In images: support for Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners

Following the mass hunger strike of almost 2000 Palestinian prisoners, and the numerous individual hunger strikes, Palestinians have been raising their voices on the issue of prisoners. In Ramallah, protesters are taking to the streets demanding the Palestinian Authority take a strong stance for the country’s political prisoners held by Israel. Hundreds more have held regular demonstrations for months outside the Israeli Ofer prison, despite the excessive Israeli military aggression. The issue is larger than the end of administrative detention, or the allowance of family visits. Protesters are demanding complete freedom for all Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. Within the occupier’s jails, prisoners are passing the torch between each other as one hunger striker follows another. Today diabetic prisoner Akram Rikhawi has been on hunger strike for 84 days and is at imminent risk of dying.

At the forefront of support from outside the prisons are Palestine’s youth. Battling not only the Zionist state but the indifference of their own political leaders, these youth have dwindled from thousands during the mass hunger strikes to dozens. Nonetheless the activists remain determined to continue the struggle against Israeli apartheid and the resulting imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians, as well as to stir up the support of their own people.

My interest in the issues at hand are greater than my position as a photographer and at the best and most powerful demonstrations I was participating not photographing, thus the following collection is incomplete. It begins on April 26 when I joined a protest at Ofer prison.

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

A journalist wearing a neon press jacket shot with a tear gas canister from close range | 26 April 2012, Ofer Prison

A woman falls after being shot in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet | 26 April 2012, Ofer Prison

Two men are attended to after being shot with rubber-coated steel bullets | 26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli military opened fire on the demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

Women approach the Israeli soldiers as they fire at the demonstration | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

Me above the ‘skunk’ vehicle | Photo was taken by someone using my camera | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

A Palestinian man holds on to me resist my arrest despite us both having been repeatedly pepper sprayed | Photo was taken by someone using my camera | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

A protester keels after being shot | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

A roadblock built to prevent the Israeli military jeep from pursuing Palestinian protesters | 4 May, 2012, Ofer prison

Rally for the hunger-striking prisoners organized by the leftist parties, the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

Rally for the hunger-striking prisoners organized by the leftist parties, the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators march wearing the actual uniforms worn by Palestinians in Israeli jails | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

6 May 2012, Ramallah

6 May 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators burn the occupier’s flag in the down-town clock circle of Ramallah | 6 May 2012

Activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for Palestinian political prisoners | 8 May 2012

Palestinian activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for Palestinian political prisoners | 8 May 2012

Palestinian activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for political prisoners | 8 May 2012

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | June 5, 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

The windows of a house near to Ofer prison entrance were broken from tear gas and rubber-coated bullet fire | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

Protesters duck as rubber-coated bullets are fired openly on the demonstration | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

5 June 2012, Ramallah

Marchers in Ramallah block a down-town street | 5 June 2012, Ramallah

10 June 2012, Ramallah

Protesters hold signs urging drivers to ‘honk for the prisoners’ | 10 June 2012, Ramallah

Protesters hold signs urging drivers to ‘honk for the prisoners’ | 10 June 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators play soccer at the entrance of Ofer prison to symbolize Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s hunger strike | 11 June 2012, Ofer prison

Demonstrators play soccer at the entrance of Ofer prison to symbolize Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s hunger strike | 11 June 2012, Ofer prison

A demonstrator was injured in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet | 11 June 2012

20 June 2012, Ramallah

21 June 2012, Ofer prison

Protesters holding cutlery to symbolize the hunger-striking prisoners refuse to move despite orders | 21 June 2012, Ofer prison

21 June 2012, Ofer Prison

21 June 2012, Ofer prison

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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

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.

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.

Qalandia: White sky of tear gas looms over apartheid wall construction

[delayed publishing this one on my blog because Mustafa Tamimi was murdered on the same day in Nabi Saleh]

by Rana H.
9 December 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

Peaceful protesters came face to face with Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in Qalandia on Friday before soldiers began to fire tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at the civilian group including children, women, and elders. Qalandia village is protesting the construction of the apartheid wall that will cut through their land.

