Nabi Saleh Demonstration - 17/10/14

Nabi Saleh Demonstration – 17/10/14

We wait under the shade of a leafy tree in the centre of the village. The crowd fills as Friday worshippers emerge from the mosque. The first thing I notice is the children. So many children, most under twelve years old. A young girl, who couldn’t be older than 10 ties up her long golden hair with the Palestinian flag. Another swathes a keffiyah round her forehead. They carry a long poster of Al Asqa mosque. Today’s demonstration aims to highlight the recent problems surrounding Palestinian access to Al Asqa mosque.

Nabi Saleh is a village nestled into the hills of central West Bank. It has lost hundreds of dunams of its land to the Halamish settlement which stands opposite Nabi Saleh on the other side of the valley.

Residents of Nabi Saleh have demonstrated against the occupation and the theft of the village lands every Friday for the last 5 years alongside Israeli’s and Internationals. The demonstration places particular emphasis on the loss of the Ein al-Qaws Spring which was taken by settlers in 2009. The spring was a key symbol of the village and provided a water source for the residents. Today IWPS volunteers join in solidarity with the residents of Nabi Saleh resisting the annexation of their village.

I am struck by the vast beauty of this land. We look out over the hills – a never ending range of curves and slopes dotted by olive trees and golden Friday sunlight. I imagine we are meeting under this tree for a great walk exploring this lands treasures. But another glance to the right suggests another reason for the gathering. On the other side of the valley sit a few dozen houses, painted white with red roofs. The olive trees standing in front of the houses are an uncharacteristic green. (Illegal settlements enjoy up to 3 times as much water as local Palestinian populations). This is the Halamish settlement. Built in 1977 and now housing more than 1000 illegal Israeli settlers.

I am struck also by the people’s persistent struggle to resist and reclaim it. These people are not giving up.

About 30 people are assembled when the young girls rise and begin their chant, 1 2 3 4 – occupation no more….I smile, utterly melted by these young women’s confidence and unshatterable determination for justice. I too rise and we all follow these Palestinian women, their little voices stronger than the winds as the crowds catch the chants and shout back in response. We make our way through the village, singing loud, Palestinian flags billowing in the quiet wind. We reach the top of the hill, and begin the careful walk down slowly. The land is steep and the ground covered with thorn bushes and small rocks.

Three occupation soldiers are spotted watching us at the top of the hill to the right of us about 60 yards away. Some people hang back in order to try and prevent the soldiers gaining access to the village. Some of us continue the descent, scrabbling down over the rocks until the outlines of 4 soldiers at the bottom of the hill come into view. Two jeeps are parked beside the infamous spring taken from Nabi Saleh 5 years ago.

The soldiers stand with their legs apart and their rifles raised. We continue down, hoping more people will join. We are soon within shouting range of the soldiers. An Israeli activist bellows out a conversation in Hebrew, a Palestinian villager asks in Hebrew too what they are doing there, and to go home. The soldiers look on unmoved and without response. Soon more army jeeps arrive. And more soldiers. I stand there watching the scene before me – this pristine settlement on the hill – houses painted perfect white topped with a red roof and the greenest olive trees for miles around. Around a dozen soldiers and 4 jeeps at its base. Protecting them from the people they stole this land from. It is an absurd image. And everything that seems complex and unknowable about this ‘conflict’ fades. It is all really as simple as this image in front of me. I don’t need to know anymore. These settlements are being built illegally on Palestinian land. And they are protected by the Israeli army and endorsed by the Israeli government.

We keep watch at the other group of soldiers who are still on top of the hill. After half an hour the first rounds of tear gas are thrown from the top of the hill. We decide to move back up, to stay together as one demonstration. More tear gas is thrown followed by sound bombs and rubber bullets. We regroup and wait to see what happens next from another point on top of the hill.

I turn to see a young Palestinian man return from a football match in his kit and football boots. He strides purposefully towards us, shaking hands with family and friends along the way. He begins to run into the furore below, and as he runs he pulls off his football shirt and ties it round his face as a mask and protection from the tear gas. Such is life for the youngsters around here – snatches of normal life peppered by the absurdities of resisting your occupation.Together we begin another descent led by the youngsters. Another stand off. More tear gas. After another half hour or more of music and dancing, sitting under the shade of a tree overlooking the lands that had been lost to Halamish someone shouts “Khalas” (enough) and we stroll back to the village.

No one seriously hurt this time despite the use of tear gas at close range aimed directly at demonstrators and the use of rubber bullets.

The struggle continues in Nabi Saleh.

For more, see: B’tselem (Israeli human rights organisation) legal information on illegal settlements.