On Saturday, we took our dream of a World Peace Day in Palestine from the sky to the ground and saw months of our hard work come to life in the Palestinian village, Nabi Saleh. It wasn’t easy, but in the end – we made it.
Even though the Israeli army attempted to break down the event by putting dozens of checkpoints on the roads to Nabi Saleh, closing all of Ramallah, every entry into the village, several Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters (who were told by Israeli soldiers that they were not allowed to enter the village) trekked through the mountains on foot to get to the Peace Day. One group, students from Birzeit University, were met by Israeli soldiers as they neared the village and detained in the school for most of the day (see photos here).
However, the villagers and Israeli and international activists didn’t let the army’s presence distract them from the Peace Day events and continued as planned to clean the streets of trash, gather under the Peace Tent we erected and demonstrate non-violently against the occupation and for their freedom.
In the opening ceremony, Bassam Tamimi, one of the local leaders from Nabi Saleh, read a call from a woman in the village who has lost half of her family to the Israeli occupation and whose son has been in prison for the past seventeen years. She called for the Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit to be released. Several other leaders, including Ali Abu Awwad, a leader of the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement, gave speeches in the Peace Tent.
After the opening ceremony in the Peace Tent, we went to Nabi Saleh’s cultural center to view the exhibition of photographs from the past ten months of demonstrations in the village. Then we marched to the school where the students were being held and non-violently broke the army blockade by linking arms and slowly but surely marching forward. In response, the army released the students and started arresting Israeli activists. In solidarity several internationals and Palestinians piled on top of the Israeli activists protecting them from the army, even though the army threatened to arrest everyone present. In the end, five people were arrested and taken to the army’s base in Halamish, the nearby settlement, and held until ten o’clock at night.
Continuing on, we marched through the village to the junction where every Friday demonstrators are confronted with the Israeli army as they try to reach the spring. We faced several jeeps and armed soldiers, and holding the sign which we planned to erect at the spring, staged a sit-in and song songs of peace and freedom. After thirty minutes, we turned our backs on the army and returned to the Peace Tent where we resisted with pleasure and enjoyed an evening of inspirational music and Debka, traditional Palestinian dance, together.
Even though we attempted to get financial support prior to the event, we only received a small amount of money from a Palestinian organization and Israeli activists, who paid for their own transportation. However, this event cost much more and in order to make it happen, we took out a loan – “I have become a slave for my own dream,” Ali Abu Awwad said. If you are willing to support this day and make a donation, please contact us.
Currently, we are busy preparing for a trip to the United States and the UK in order to gain international support for the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement (October – November). If you are willing to organize an event in the United States or the UK, please contact us. We would be happy to come share our stories, strategy and vision for the future of Palestine and invite you to become part of our movement.
Lastly, at the bottom of this post is an incredibly sensitive and inspirational account from one of the Israeli activists who came to support us. We truly are so honored to have Israeli and international support in this struggle and know that we need your support to end the occupation and make our way to freedom.
Personal Account of World Peace Day in An-Nabi Salih
by David Shulman
Something new is happening in Palestine. I saw and heard things today that are relatively rare in my experience. I saw conflict erupt in the village between those who wanted to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers and generate more violence, as in the past, and the no less passionate people who intervened fiercely to prevent this from happening. I heard tough words of peace and hope. I saw the most dignified and brave demonstration I’ve ever seen. I also saw the army react with its usual foolishness,
which I’ll describe, and I saw the soldiers hold back when they could easily have started shooting. It wasn’t an easy day by any means, but it was good.
An-Nabi Salih is a hard place. When Ezra heard me say yesterday, in Sheikh Jarrah, that I was going to the village, he said, “Take a helmet. They’re violent there–all of them” (he meant: settlers, soldiers, and villagers). Yesterday, at the usual Friday demonstration in the village, the soldiers fired rounds of live ammunition along with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas and stun grenades. I was expecting more of the same today.