Following the Friday prayer, a procession marched down a dirt path flattened by Israeli bulldozers to a fenced in area where the bulldozers were parked. Two jeeps full of soldiers were quick to arrive and met the march at the fence.

Demonstrators chant in front of Israeli Occupation Forces | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

“We resist with peace, as we learned from Bil’in!” chanted the demonstration, among other slogans that criticized results of Israel’s occupation such as the wall. “We are here to resist against the settlements and the wall that steal our land and divide us,” said one of the protest leaders. The procession was joined by activists from Israel, France, America, Canada, and Switzerland.

A Palestinian girl waves her flag in the face of Israeli soldiers | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Although protesters were peacefully chanting, and not advancing, the Israeli military began showing aggressive movements such as pointing guns directly at protesters and pulling out tear gas and sound bombs, hinting at the assault to come. Some soldiers also began to snap photographs of protesters’ faces, despite that they had not committed any crime.

Palestinian demonstrators stand on concrete blocks in the face of IOF soldiers. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Israeli military orders protesters to descend from the concrete blocks. Demonstrators maintained that they have the right to stand peacefully. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

A protester hung the Palestinian flag onto the fence surrounding the bulldozers and the flag easily stuck onto the barbed wire. At this point, a couple IOF soldiers became enraged and began to push and strike protesters, including at least three women.

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier shoves a female protester away. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier threatens protesters. | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

As clashes begin, an Israeli soldier strikes a Palestinian man | 9/12/2011 Rana Hamadeh

Chaos broke out as the IOF unleashed sound bombs, causing demonstrators to try to distance themselves from soldiers. Before people could get away, tear gas began to fly through the air. Soldiers continued to shoot tear gas at the people: a procession including many women, children, and elders who were visibly unarmed and had not committed any crime.

The cloudy white sky made the high-velocity tear gas projectiles almost impossible to see until they landed among the crowd – an incredibly dangerous situation to fire in, which could have ended lethally as was the case in An Nabi Saleh when Mustafa Tamimi was killed after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister.

Soon after, soldiers began to fire rubber-coated steel bullets as well.

Despite the obvious danger of facing these weapons, protesters continued to attempt to re-gather themselves and continue chanting for almost one hour. Young boys stood unabashedly in the front lines, dodging rubber-coated bullets and gas.

Eventually, protest leaders called the group back to the village and the demonstration ended.

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.

Mustafa Tamimi, 28 years old, killed by the Israeli military

All photos from Activestills Nabi Saleh.

Mustafa Tamimi (L) poses for a photo with his parents (front) and brothers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 10.9.2010.

Mustafa Tamimi (L) poses for a photo with his brothers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 10.9.2010.

Combo image made from 4 images shows Palestinian Mustafa Tamimi falling as he gets shot by IOF from close range in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 9.12.2011. Photo by: Haim Schwarczenberg/ Guest photographer

Mustafa Tamimi, a 28 year-old Palestinian from Nabi Salih is seen after he was shot by an Israeli soldier with a tear gas canister from a short distance during the weekly demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Salih, 09.12.2011. Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

Ola Tamimi is seen shouting after she saw her brother, Mustafa Tamimi, a 28 year-old Palestinian resident from Nabi Saleh who was hit in the face by a tear gas projectile shot directly at him from only a few feet away during the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh, 09.12.2011. Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

Nariman Tamimi and other Palestinians, among them the sister of Mustafa Tamimi who was shot earlier in the face with a tear gas canister from close range, confront Israeli soldiers who prevent them to be with the injured during the weekly demonstration against the occupation and settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Salih, 09.12.2011. Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.

