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Nabi Saleh: A tiny village's struggle against the occupation

In just over one year of unarmed demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, a small Palestinian community in the West Bank, 155 of the village’s 500 residents  were wounded (about 60 of them children); 35 homes were damaged and dozens of the village’s people were detained. Yet even after the protest’s leader was put behind bars by the army, the struggle for the Nabi Saleh’s land continues

By Idan Landau | translation: Dena Shunra

Nabi Saleh, April 8 2011 (photo: Tamimi Press)

The objects seen in the picture: a magazine (Rifle-Launched Anti-Protesters Grenade ) attached to a Tavor gun, and a human skull, attached to a neck. The gun is vertical; the neck is horizontal. You could say they’ve made contact.

Inside the magazine: 12 to 16 rubber-coated metal pellets. Inside the skull: soft, gray brain tissue. Thoughts and memories. A soul.

The purpose of the weapon: dispersing demonstrations at a minimum range of 40 meters. The purpose of the brain: to live. To remember such moments.

Will the rubber-metal pellets go through that brain? Probably not. However, the thought about it doubtlessly goes through the man’s mind. One could say that this is actually happening at the photographed moment. Does pressing the magazine to the head of a man lying on the ground constitute “dispersion of demonstrations” at a minimal range of 40 meters?

Pointless question. That is not the point here. The point is sowing fear and terror, emotional terror.

Was the picture taken out of context? Did the demonstrator “provoke” the soldiers, perhaps by throwing stones? That is a disingenuous question, the very answer for which takes it out of context. As if the “provocation” and the throwing of stones have no context; as if they do not occur against the background of the basic, unchanging context of occupation and dispossession. What the hell is an Israeli soldier doing on Palestinian land? Why is he protecting an unlawful settlement that robs its Palestinian neighbors, and how does he even expect the Palestinian to just sit there and do nothing when faced with this scandalous conduct?

This could have been the end of the post. For anyone who knows anything about the events at Nabi Saleh, this is quite enough. But not everyone knows, and truly, what can you even understand from this laconic, routine headline that appears on the Hebrew news sites every Friday, “Riots at Nabi Saleh”? So it is appropriate to say more. That every Israeli citizen know what has been done in his name, every week, for 15 months now.


The confrontations in Nabi Saleh over the past year are considered the most violent in the West Bank. In spite of the fact that the Palestinian side is adhering to the nonviolent popular protest, with women and children participating, Israel’s army has broken several records in brutality at Nabi Saleh.

In March 2010, a 14-year-old youth, Ihab Barghoutti, was shot with a rubber pellet in the course of a demonstration. The pellet hit his head and he went into a coma. Of the 500 residents of the village, 155 were wounded since the beginning of the demonstrations; that’s about 30% of the population. About 60 of the people wounded are children. 35 homes were damaged by the shooting of demonstration-dispersing weapons. Fires broke out in seven of these. Based on testimonies from demonstrators, the Israeli army uses live firepower against them, too, in violation of the law.

Just to be clear: throwing stones at an occupying army which prevents you from demonstrating on your own land does not constitute “violent protest.” It is the expected response to someone who not only steals your land but also denies you the basic right to protest this. If the army stops acting against the residents of Nabi Saleh and just gets the hell off their lands, no one will throw stones at it.

The residents of Nabi Saleh are not trying to go to the nearby settlement of Halamish and they are not endangering the settlers. They insist – every Friday – to demonstrate by a spring that was appropriated from them.

The army does not even wait for the demonstrators to get out of the village. The Israeli army simply goes into the village and starts shooting at anything that moves – rubber-coated metal pellets, gas canisters, and other things. Sometimes it sprays entire streets with putrid skunk water: the houses, the windows, the potable water stored on the roofs. Not only is this collective punishment, this policy exposes the true provocateur: Village residents, who demonstrate without threatening any Israeli? Or the army, which invades their streets? (A quote from the testimony of Hedva Isscar: “The first gas canister was shot at us before we had time to get out of the village.”)

Like in Bil’in and Silwan, the Israeli army is trying to chop off the head of the popular protest by making arrests (did it help in Bil’in and Silwan? It did not. Does the Israeli army learn anything from this? It did not, either.) Protest leader Bassam Tamimi was arrested a month ago (in the 90’s Tamimi was tortured by the Internal Security Service [Shabak], after which he was paralyzed for a month). Like Abdallah Abu Rahme from Bil’in, Tamimi is 10 levels of morality above the army that arrested him. Here is what he says:

“We want to offer our people an example and pattern of popular struggle. Since the beginning of the revolution (the establishment of the PLO) and the armed struggle we have made cumulative mistakes which the Israelis used against us, although these were merely responses to the Israeli oppression. We do not have a military answer to Israel. History teaches us that if ever we had even partial success, it was in popular uprisings: in 1936 and in 1987. It is in the popular struggle that we can prove our moral superiority to all and sundry.”

