rest is chaos in my mind. We refused to leave anyone behind as we finally retreated up the hill. We took our time though and screamed Criminals! Animals! at the soldiers as they aimed for us with tear gas. One of the men photographing was on the brink of unconsciousness and others struggled to get him up the hill. They urged him to breathe, “I can’t…” he whispered, and they quickened their step.

This experience is a drop in the sea of the systemic oppression of living in an occupied state without basic civil rights. Not to mention the influence of the media.  “You were let off easy,” one Palestinian man told me, “once my mother tried to get in the way of my arrest and was punched in the face, then truly beat. A camera is our strongest tool.”

May the people of Nabi Saleh see their land returned and live to see a day without an occupation over their heads.

As I’ve reported before, every week since 2009, the village of Nabi Saleh goes out to demonstrate against the theft of their land and water spring by the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish. The final and symbolic goal of their protest is to reach the spring although it is always guarded by several soldiers. This week after the protest ended, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the hill. So instead a friend and I picked flowers while soldiers watched us suspiciously from a distance. Eventually we climbed our way back down to near the soldiers, picking flowers, and in the end I wanted to see what the fresh water spring looks like.

I walked alone up to a stunned soldier standing outside his jeep. ‘I just want to take a picture and leave,’ I told him.
‘But there are soldiers up there’ he replied, seeming to have no idea how they would react. I quickly moved on.
Up at the spring were about eight soldiers, who all got up and squinted at me. When I told them what I wanted they huddled and began to speak on the radio. ‘Don’t move until we get a reply’ one told me. The spring was more beautiful than I had expected, but the pictures can speak for themselves.
The soldier who had met me at the bottom had followed up, probably interested to see what would happen. ‘You just want to take pictures and go? Do it then. Then go.”
I snapped a few, then the radio seemed to get back to the group of soldiers. “You have to leave now. This is a closed military zone. You have thirty seconds. Where are you from?”
Palestine, I replied, and kept taking pictures. Another soldier came and kicked the flowers I was photographing. I looked up at the others, “who is this animal?”
“Be careful with your words” was the only reply.

Nabi Saleh's water spring, currently annexed by the illegal settlement of Halamish | 11/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Nabi Saleh has been a victim of IOF violence, night raids, siege, curfew, checkpoints, and arrests, but until Friday no one had ever been martyred. When witnessing the violence iniflicted by the IOF during the weekly protest, this was seen as a a miracle [hence Lina Alsaafin’s article “No Miracle Yesterday in Nabi Saleh: Mustafa Tamimi murdered“]. As of March 31, 2011, 64 village residents have been arrested.  All except three were tried for participating in the non-violent demonstrations.  Of those imprisoned, 29 have been minors under the age of 18 years and 4 have been women. With a population of only 550, Nabi Saleh was visibly profoundly affected by the death of Mustafa Tamimi. We will see in the coming months how it changes the nature of Nabi Saleh’s struggle against occupation. May he rest in eternal peace. Allah Yerhamo

No Miracle yesterday in Nabi Saleh: Tamimi murderedElectronic Intifada, Linah Alsaafin: My humanity is only human. I hate my enemy. A deep vigorous hatred that courses through my veins whenever I come into contact with them or any form of their system. My humanity is limited. I cannot write a book titled I Shall Not Hate especially if my three daughters and one niece were murdered by my enemy. My humanity is faulty. I dream of my enemy choking on tear gas fired through the windows of their houses, of having their fathers arrested on trumped-up charges, of them wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets, of them being woken up in the middle of the night and dragged away for interrogations that are spliced with bouts of torture…

Funeral of murdered Mustafa Tamimi ends in more IOF violence & savageryblog account of funeral, Holly Rigby: Covering and protecting the bodies of those trying to be arrested, the women were screaming so loudly for the soldiers to stop and this sound pierced my heart more deeply than any sound bomb could ever have done. As I stood a few paces back from what was happening, my whole body was wracked with uncontrollable sobs as I helplessly looked on as the scene unfolded…