At the same protest, a Palestinian is still holding his flowers when being carried away after having been shot by a rubber-coated bullet in the foot during the weekly demonstration against the occupation and settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Salih, 09.12.2011. Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

 

Nabi Saleh: Night Raids and the weekly protest

Nov 18 & 25 in Nabi Saleh

Specifically, the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh is against the theft of their land and water spring by the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish. More generally, the village is protesting Israeli occupation, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. Every week, the residents hold a march and are joined in solidarity by other Palestinian, International, and Israeli activists.

In the past week, Israeli military held siege and curfew on the village, and performed a massive night time raid, arresting three residents. Journalist and former Israeli soldier Noam Sheizaf, reported about the incidence of night raids:

“[The occupation] is the ongoing military control over the lives of millions, and everything that comes with it: The lack of civil rights, the absence of legal protection, and perhaps more than anything else, a sense of organized chaos, in which the lives of an entire civilian population is run at the mercy of soldiers 18 to 20 years old. Most of the time, it’s almost hard to explain how bad it is for those who haven’t seen it with their own eyes.
The army enters Palestinian homes as it pleases, day or night. No warrant is needed, just like you don’t need a warrant to arrest a Palestinian (even a minor). Once the soldiers are in the house, the nature of the interaction between them and the family living there depends on their good or ill will – and in the 44 years of the occupation, we have had everything: from “polite” visits, to beatings and cursing, all the way up to the murder of civilians in their beds. A Palestinian is never safe – not even in his own home. He can never know what’s coming, the way most of us can even during unpleasant encounters with the authorities. The important point is that both the Palestinian and the soldier know that.” [Organized Chaos and Bare Life the Non-Story of the Night Raids]

During a night raid in Nariman & Bassem Tamimi's home, a child reacts to | 24.11.2011 | Tamimi press

 To many Palestinians, night raids are such a common occurrence they often go unreported. In reality they are a symbol of the normalized oppression the Palestinians deal with. Armed soldiers entering a home at 2 am and asking for the children to be woken up so their photo can be taken in case they commit a crime in the future – to an outsider this would be worthy of a lawsuit; to the Palestinians, it is a reality that the youngest children are familiar with.

The occupying nation, under international law, is responsible for the safety of the people it occupies; instead the Palestinians are subject to terrorizing invasions, and there is no force they can call for protection.

Soldiers entered over 25 houses in Nabi Saleh while families slept, took pictures of people and rooms, and harassed residents, including a number of women, children, and elders, “filling the village with a state of fear and horror” the Tamimi Press reports from Nabi Saleh. [Nabi Saleh Solidarity WP]

Three young men were their arrested in these raids, including a child: Rami Tamimi, 33, Oudai Tamimi, 19, and Mo’atasim Tamimi, 15. The former two were arrested on the justification that they are needed to testify against Bassem Tamimi in his hearing next week.

Bassem has continually been targeted by the Israeli military. Though he has been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times to date, he was never convicted of any offence. He has spent roughly three years in administrative detention, with no charges brought against him. His house is one of 10 that have received demolition orders since the village began weekly protests. Bassem’s wife, Nariman Tamimi, has been arrested twice, and two of his young sons have been critically injured.

His trial is due to resume this Wednesday, but Bassem has already been behind bars for over seven months, with only five of the 25 prosecution witnesses having been heard to date. Mo’atasem (15) and Oudai (19) are due to testify. There are several legal issues with the way Israel has treated this case. As the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee in Nabi Saleh reported:

“Mo’atasem Tamimi, the fifteen year-old, was grabbed from his bed at gunpoint in the middle of the night on January 27th, 2011, and questioned unlawfully the next morning…