The village, north and west of Ramallah, has the great misfortune of having the hard-core settlement of Halamish as its unwanted neighbor. An-Nabi Salih lost its lands to the settlement along with access to a fresh-water spring, a precious thing in this arid, sun-scorched landscape; the settlers stole the spring, but the villagers were not prepared to surrender it, so there have been many violent clashes, spread over years. The settlers do whatever they can to make the villagers’ life miserable, with much success, and the soldiers, as always, back them up. All this is standard practice.
Today in honor of World Peace Day, Ali Abu Awwad one of the leaders of the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance, and local leaders from Nabi Saleh planned a “Day of Social Action and Resistance to the Occupation” in Nabi Saleh. Hundreds of Palestinian activists were supposed to arrive from all over the West Bank—but the army turned all the buses away and closed all the roads connecting the village to the rest of the West Bank. We run into the same roadblocks at the main turn-off from Highway 60. The soldiers laugh at us when we tell them we’re going to Nabi Salih. No chance, they say, of getting through. But this is the West Bank, and there is always a way, maybe not an easy way, but some back road or goat track or dirt path that will get you where you’re going; so we wind our way for close to two hours, through Jiljiliya and other quite lovely villages close to Ramallah until we fetch up at Qarawat Bani Zeid, close to our goal. But there is, we know from Ali and Alison, an American-Israeli writer, another army roadblock at the entrance to the village. The Tel Aviv contingent tried to get past them by running a few hundred yards over the hills, and several of the activists were caught and arrested. Do we want to attempt the same tactic?
At least some of us may get through, but we hesitate: is it worth the hassle of the arrests and the violence? On the other hand, having come so far, how can we simply turn back? Seven of us are prepared to run the gauntlet. Finally, at high noon, Ali leads us down into the rocky terraces and olive groves underneath An-Nabi Salih. Leaping over the rocky ledges, we descend to a level that is hopefully beyond the soldiers’ range of vision, and for twenty minutes or so we creep stealthily from tree to tree and rock to rock, in near-total silence, playing hide-and-seek, outflanking them, crouching, holding our breath, hoping to emerge far enough past the roadblock to elude capture. It’s very hot, and I’m thirsty and, by the end, physically depleted; it’s been 33 years, I calculate, since I last engaged in such games, in my Basic Training in the army. So absorbed am I in the trek that I hardly take in the splendor of the hills rolling dizzily toward the horizon, but at one point I do see, just above my head, an olive branch laden with green fruit almost exploding with ripeness. Soon autumn will come, and the olive harvest; on the way in the minibus, bouncing over the back roads, there was even a sweet moment of rain, with the sharp smell, unlike all others, of wet dust settling to the ground.
There are eleven of us: seven Ta’ayush volunteers, two Palestinian women in modern dress, heads covered, from Beit Ummar, Alison and Ali himself, tall, graceful, careful, prescient. At one point we almost make a bad mistake, start climbing up too soon, too close to the soldiers; but Ali catches this in time and leads us back down through the trees and brambles. When we do move up to the road, we find ourselves very much inside the village, welcomed warmly by two elderly gentlemen, who come to shake my hand, and then by a contingent of teenagers. The first thing I see is a huge sign, in Arabic and English: “The children of this land deserve our struggle and sacrifices for peace.” Fifteen yards down the main street, another one: “We believe in non-violence, do you? We are making social change, are you?” A few yards further along: “La salam ma’a wujud al-ihtilal, Making peace means ending the occupation.” Biggest of all, draped over the entrance to the town meeting place: “Keeping our political prisoners behind the bars of tyranny and injustice is inexcusable on International Peace Day.”
Do I believe in non-violent struggle? Yes, with all my heart. And I see that I’m not alone—indeed, far from it. We sit at first, re-hydrating, under the enormous tree in the village square, just like in India. Our hosts serve us Turkish coffee and mineral water. We make some friends. One of the village elders says to me with irony (remember yesterday’s live ammunition): “Welcome to Eden.” Actually, though, he
just might be right. The heat intensifies. Eventually, inevitably, it is time for the speeches. Popular Arabic music is blaring at deafening volume from the loudspeakers as we take our seats under a wide canvas. It goes on and on, until, mercifully, a young poet takes the microphone and recites a poem. A passage from the Qur’an is sung. The poet introduces the speakers one by one. I’m weary and, at first, a bit bored.