…But we will keep goingblog account of the murder & funerals, Maath Musleh: “It is Mustafa!” someone said. And memories rushed through my head.  I saw the rainy days of spring when we used to climb mountains and hills to avoid the IOF checkpoints blocking entrance to the town. I saw the day I finally managed to reach the town after an hour of hiking through the mountains. I was limping. I was not injured, but my  shoes were torn. I head to Mustafa’s house where I took a nap on mattress near him. I had my tea and cigarette. Mustafa got me his shoes to wear. He refused to take them back at the end of the day…

A courageous Palestinian has died, shrouded in stonesHa’aretz, Jonathon Pollack: The army spokesman was right. Mustafa died because he threw stones; he died because he dared to speak a truth, with his hands, in a place where the truth is forbidden. Any discussion of the manner of the shooting, its legality and the orders on opening fire, infers that the landlord is forbidden to expel the trespasser. Indeed, the trespasser is allowed to shoot the landlord…

Video & testimony: Israeli soldier savagery at Mustafa Tamimi’s funeralElectronic Intifada, Linah Alsaafin: I still can’t comprehend why arrests were made and violence was used by the Israelis. Were our words of truth threatening to them? Were our words of truth threatening their security? Did our words of truth penetrate so deep into their conscience that caused insecurity within themselves?

 Tamimi was killed because of occupied village’s insistence on access to its only wellMondoweiss, Andrew Haas: It was David vs. Goliath, inaccurate slingshots vs. scoped rifles firing lead-cored rubber bullets, taunts and jeering vs. concussion grenades and tear gas, and teens in t-shirts vs. soldiers in body armor. My image of myself as fearless faded as I watched little girls lightly skip out of the way of concussion grenades, and boys compete over who threw the tear gas canisters up wind. To me, this was the next world war. For them, this was a regular day off from school.

I was Mustafa Tamimi – blog, Refaat Alareer: Fifteen years ago I was Mustafa Tamimi. Two months before that it was a relative who had his skull smashed by an explosive bullet from an Israeli sniper. Later that same week another neighbor lost his eye. Before and since then, the same situation has been repeating itself again and again: an armored jeep, a soldier armed to teeth, a tiny figure of mere flesh and bones, and a stone smeared with blood on the side of the road. That’s the saga of Palestine. That’s our tale, full of injustice and oppression, whose hero struts and frets and whoever gets in his way is doomed. But we get in his way anyway.

Ni’lin battles bullets, tear gas, and the apartheid wall

December 2, 2011 | Rana Hamadeh

Last time I was in Ni’lin it was covered in dust from a summer without a drop of rain. Now I see the green and lush hills of new grass, with daffodils sprouting up and it’s as if I’m in a different place altogether. It’s sunny and warm, unlike most of Palestine at this time of year and I assume that’s why their cacti haven’t withered yet and there are still people out harvesting olives.

We arrived in the village, none of us being too familiar with it, and just began to walk. Wearing our keffiyehs on a Friday morning, the day of the weekly protest, it was obvious where we were going. People pointed us in the right directions. The first open store we crossed, a barber shop, we asked to leave our bags inside. Theft is almost never a problem here (for example, I lost my ID and bank card and $200 in a taxi, only to get it back as it is a few days later from word-of-mouth between taxi drivers).

We could hear the Friday prayer on the loud speaker, so we knew the march hadn’t begun yet, but we walked slowly to the area anyways. The path we reached was regally surrounded from both sides by a hedge of stones and cacti. To our right and left were olive, almond, and fig trees growing out of rich red earth.

A hedge of cacti separates the path from olive, almond, and fig trees in Ni'lin's farmland. | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The procession eventually reached us, marching, carrying flags, and releasing their frustration through their chanting. Which frustration exactly? That of which every single Palestinian carries from being affected by the occupation. Arrests, checkpoints, night raids, harrassment, beatings, shootings, lootings, house demolitions, displacement, settlements, the wall, racism, curfews, land grabs, evictions, exiles… the frustration at having no effective means to fight these, the frustration of being forsaken by much of the outside world, and the frustration of being called the oppressor while being brutally oppressed.