  • Despite having been arrested at 2:30 AM, his interrogation at the police station in the Ma’ale Edomim settlement started at 8:47 AM, in the interim, and despite his young age he was not allowed sleep. Such form of interrogation is forbidden under amendment 14 to the Israeli Youth Law.
  • Despite his young age, Mo’atasem was not offered the opportunity to have his parents present in the room during the interrogation, in violation his rights as set forth by amendment 14 to the Israeli Youth Law.
  • Only one of his two interrogators was a qualified youth interrogator.
  • Contrary to the official transcript of his interrogation, Mo’atasem was not informed of his right to remain silent until he has already started incriminating others. Instead, his interrogator told him: ”You can tell us the truth, or you can lie. Everything you say, will be noted down and be used as evidence against you in court. If you won’t speak, it will strengthen the evidence against you. I say, in your own interest, i say this for you, you had better tell the truth.” The interrogator then went on to tell him, “You are a young boy, if you tell the truth, the court will take this into consideration and go easy on you. Now, you are going to tell us everything as it happened.”” [Nabi Saleh Solidarity WP]

Bassem’s case is not an isolated exception. A study made by the Public Committee Against Torture and Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, and written by Dr. Maya Rosenfeld, says that as many as 90% of Palestinian prisoners in the Shin Bet, Israeli security service, are denied access to a lawyer, and are subject to torture methods.

Demonstrations in Nabi Saleh

As is the case in occupied Palestine, the peaceful weekly demonstrations are met with Israeli army attack. The crowd is bombarded with tear gas grenades, shot alone and aimed directly at individuals, or shot around ten at a time from a mechanism on their military jeep. A hit to the head or the chest has been proven to kill. They can also cause paralysis, and are lethally dangerous to children. Rubber-coated steel bullets are also commonly used and fired directly at the crowds. Israel claims these are a non-lethal crowd dispersal method but a 2008 study by BTselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, indicated that over twenty Palestinians had been killed by them since the second Intifada began, and that the Israeli military has “adopted a practice of reckless firing of rubber-coated steel bullets.” [B’Tselem 2008 Annual Report]

Rounds of tear gas are fired at protesters in the valley during the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh | 18.11.2011

Quite often in Nabi Saleh, and particularly in recent weeks, the Israeli military arrives with a “skunk truck”, equipped with a cannon that shoots out an oppressively foul-smelling liquid. Last Friday, November 25,  the truck entered the village, past where the demonstration was held, and indiscriminately sprayed houses and people not involved in the protest. The 1949 Geneva convections explicitly label collective punishment as a war crime. Article 33 of the fourth Geneva convection state that “no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed…collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or terrorism are prohibited.”

A woman jumps out of the way as a high velocity tear gas canister lands in her place | 18.11.2011 Nabi Saleh

As well last Friday, a group of demonstrators managed to approach the soldiers, despite threats: “if you come near we will shoot.” They held their arms in the air and walked up to the soldiers. A group of Palestinian women in particular confronted soldiers about their presence in the village, the night raids, the violent reaction to peaceful demonstrators, and the general occupation in Palestine. “We are all chosen people! We will coexist!” shouted a woman when a soldier said he was willing to risk himself for the illegal Jewish settlers.

Palestinian protesters approach Israeli soldiers | 25.11.2011 | Active Stills

“I’m from this land you’re standing on. Where are you from and what are you doing here?” a young Palestinian girl asked a soldier who spoke very American English. After an hour-long stand-off, the soldiers received orders and began to descend the hill. About two-hundred metres down, they fired rounds of tear gas at the area they knew was full of women and children, and far from any paramedic, causing many to suffer from severe tear gas inhalation.

A Palestinian bravely confronts Israeli soldiers | 25.11.2011 | Active stills

One of the protesters stood in the face of a soldier with his finger on the trigger, “lift this illegal occupation,” he shouted into the soldier’s face, “lift this criminal occupation! Leave our land!”

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.

Palestinian Freedom Riders challenge segregation

At the media meeting point, journalists jumped out of their cars, blocking both lanes of the road, and rushed to catch a glimpse of the freedom riders. Inspired by the US civil rights movement Freedom Rides, 6 Palestinians were on their way to (attempt to) board segregated Israeli settler buses to occupied East Jerusalem.

