November 2, 2013 by cosmoakacitizensmith
The village of Ni’lin is shrinking. I’m currently speeding towards it with fellow ISM volunteers Jules and Jean to find out why. We have been joined by Ingrid from Swansea, Sam from the Czech Republic and a French photographer Thomas, who is without doubt the most chilled person I have ever met.
After a journey through the beautiful, rocky mountains we are met by Saeed. He is friendly and business-like, and speaks excellent English. He sits us down in his garden and makes us all sage tea.
“Nl’lin used to be 5800 hectares: now it is 800,” he explains. “Our population used to be 12,500 now it is just 5,500. Most of the land was stolen from us and what remains is in Area C.” That is to say, it is under direct Israeli military occupation. (Area A is under control of the PA or Palestinian Authority, and Area B under both the PA and the Israeli Army). But what exactly does living in Area C mean in practice?
“Yesterday,” Saeed continues, ”Israeli army jeeps came into the village and started smashing up store fronts.” Weirdly enough that was right where I bought a drink earlier. “They went into the shops and started to install army CCTV in them. Of course, the villagers were having none of it and confronted the troops. At which point more army jeeps entered and formed a circle in the middle of the village, firing teargas for two solid hours. The whole village was full of teargas. One pregnant women was hospitalised”.
The attack comes on the heels of years of what appears to be a brutal strategy on the part of the army to wear down the villagers’ resistance. Ni’lin lies just on the border of Israel and Palestine that was agreed in the armistice of 1949. However, after the construction of the Annexation Wall in 2003, land previously belonging to the village was taken. There is an Israeli settlement on land formally part of Ni’lin housing 43,000 people. It is illegal under international law.
The villagers protested non-violently against the construction of the wall and set up popular committees. They were met with bullets, curfews and night raids. Many of those snatched or killed during the raids were children. Some as young as nine were imprisoned. Under Israeli law, Palestinians are considered adults aged 12. Special conditions were used against all those arrested: they were detained without trial and a number were charged with other “crimes” as soon as their cases had been through court. All of this is illegal under international law. With the Annexation Wall complete, the once-thriving olive industry in Ni’lin is destroyed, with the trees now on the other side.
“We have Friday prayers in the fields in front of the wall as a protest,” continued Saeed. “You are welcome to join us.”
We headed off to the fields. An imam wearing shades and a baseball cap reversed on his head was leading the prayers with a megaphone. The entire all-male congregation was seated under trees in the dusty heat. At the imam’s beckoning, they all got into a line and knelt down. His voice echoed eerily over the arid countryside.
When they got up, they formed a group with Palestinian flags flying and walked chanting along the dust track though the fields towards the Wall. We internationals followed them slowly. The 8-metre high wall loomed in front of us, all grey with a black section at the front. The crowd surged forward chanting and the army started firing tear gas. Some of it landed in front of where we were.
“Jean, are you ok?”
“I’m ok, ” she said, and we both ran back. Suddenly the canisters were soaring down above our heads. They screamed and landed at our feet. Jean and I continued to run. Jules, Ingrid and the chilled French photographer ran forward. We all got out of range of the tear gas but we’d been split up.
Some of the children came up and spoke to us. “Are you ok? Do you have something to smell?” They were referring to the fact that smelling something strong helps mitigate the effect of the gas. These kids were clued up, that was for sure.
They started running away and we followed behind. Behind us we heard more tear gas getting fired, and the quieter rat-atat-tatting of steel-coated rubber bullets aimed at the demonstrators near the front. Make no mistake, it’s live ammo in all but name. We were well out of range, but I was worried about those in front.
A tense standoff ensued, with protesters running the gauntlet of the bullets and tear gas by the wall, and the rest of us watching at the top of the track. One Palestinian was shouting into a loudhailer as tear gas came at him. I wasn’t sure if he was shouting instructions or chanting. The canisters always missed him, falling a few feet in front of where he was standing.
After a couple of hours, the protest came to an end and we all headed back to the village. Jules and Ingrid had stinging noses due to the gas, but there were no serious injuries.
I can’t believe what I have witnessed today. I can’t believe that unarmed protesters were fired on. “Our resistance is more effective unarmed, “Saeed explained. “It shames the Israeli army but the world is ignorant of what is going on here in Ni’lin”.
What is happening here is an international scandal and this wasn’t even the worst of it. “That was quiet demo,” the French photographer said afterwards.
Today was a good day, it seems.
To find out more about Ni’lin, visit this website: http://www.nilin-village.org/