Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Nabi Saleh Children

UPDATE: A more politer version of this article is found over at Electronic Intifada.

[Freedom in Colors. I sent the link to my dad, adding "I know I'm pushing my luck here but can I please go?" The reply was unexpected and sweetly succint: "Yes, you may go, but please take your sister with you." I was ecstatic. All the doom and gloom from the past week disappeared in a puff of smoke. I was going to Nabi Saleh again. I was going to see the other activists. I was going to hug and squeeze and smother my little Spiderman with kisses again.]

Jana, Dana, Rand, 'Ahd. Salam, Areej, Mahmoud, Ahmad. Ranin, Hamada, Osama, Shatha. And of course, Samer aka Spiderman, and Hisham aka Batman.

Ask each child about what happens every Friday and you'll be left reeling at their solemn impassivity. They sound mechanical, a bit put off at having to repeat what they no doubt have already done to other activists. Some look at you, others fiddle with the bracelet you're wearing.

Spiderman doing what he does best
Lara, called by her pet name Lulu. She's two and a half years old, has chubby cheeks (plenty of room to draw on!), and her hair is twirled into pigtails. She doesn't talk and stares either at the ground or past your shoulder. Last year her mother threw her out of the window from the second floor of the house. The IOF were firing tear gas inside the house and everyone inside was suffocating. Lulu, along with the others who managed to escape outside, had to flatten themselves on the ground as the tear gas whistled and exploded over their heads. The incident certainly has its traumatic and psychological scars; for a while Lulu hated her mother, thinking that she threw her out of the window on purpose.

Jana spent a few months in the US, so she understands and speaks some English. Ask her where she lived in America, and she'll reply, "West Palm-en Beach." Ask her what goes on every Friday and she'll reply, "We go out to the maseera [protest]." Ask her to elaborate a bit more, and she'll comply. "The soldiers fire tear gas and live ammunition, and the shabab throw rocks. I'm not scared of the soldiers." I wonder, is it not criminal for "live ammunition" to be part of a five year old's vocabulary?

Samer, my special little Spiderman, climbs on your knees, makes himself comfortable and starts talking. He can't pronounce the 'r' sound and substitutes it for 'y'. "The army comes every Friday. When they leave I throw rocks on their jeeps. I'm not scared of them then."

'Ahd on the left, Areej on the right. Both taunting the soldier. "Shoot me! You're scared, look at you hiding behind your gun! Inta majnoon!" And just to make it more clear, they said it in English: You are CRAAAZY!

Izz is eleven years old but acts like he's forty. He dodges my hand. "What do you want to draw on my face for-do I look like a baby?" He puts his hand on his chest before tapping his head once, in the old man gesture of thanks-but-no-thanks. I watch his skinny figure walk away, his shoulders squared, his voice deepening whenever he raises it.

Salam is the youngest child of Basem and Nariman Tamimi. He's a natural Beiber, straight naturally highlighted hair almost covering his eyes. He was initially very reluctant to share in the fun, latching himself onto his mother like a barnacle, burying his face in her leg. Later I saw him running, holding onto a string of balloons, with a sun and a moon painted on each cheek.

Ranin is ten years old. She doesn't take part in the protests themselves but watches them from her rooftop. "When the soldiers get angry, they start shooting tear gas inside the houses. We're worried about my sister Ro'a, she's only nine months old." I asked her about whether she thinks the protests actually mean anything. "Even if you all didn't come, the army will still be here. Today at least, you made us have fun."

This Friday in Nabi Saleh was planned as a day of color and fun. Balloons, clowns, face-painting, kite-flying, the works. It was dubbed as "freedom in colors." It was a day centered on the children, for them to live one day as normal carefree kids, a day to temporarily make them forget about their reality that consists of soldiers, jeeps, and tear gas. The idea was for the children to take their kites, made from plastic bags and newspapers, and fly them at the spot where the Israel jeeps park, before the children then advance over to the neighboring hill. Because the soldiers won't fire at children, right?

We painted faces, mostly flowers and hearts and the flag of Palestine. I took out my artistic prowess on one face as I drew tiger stripes with aplomb. Nearby Manal Tamimi was getting interviewed about her predictions for today: "No, I don't think the army will be better to us this time, or any less dangerous." The hours leading up to noon prayers were filled with kids playing with hula hoops, little girls comparing their body art, the older boys engaged in a game of football. Prayers weren't even over yet when the IOF pulled in with their jeeps and got out to line up in front of the smattering of children who were at the end of the street at the time.

There's a distinct acridness in the air. The villagers are immune to it, but i could feel it tingling on my upper lip and just inside my nostrils, making me sneeze some fifty times.