Public statements from the Palestinian Freedom Riders:

Badee’ Dwak, who was arrested during the ride, said: “The companies operating Israeli buses, like Egged and Veolia, are directly complicit in Israel’s violations of our rights. They transport settlers in and out of our occupied land, on roads that we often can’t use into places that we can’t reach, including Jerusalem. They need to be divested from and boycotted. Not just here, but around the world. It is a moral duty to end complicity in this Israeli system of apartheid.”

Basel Al Araj commented prior to his arrest: “The settlers are to Israel what the KKK was to the Jim Crow South – an unruly, fanatic mob that has enormous influence in shaping Israeli policies today and that violently enforces these policies with extreme violence and utter impunity all over the occupied Palestinian territory, especially in and around Jerusalem.”

The freedom riders walked to the bus stop, followed by a mob of cameras and journalists. They carried signs reading – DIGNITY, DEFY UNJUST LAWS, WE SHALL OVERCOME

At the settler bus stop

Four buses passed without stopping to admit the Palestinians. As the fifth neared, Huwaida Arraf (Palestinian activist and lawyer) reached out her hand and hailed the bus to a stop, then lead the 5 other freedom riders, and a swarm of cameras, to the doors of the bus.

Once they boarded the bus, we ran to our car and did our best to follow them, despite an Israeli military jeep which appeared to be purposely driving slow to deter the cars behind it from catching up to the bus. We took a short cut and arrived at Hizmeh checkpoint.

Here, the bus was stopped, and some of the Israeli passengers got off when it became apparent that there was going to be delays. They had a stand-off here for about an hour. In the meantime, friends and I got out the posters we had prepared and began to demonstrate along the street leading up to the checkpoint and the bus. Many passing Israelis made rude gestures, refused to look at us, even shouted – but now and then, we would catch the smile of a 1948-Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship, but whose heart lay with us.

Activists holding posters (Picture from the ISM)

The Palestinian Freedom Rides are specifically calling for a boycott against two companies profiting from Israel’s illegal settlement infrastructure: the largest Israeli public transportation company, Egged, which the freedom riders boarded, and Veolia, a French prominent transportation company in the Occupied Territory. For more information on companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations, visit BDS.

Veolia is involved in building a tramway that links illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel. Article 49th of the 4th Geneva Convention forbids an occupier from transferring its own civilians into the area it occupies.

Although there is no official prohibition against Palestinians on Israeli transportation in the West Bank, in practice, the buses are segregated. They pass through Jewish-only settlements which forbid Palestinian entry by military decree.

Palestinians need a rarely-given Israeli permission to enter Israel (1948 Palestine), Jerusalem, or any of the 224 illegal settlements within the West Bank. Peace Now’s interactive map shows all these settlements. Israel restricts Palestinian freedom of movement by means of temporary, permanent, and random checkpoints, by forbidding Palestinian use of certain roads, and the Occupation wall.

Israelis in occupied Palestine have very few limitations enforced to them. They are encouraged by the Israeli government to illegally, by International law, settle in the West Bank. The United Nations says the number of attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinians resulting in either injury or damage to property has roughly tripled since 2009. Around 10,000 olive trees have been burned or damaged by settlers this year alone. Despite this, the UN report says that in 90% of complaints filed to the Israeli police by Palestinians against settlers, nobody is ever indicted.

Although by the laws of occupation, Israel has a responsibility to protect the Palestinians from these settlers (in fact, Israel should not have illegal colonies within the country they occupy in the first place) – very little is done to prevent the violence. Settlers are most often free to travel to Palestinian areas, are not searched, are free to carry weapons, and are sometimes even trained by the army. When they do commit crimes, Israeli military and police often are delayed in bringing a stop to it, or do not interfere at all. Settlers are rarely indicted for these crimes, even murder.