It is a heavy burden to carry but somehow most Palestinians manage to continue on in life – to build friendships and relationships, have children, find joy, and end their day, no matter how dismal, with laughter. But when we chant, you see frustration releasing from every tongue. So we chant quite a lot.

To my dismay, the dirt path led us straight to the wall. The tall concrete twists through the village’s olive groves like a snake. Last time I was here, this wall wasn’t. Last time I was here, we still had hope for change – thinking if we kept our protests creative and peaceful that Israel would feel the pressure. Last time I was here, children were shot point-blank and I thought certainly the world wouldn’t turn a blind eye.

Climbing the apartheid wall | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The path lead straight to a huge black gate in the wall. When the Israeli military raided the town, their jeeps came through this gate and tore through the beautiful path we just came along. All I could see of the soldiers was their helmets peeking out from the other side of the wall, standing on a watchpost.

It was only a few minutes before thrown stones were battling tear gas. People lit up a couple tires against the wall, explaining the blackened concrete patches all along it.

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

The soldier were firing from behind the wall without being able to see us. The tear gas they were firing was not the usual type I’ve grown accustomed to dodging – this type doesn’t fly in a straight line. It looks like a small black balloon, but is in fact rock hard and quite heavy. When fired, it buzzes around in loops, then shoots unpredictably in one direction. Watching them shot out over our heads and not knowing which way to run exhausted me.

As usual, I was amazed and saddened at the children that skipped straight through this mess without flinching, the youth voicing their resistance with a stone, the farmers standing calmly with a flag raised in the air. To the outside eye, this was war: fires, smoke, explosions, gun shots, tear gas, people ducking, running, shouting.

One boy climbed the wall, peeked over, and reported back where the soldiers were stationed. Others prepared a cardboard house, painted with the Israeli flag colours, and reading “No to the apartheid wall, no to the settlements” to be burned. It was hoisted onto a long pole, so that soldiers on the other side could read it clearly as it was burned to nothingness.

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

A tear gas canister flew right in the face of a woman Israeli activist who immediately collapsed. Boys ran into the thick air and picked her up just as she hit the ground. They tried to take her to clear air but more shots were fired. People fanned her as she vomited.

An Israeli woman activist is carried after collapsing from tear gas suffocation | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

Even though the village kept up this resistance, I felt something was different. Was it just in my mind, or did no one really believe this would change anything? Every week, coming out to tell Israel that this wall is a crime, only to be gassed and forced to run like ants under a magnifying glass. The urge to equalize the playing field is powerful. Go there, experience what its like to lose your land, your freedom, your brother, to always be at the mercy of the Israeli army and all its weaponry….and you will understand why people pick up guns and resist. Of course they have the complete right to respond as such. But as most of us know, a few Palestinians with smuggled guns or home-made rockets cannot face one of the most powerful armies in the world, the IOF. For now, the people will continue the non-violent struggle, but the international community must stand with them.

Smoke from tear gas and fires fill the sky | 02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

02/12/2011 | Rana Hamadeh

An hour and a half later, the protest was called back just as tensions were rising. I heard people shout that if we kept going, the soldiers would just open the gate and chase us in jeeps back to the village. We walked back, and just as we were about to sit under an old olive tree to have a drink of juice with some of the residents, we heard shooting in the distance. Not the normal sounds – live bullets. “The soldiers entered!” shouted people running back to the site to stand with whoever was left behind. Soldiers had crossed the wall and were following a few youth that were left.

We ran after them.

A few men were at the top of a hill, with a loudspeaker, watching the movement of the soldiers and shouting down to the four or five boys left, throwing stones in the face of Israeli guns. Two young men, one a photographer and one a stone-thrower, just kept approaching the soldiers despite others shouting at him to go back. I stood with friends behind an old almond tree. I heard the familiar sound of rubber-coated steel bullets zooming by. As I looked out from behind the tree, the young man threw a rock, ,a bang and hiss sounded as a live bullet was fired, and the rock exploded in the air. Another bang, and the man throwing rocks zoomed past us away from the soldiers, running with a limp and his hand grabbing his leg. He didn’t respond to anyone’s yells and went off by himself. Later he told us he thought it was live, until he had run a couple hundred metres and realized it was a rubber-coated bullet. Thank God, he said.