People with that kind of dangerous idea must be put behind lock and key.

The wave of arrests at Nabi Saleh is characterized by the eradication of the difference between adults and minors. Since the protests began, more than a year ago, more than 60 residents of the village have been arrested and imprisoned (that’s approximately 13%). 29 of those imprisoned are minors. In an apparent effort to spare themselves the physical effort of running after demonstrators, Israel’s army has developed an original, new method: Army forces invade village homes at night, wakes up boys from their sleep, and photographs them. This is how they build up a database that will serve for future arrests – and to hell with civil rights and the presumption of innocence. Later, testimonies collected from minors, in violation of the law, without the presence of parents or attorneys and while denying them sleep, are used to incriminated village activists.

Imagine a 14-year-old Israeli youth taken from his home, without parents in attendance, and interrogated for a seven-hour stretch about rock-throwing. Imagine him being put in detention for two and half months. Imagine having one law for you – and another for him.

An Israeli soldier takes a nap in Nabi Saleh's spring (photo: Alison Avigayil Ramer)

Settlers have been coveting the ancient springs in the West Bank for many years. Most of these springs are not natural, it should be noted. They were dug as part of a system of irrigation, pools, and ditches that serve the Palestinian populations. Settlers have already taken over approximately 25 such springs, with the Civil Administration ignoring their actions (This Hebrew piece explains how the system works).

In 2008 the Halamish settlers went down to the Ein Al-Kous spring, placed tabernacles and benches there, marked it up with blue stars of David, and “converted” it to Judaism: now they would call it Ma’ayan Meir, for Meir Segal, one of the founders of Neve Tzoof, which was the former name of Halamish (it is always a good idea to make an outpost or spring into a commemorative site; this way it’s that much harder, politically, to return them). The Civil Administration was recruited to reinforce Jewish control by placing a sign prohibiting entry to an “Antiquities Site”. It later was discovered that the sign had been placed unlawfully, without the spot having been officially declared as an archeological site, and without any findings whatsoever found there. In other words, it was a trick to prohibit entry to Arabs. And indeed, a settler-hand soon interpreted the original text and added the following words to the sign: “No entry to Arabs.”

Ein Al-Kous has always-and-forever been part of the heritage of the residents of Nabi Saleh and the nearby Deir Nazzam, and served for watering herds. In January 2010 the residents presented ownership documentation to the Civil Administration and since then – the C.A. is in no hurry – the documents have been under “judicial examination.” Meanwhile, for more than a year, the settlers and the army have been acting as though the issue of ownership has already been decided in their favor. They are right, of course. The legalistic contortions are meant for foreign eyes, not for practical purposes. The Palestinians are again, as ever, “infiltrators” to their own land. And even if we were to assume that the land was “not legally disposed”, how has the spring become prohibited to Palestinians but permitted to Jews?

Now is the time to make the ever-necessary note that is always absent from reports of the “riots” in the Occupied Territories: Halamish itself is a marvel of unlawfulness. First, it was established on occupied territory, in contravention of international law. Second, it was established by force of a military appropriation order and was deceitfully converted into a civilian settlement. Third, large parts of it were constructed without plans or permits, knowing that they would be retroactively authorized by legal channels. In the confrontation between the residents of Halamish and the residents of Nabi Saleh, Israel’s army defends the law-breakers.

Israel’s governments, one after another, have specialized in blatant lies to the public. A particularly effective method was the concealment of the merely-colonial expansionist greed behind military excuses. Thus, for example, the government decision dated 2 October 1977 establishing Neve Tzoof/Halamish was phrased: “the government records the decision of the Ministers’ Committee For Settlement dated 17 Tishrei 5738 (29 September 1977). The settlers will populate Army camps in Samaraia [sic] and be employed in accordance with army requirements as workers in service of the army. The government authorizes the deployment of the first nucleus to settlement in the Samaria Camp, today.”

“Workers in service of the army.” What has changed today? That the army works in their service. What’s the difference? There is no difference.