My poster reads, "Freedom for Palestine." | Haitham Khatib

While it was stopped at Hizmeh checkpoint, border police had tried to aggressively drag one of the Palestinians off the bus, but unsuccessful, they decided to command the bus 200 metres up the road, in order to free up the blocked lane in the checkpoint, and attempt to evade some of the media. Here they planned to arrest them. When we tried to go, soldiers let through all the demonstrators except me – for the same reason the Freedom Riders were about to be arrested – I’m Palestinian. Instead of returning to sit in the taxi alone and accept the rules that allow anyone except the actual descendents of the land to enter, me and 3 others decided to try to walk through the checkpoint anyways, knowing that I risked arrest for it. Immediately soldiers surrounded us and blocked the way. They took a look at my Canadian passport, then walked away and began to do other work without returning it. I began to follow the soldier demanding he return it, until he passed it off to another soldier. Now three soldiers faced us.

“I’ll give you the passport if you go back,” said a soldier.

“Give me the passport, but I’m not going back,” I replied. The 3 internationals with me began to demand that he give me my passport, that he’s already seen it and has no right to detain it.

He handed it back to me, and tried to push me back, “alright, now go back.”

“Nope” we replied simply. He tried to grab the passport back, but I pulled my arm out of his reach, then snuck the passport into my pocket and the two other soldiers burst into laughter at how he managed to lose the passport, but not us.

We stood in confrontation for around an hour. I was speaking to only one of the three soldiers, because he was the only one who spoke Arabic. The soldier would say, “It’s not me, it’s the law.” But when asked about the illegality of the settlements they are blocking entry to, he was unable to look at me. “It’s not me, it’s the establishment. I’m not blocking you from going” he would say, trying to extinguish his role in this. It’s not you? So on his cue, I stepped to his right and began to walk through the checkpoint – only to be surrounded by even more soldiers.

Eventually we decided to turn back because we heard word that all six Freedom Riders had been violently arrested, and we wanted to go to the Atarot prison to protest. It didn’t feel good to turn away, but at least we showed a few soldiers that there are some people still not normalized to their rules of apartheid.

An Israeli soldier unsuccessfuly tries to intimidate protesters away.

We headed back to Ramallah, then crossed the Qalandia checkpoint into another area that according to Israel’s laws, I’m forbidden to enter, but we managed! We held a protest outside the Atarot prison where we knew the Freedom Riders were being held. For us it felt a little bit futile, as it was late at night, and the media had all gone home, but the Palestinians being held told us later that they could hear our chants and even had tried to shout back!

We soon after made the decision to leave, because soldiers came out and threatened to arrest us all if we weren’t gone in ten minutes. Although some of us were ready to defy this, we made the decision that it wasn’t worth it as there was no media left and we needed to get home to send our reports, photos, and videos of the day.

The large crew of cameras definitely had an influence on the turn-out of events.

On the one hand, they had a positive extinguishing effect on the likelihood of violence from Israeli settlers and soldiers.

The other hand is that it resulted in a non-realistic handling of the situation. Had the cameras not been present, the Palestinian Freedom Riders would very likely have been subject to much more abuse, may not have been able to get on the bus in the first place, and probably would have been held in Israeli detention for much longer.

Although no one wishes these things for the Palestinian Riders who boarded the bus, it is worth noting.

At the end of the day, we went home with the feeling that, as a fellow ISMer puts it, “like I was witnessing history.”

Freedom Riders: “I felt like I was witnessing history” – ISM

Israel Arrests “Freedom Riders” Challenging Apartheid Road System – Electronic Intifada

Palestine: Freedom Rides Expose Israeli Segregation – Green Left Weekly

Israeli Reactions to Freedom Riders – +972 mag

Palestinian “Freedom Riders” Arrested – AFP

Solidarity with Palestinian Freedom Riders – Jewish Voices For Peace

Arrests Greet Palestinian Freedom Riders – Salon

Freedom Riders Take on Israeli Segregation – Bikyamasr