Now the photographer stood alone, soldiers aimed and shouted at him to retreat. I’m just a camera man! he shouted at them and took a step forward. Myself and other women stood up on rocks behind him with our hands visible. The air was like ice for these few moments.

Then a shout from our comrades at the top of the hill: “the soldiers are retreating!”

That was my return to the Ni’lin. It was more beautiful than I could have remembered.

The next day I returned to look for something I had lost. Two Palestinian men came along to help. As we neared the protest area, soldiers jumped out from behind a rock, guns pointed at us and beckoned us over. A Druze Israeli soldier spoke to us in Arabic that they had been on orders to wait for us because we looked like reporters (my big camera over my soldier).

“No, this is my land right here.” said one of my companions, pointing to an area nearby. “And my camera doesn’t even have battery” I showed them. Nonetheless, we were held for over an hour as they radioed our ID numbers and awaited a reply.

“We wish the occupation could end too,” said one of the soldiers. Nothing more infuriating that someone stepping on you and saying I wish you could be free.

a poem for Ni’lin | 2008

A poem I wrote in 2008 on a previous trip to Palestine. I was in the beautiful village of Ni’lin. Since 1967, they have had half of their land annexed by illegal Israeli settlements. In 2004, Israel announced they were going to build the Apartheid wall through their olive fields for “security” reasons. Not only is the route of the wall miles away from the armistice line of 1967, but instead of surrounding the nearby illegal settlement that it is “protecting”, it also annexes an entire valley of olive trees. Agriculture being the main source of income, this caused a strangling of the village.

This colonial strategy is mimicked from the South African apartheid system where the goal was to annex the most fertile land, and limit the black South Africans to divided communities without a steady source of income (agriculture), thereby having them as cheap labor for the white communities. Already this is happening throughout Palestinian communities by way of the Apartheid wall, illegal colonies, and ‘closed military zones’.

In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court granted authorization to build the wall through Ni’lin’s farm land and to suppress any protest to the contrary. The town organized and lead non-violent protests as well as fought legal battles. The Israeli military responded with crude violence on the unarmed protesters, and often collectively punished the entire village for their resistance.

When I was in Ni’lin, the wall hadn’t been erected yet. So far on this trip I’ve avoided going back because I am not eager to see this symbol of apartheid and colonization that has been crudely placed through their village. But Insha’Allah I get a chance to go and see the people that have fought and continue to fight a long and difficult battle.

In the short time I was there, I got the strong impression that Ni’lin was full of a warm and courageous people. Within a period of three days, two boys from the village were martyred.

10 year old Ahmed Mousa | إن لله وإن إليه راجعون | photo credit to Willow Heske

Ten year old Ahmed Mussa was martyred when he returned to the olive trees following a protest to find his lost shoe. He was spotted by an Israeli soldier and shot with a live bullet which went through his head and exited the back of his skull.

17 year old Yousif Amira | إن لله وإن إليه راجعون | I wish I had a photo of him smiling, but wallah this is the exact sight that inspired me to write this poem. | Anne Paq, Active Stills

17 year old Yousef Amira was shot the evening of Ahmad’s funeral, from a distance of 8 metres by an infamous Israeli ‘rubber bullet’ which is actually a steel bullet with a thin coating of rubber. Yousif, Allah Yer7amo, was declared brain dead, and died in hospital a few days later.

الله يرحم كل الشهداء

إن لله وإن إليه راجعون

*****

I have only ever performed it once, at verses vs Apartheid in 2009 I think- and I just found it, so here you go world wide web:

You don’t have to venture far into my mind
To find out what lies behind
Just take a breath, and look into my eyes

Look and take step number one.
To us being forced out of our lands at the barrel of a gun
Knowing it would be years
Before we would see
The ancient olive trees
The waters of the Dead Sea
Knowing it may never be
The day where we will be free
To live, love, learn and be in our own territory
So we got on a plane and flew away
To a life born out of disarray
And we settled in the Canadian community
And we built both struggles and unity.