One of the kids planted a Palestine flag on the jeep. Woot woot!
This time, the border police, more sadistic than the army, were the ones who faced us menacingly. More children came down, a couple holding their kites. Last week, the IOF gave us at least ten minutes of chanting before unleashing the tear gas. This week, without the presence of diplomatic consuls, their true colors didn't hesitate to come out. The older people barely had time to congregate when the sound bombs began. I was inside Manal and Bilal Tamimi's house, and the women were hurriedly closing all the windows because by then the tear gas had already filled the air. Chancing a look outside, I saw two border police violently pushing and shoving Maath Musleh, the guy behind the Nabi Saleh online live streaming, who was decked out in his usual Press vest.

Things calmed down briefly, and everyone went outside. Hamada, Spiderman's older brother, had a kite in his hand but seemed unwilling to go out. Hamada was once hit by a tear gas canister in his side which caused internal bleeding and damage in his liver and kidney. The injury was quite serious, and his family had feared the worst. Thankfully, he is all healed now. I picked up the tail of the kite and we stepped outside together, his mother encouraging him all the way. There was barely any wind. I had to throw the kite up in the air and Hamada would have to shorten and tug at the string while simultaneously running backwards. He couldn't run more than five steps because the border police, with the army behind them, were standing right there. After a few more tries we finally succeeded in keeping the kite aloft for a few seconds.

We then chanted as usual, singing Fairuz's song about kites, and sat down on the burning asphalt. The commander went to his jeep and the loudspeaker on top crackled in urban Arabic, "This is a closed military zone. You have five minutes to disperse or we start shooting." This was met with jeers and cat calls. A chant then started up, "Show us the papers! Show us the papers!" referring to the nonexistent legal document that specifically states whether Nabi Saleh is in fact a closed military zone or not.

There's a difference between the army and the border police. Essentially they're part of the same wrapper, but while the army soldiers look passive and impervious to our actions and slogans, the border police positively drip with malevolence and hostility. Their eyes don't stare blankly ahead, they rove from one face to another, and whisper to each other little first-world jokes and sneer as our chants become more vociferous.

One minute passed. Their stances shifted, grew more aggressive, so we stood up. "This is a closed military zone. This protest is illegal!" the loudspeaker blared out again. How-and I'm struggling with words here-ironic? Paradoxical? Ridiculous? And so much more. Today was supposed to be all about the children. For them to live one Friday not plagued by tear gas or the frightening explosions of the sound bombs or being confined to their houses. The children were to parade their faces and fly their kites. But the IOF can't differentiate between children and armed threatening forces.

"You have five minutes."

I kept my eyes on the tear gas canister in one of their hands. But I didn't see it getting thrown, and I was suddenly engulfed in white smoke, with the flurry of people moving all around me. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them again-big mistake. They immediately began to burn, really burn, and once again I stumbled blindly into one house, down the stairs, eyes glued together and streaming, trying to inhale deeply, a permanent saw against the back of my throat. You think you don't panic when the tear gas hits you because you don't throw your arms up in the air shrieking with fear and pain, but in all honestly I was thinking about not losing my cool too much to actually pay attention to what's happening around me. Later I was told the canister was right between my feet, and guys were yelling at me to move to the side. Downstairs I paced back and forth, counting down the minutes until everything in my body went back to normal, my heart thudding dully. I was trying to figure out what happened, well that was a no-brainer really but did they just fire tear gas into a crowd filled with children? Where does Shakira's laudable work for children fit in here? Oh that's right, it doesn't.

The tear gas got so bad we had to stay in the houses. The children were kept preoccupied with cartoons but after a couple of hours they grew restless. I went upstairs with Manal to help make tea for over twenty people ("Please use plastic cups," I implored her) and the kids followed shortly after, opening the veranda doors inside the kitchen and going outside.

Kids Vs Army

Jana, Rand and Salam making their voices heard at the Israeli jeeps below

The Nabi Saleh children began singing nationalist songs. The oldest couldn't have been more than twelve years old. A bunch of them went around the back of the house and stood in front of the armored jeeps, peace signs at the ready. Spiderman followed them. Without warning, the fucking IOF shot tear gas at them from a close range. The wiser ones skipped away and ran back to the house, poor little Spiderman stayed where he was and got the full blast. He was obviously terrified and in pain. Later, back in his mother Manal's arms, he had finally stopped crying. Manal asked him how the gas had affected him. He answered, "3adi, zay kul muya [murra]." The same, like always.

That's some profoundness for you.