Here, too, is the reason for the especially tough measures taken by the military against the demonstrators at Nabi Saleh, in contrast with other places in the West Bank. The Nabi Saleh demonstrations threaten not the separation wall but a territory the settlers have occupied for themselves. The army operates as a militia for retention of the lands by Jews; it perceives the protest as being addressed directly to it, as there is no true difference between the interests of the settler and the interests of the soldiers guarding him. There is no doubt that this is aided by the presence of a senior office in the Halamish settlement –  Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Itzik Shadmi, Chair of the Binyamin Settler Committee, a man whose opinions nestle comfortably between ultra-rightwing Rabbi Dov Wolfa and Kahane man Baruch Marzel.

The Israeli army will lose. The settlers will lose. Israel will lose. On the road to that loss they will wound and displace countless Palestinians, but at the end they will lose. And they will lose because they do not understand what they are contending with, despite the fact that it is in plain view, before their very eyes (as you can see in the astonishing movie, below). Sometimes you need a tremendous, superhuman effort to see that there is a human being before you. And then you need another effort, no smaller than the first, to see that what you ask him to relinquish – in contrast to what you must relinquish – is the recognition of his own value as a human being.

And that, he will not relinquish.


Idan Landau is a linguist at the Beer-Sheba university. This post originally appeared in Hebrew on Idan’s blog. It was translated and posted here with the author’s permission.

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    1. Frank Elliot Kahn

      Thank you for your very excellent article about the struggle of the villagers of Nabi Salah!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Leonid Levin

      Thanks for your reporting, Joseph! There will come a time when the Palestinian non-violent protesters and people like yourself, reporting on their struggle, will be celebrated around the world the way Ghandi and Mandela are celebrated today, while we, the Jewish people, will have to struggle with our collective feelings of guilt for generations the way the Germans do up to this day.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Daniel

      Really enjoy your writing. Not only is it informative, it’s fun to read and funny in a sarcastic, dark sort of way. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    4. zoutanebbia

      There is “excess” in Palestine: too much violence, too much injustice, too much humiliation, too much crimes…and me, as you all, I have too much anger, too much faintness and shame to see people transformed into eternal hatches warrior.
      “The custom of the violence corresponds to a situation of disintegretion of politics and in a decline of the power
      the violence cannot have that short-therm ends. that excludes its custom to support big causes”. Anna Arendt

      Reply to Comment
    5. David Kronfeld

      Sad to see that such actions occur, but sadder still to see the one-sidedness of the presentation. Why must only Palestinian actions be seen “in context” (of the occupation), whereas Israel’s actions cannot be seen in their context, the context of a larger struggle in which the Arab world violently refuses to accept a tiny Jewish state on the traditional Jewish homeland? Why can Palestinians claim that this spring has “always-and-forever” been theirs, and refuse any “always-and-forever” claims by the Jewish people to a land they lived on for thousands of years before the Palestinians? Why must we see, as this article asks, the humanity of the Palestinians when the Arabs refuse to see the humanity of the Jews? This article shows a terrible situation, for sure, but it is one that the Arab world has cynically foisted upon both Jew and Palestinian alike, in its refusal to find a real compromise that all can live with and prosper. The author says that “Israel will lose” because it does not understand what it is contending with. But the Arab world has always refused to see the Jewish need for, claim and attachment to, and legitimacy of, its tiny country, and as a result also does not understand (nor want to understand) what it is up against. A sad situation, for sure, but this article is blatantly one-sided and thus presents a false picture by only showing one slice without paying attention to the larger whole. Show a picture and write an article of a Jewish child blown up on a bus, and you can equally demonize the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Abban Aziz

      I’ve seen the protests and I can tell you these Israeli soldiers – most of whom are under the age of 20 – are some of the most patient on the planet.

      Here, homicidal and enraged 15 years throw tons and lob rocks at Israelis on a daily basis. This in the company of hundreds of journalists just waiting for someone to get hurt.

      Israeli soldiers have lost eyes from these stones, civilians have had their skulls fractured.

      And yet so-called Palestinians call this non-violent protesting?

      Internationalists suck up Pallywood propaganda like cocaine, but people who know the facts on the ground are well aware of the stunts Palestinians pull to get the eye of the media. Thankfully the world is catching on and the media will devote more time to people who truly deserve their pitty – such as th Sudanese, Dinkas, Kurds, Iraqis, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Gideon

      They have Fatah flags there… Fatah killed thousands of jews… and they support it…

      Reply to Comment
    8. Dor

      Im sorry, but this is just wrong. I truly hope people are smarter than this and can see how absurd this whole one sided pro palestine site is. i think its a shame.

      Reply to Comment