You don’t have to go far into my mind
To know what makes me feel confined
Just take a step, and look into my eyes

So take step number two into the unseen
Sleeping beside my grandmother at the age of fourteen
Peaceful is this night and my brother’s deep breathing
Serene are the dreams that his mind must be receiving
Peaceful is this night, until the bullets start flying
And amidst the F-16s I hear my grandmother sighing
Not again, not again she says so bleak
We haven’t had one quiet night this entire week
And the bullets are louder, and the guns nearby
And now my anxiety has reached a level sky high
And my mother yells at my brother to duck below
Because he’d fallen asleep in the sill by the window
And in this night I’m worried by the lack of crying
Because the children are so used to this that their tears are denying
The shots pierce this night again and again
And the night, she falls to the earth in pain
And she spreads on the earth like a blanket of dismay
And dead, the night can no longer walk away
Killed by the bullets of those that oppress
She leaves the world forever in darkness

You don’t have to venture far into my mind
To find why I fear for mankind
Just take a breath, and look into my eyes

Look, and take step number three
To summer 08 in the middle east
I was running through the olive trees
The intention: to stop the soldiers who seize
My people’s land with their policies
Destroy a home with their machinery
Then tell the world it was in self defense
That this home held a terrorist
Running fast through the olive trees
Listening to their screams as they try to flee
Emotion pouring itself over me
Not of fear but of the need to be free
The need to make the world see
What I see

I see soldiers boasting their superiority
I see teargas grenades fired from the sky and falling down me
I see guns pointed at he
I see teargas fall and slowly seep
Into our air and I no longer see

But I hear. And I hear his fear
And I hear a gunshot and I hear him keel
And I hear them scream Allah hold him dear
And the bullets rage and the people run and the gas falls from the sky and still the bullets shout until I no longer hear

But I feel. And I feel them near
I feel their angers and I feel their tears
I feel the despair they carry on their backs
I feel the hope they place in their prayer mats
The dreams they see when their heads touch the ground
The freedom they feel in a sleep profound
But now the soldiers near
And the smoke clears
And I see what I shouldn’t have seen
And I no longer feel

But I think. And I think about our fate in the stars
I think about love and laughter and if our life is really ours
I think about anger, oppression, hope and aggression
I think about what it takes to make a life
What it takes to fake a life
To break a life and derail a life until there is no life
I think about what it takes to take a life
I see him and I see his peace
But his peace drains me – I just want him to be
He’s just sleeping my mind says
In a minute he’ll wake and open his eyes
And he’ll smile, and I’ll smile, all the while, knowing this is just my mind’s eye
This is all just a lie
His peace drains me and I look to the floor
His father fights his tears back and screams Allah yirhamo
And now I think of chance and of fate
Of love and of hate
The kindness and crime
Bullets in the back
Hope in the heart
A face behind the bandage
A man behind the gun
A mother with nothing to love
A father with no son
A child’s end has come
And I no longer think

*

So the problem I see now is not a lack of objectives, it’s the lack of activists to represent the perspectives
In this time, where apathy’s become the attitude du jour, my words are coming out sounding somewhat obscure
But I can see the power we have within. The power that we have that we’re holding in.
The power to dream and the power to love, the power to care, the power to speak of..
So ask yourself, do you utilize this gift?
This tongue that can speak love, that can heal every rift
People are dying for the freedom of voice
While we avoid an argument to keep our prized Rolls Royce
These possessions, they distract us, keep us away from our brains,
Until the greedy have squeezed dry all the poor and in pain

But despite this world’s chaos there’s one thing that is Great
The ability to create a smile on another person’s face
These people are a reminder that freedom belongs to you
And despite all the chains, your joy can always stay true
Our warriors hold onto that for their goals to be obtainable
Because a clear mind is the way to make activism sustainable
So when I want to step into your memories, your mind
The way will be clear, just a door through your eyes
And together we can share the places we’ve been
To spread the stories of the hearts unseen
And in this lost and divided world
We can work to never let a cry go unheard