Normally, I have no patience with political speeches in the villages (how many hours of rhetorical Arabic have I sat through?), but today’s surprise me, shake me awake: “We are against violence, we condemn it, we want to be free, the occupation with its hatred is destroying hope but we persevere for the sake of our children, we will win.” More poems, dramatically sung or recited, punctuate these orations. Now Ali rises to speak—in English, so that all the Israelis and the foreign volunteers can understand: “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back. Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we all share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first large-scale Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed at building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart cries with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy.
The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. The Israeli state is a state that eats its children by sending them with weapons to kill and be killed. When you hurt us to the point where we lose our fear of dying, all of us together lose our love of living. They closed off An-Nabi Salih today to keep us out; they know how to put up checkpoints, but they do not know how to fight the feeling of freedom we hold in our hearts. We say to you today, on the Day of Peace: Peace itself is the way to peace, and there is no peace without freedom. I am proud to be in An-Nabi Salih, and I promise you: we’re gonna make it.”
As if on cue, soldiers roll into the village in their jeeps; they do what soldiers do, that is, they threaten, they bully, they make arrests, they take their hostages to an olive grove on the other side of the houses, facing Halamish. Our hosts ask us if we would be prepared to take water to the new arrestees (they don’t want to approach the soldiers themselves), so of course we set off through the village streets and down the hill until we find them. Some ten to fifteen soldiers, weighed down by what looks like tons of equipment, green camouflage netting on their helmets and rifles in their arms, are guarding a group of twenty-some students from Bireit university who came to join today’s festivities. We bring water, we chat with the captives, and suddenly it transpires that we’ve been added to their number; the soldiers won’t allow us back into the village. They don’t want outsiders in there, they’re glad they’ve thinned the ranks. (The presence of foreigners, especially Israelis, makes it harder for them to shoot.) After a few minutes we tire of this and strike out uphill, dodging the soldiers, who are clumsy, weighed down by their guns and all the rest, as they join hands to create a wall and hold us back, and skirmishes develop, and then the first stun grenade, and it ends with four activists, including Sahar and Lihi, caught, handcuffed and forced to the ground. I am too quick for them, as often, and escape their clutches by following Jonathan farther into the trees.
By the time I regain the village, the main procession—the ritual dénouement of the day– is already forming. Originally the idea was to reach the stolen spring, but the soldiers, waiting for us in force at the turn in the road, put an end to this dream. Tear-gas canisters and cartridges of rubber-coated bullets are loaded on to the rifles pointed at the crowd of women, children, men, young and old, many carrying in their arms green olive tree saplings to plant around the spring. We apply non-violent resistance by sitting on the pavement with the soldiers almost close enough to touch, they’re aiming at us, and I’m a little afraid they might open fire like yesterday, and even more afraid that one of the kids will throw a rock and all hell will break loose, but not one person throws a stone and there’s suddenly no end to the happiness that is washing over me in this crazy late-afternoon moment that I am lucky enough to witness as the light softens to a golden glow and a blessed wind gusts through the trees. People are singing: freedom songs. They swell to a sweet and strident chorus. Thirty minutes later, we turn our back on the army and go back to the Peace Tent to listen to music and see a performance of Debka, traditional Palestinian dance.
If the Israeli army had a brain, which it apparently doesn’t; if the government of Israel had even an iota of generosity of spirit, which it doesn’t; if the people of Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world could open their ears and hear the voices I heard today, in Arabic and English, but they can’t; if the world weren’t all upside down and crooked and cruel, but it is—if all these ifs could only stop being ifs, then they, whoever gave the orders, wouldn’t have tried to stop us from coming to An-Nabi Salih today, in fact they would have welcomed the arrival of this new generation
of proud peace activists from Hebron and Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance wouldn’t be pushing the heavy rock uphill, day after day. I guess it’s in the nature of such movements to struggle with the rock. Human hearts are heavy as stone.
Something new is happening in Palestine.