Some soldiers don't want to be in a village firing at civilians using disproportionate force. They are just there to do their "duty". The border police want to be there, they don't exactly garner up sympathy in court cases once they get exposed for beating up an unarmed Palestinian. We went back outside and asked one of the soldiers, why do you shoot at children? The answer we got was mind-blowing and drenched in sadism: "Because I want to." That statement illustrated itself as once again the tear gas started. One canister hit ten year old Areej square in the back. She fell like a sack of bricks.

Every child has a right to a childhood. The Nabi Saleh children are denied this right. Jana and Rand were watching Cartoon Network when the sound bombs went off yet again. Jana barely raised her head, tiredly saying "Khalas. Stop it." After a few minutes Rand got bored and opened the door. She came back to where Jana was curled up on the couch, tapped her shoulder and said, "Yallah, let's go see the army again." It's cute, it's bitterly funny, it's heart-breaking to see them act this way, as if that's completely normal. I wonder how these kids will turn out to be. I wonder if they ever think of Israeli children whether they are innocent, and if later the bitterness and jealousy over these Israeli children living in such relative comfortableness and security will begin to manifest destructively.

Our own heroes, Spiderman and Batman.

Dear Obama, fuck you.


  1. I remembered a song "يا بلادي يا عيني" performed by Toyoor Aljannah when I read your last article. The girl in the song says: يا لا لا والله لاروح معاهم يا عمي وبزعل ولا برضاهم ويلي ويلي يمه. So, I thought you will make it this week to Nabi Saleh.
    I really believe that you can make a difference. Please write some articles in Arabic if you have time.

  2. Thank you Linah, keep writing and keep giving Nabi Saleh a voice.

  3. This is great writing Linah. It's not sentimental but evokes such strong emotion. I hope to meet you when you come to Doha again. Maybe I'll ask my husband if I can join you in protest sometime soon ...
    With love.
    Strength and Solidarity
    Ayesha Jacub

  4. So proud of you and Deema!
    Keep writing

  5. frank tamimi kahnJune 25, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    Another incredible piece of writing Linah. I am so proud and honored to know you and your sister. I hope your Babba will let you come back soon again. Respect & Solidarity, Fyank aka Frank.

  6. Great writings Linah.. I read all of your articles about your experience in Nabi Saleh .. I felt like you are talking about me and about my problem with my family .. I went their once and didn't tell my parents till now !!! my heart is still there in Nabi Saleh, every Friday I wish I could go with them .. may we meet there some day :)

  7. I just watched a video of the day on youtube. Wee Spiderman and his pals obviously know the taste and smell of tear gas and skunk water. A crime amongst many. I wish people enjoying their settlement-made, sodastream, ahava face packs, etc. could see who really pays the price.
    The bravery of yourself and the others who take a Friday walk to Nabi Saleh's spring is incredible Linah. Thank for your blog and good luck.

  8. Well said Lina. I hope to see you again at Nabi Saleh, perhaps it will be a different kind of visit, not monitored by the Israeli border police and with less risk of being suffocated by tear gas. Ya'teeki il'afieh. Mariam

  9. Thank u dear Lina for such an artical which give us the sprite to go on because we know that their r amazing people who support and standing with us but i want to correct what u said about hamdah that he was enjered with a ruppor polite ... he was ijered with a tear gas canester on his side wich couse internal bleeding and a dameged in lever and kidny but thank God now ie is ok and he began to participat agoin in the demos

  10. Thank you all for your comments! Believe me when I say that I do not feel one percent as brave as the children.

    Manal-thanks, it's been corrected now.

  11. Dear Linah,

    I am a Master’s student at Nottingham Trent University who is in the process of seeking ethical approval for my thesis. My thesis consists of empirical research and I would like to analyse female blogger accounts of participation in peaceful/nonviolent protests/demonstrations against Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

    In particular, I am interested in analysing some posts published on your blog, such as the post above. If you might be interested in giving me permission to analyse some of your blog posts, please could you contact me via email ( or Twitter (@r_greenhill), so that I can give you some more information.

    Best wishes,


  12. Linah, why do you pretend to be a Palestinian? You are from the UK. Poseurs like you are the biggest problem Nabi Saleh has. You who goes to protests in a village named after a Jew, a Jew whose grave is in the village and not just any Jew but a son of Yehudah Ben Ya'akov, the quinessential Jew. Do you know what a hypocrite you are? You who spat on the IDF over the dead DFLP terrorist Mustafa al Tamimi? What a joke. Hopefully, in the years since you posted this you would have actually grown sone integrity but of course your current games are not much different. You who curse Israel, the nation that allows a foreign hypocrite like you to get her personal Che Guevera fantasylife at its expence. You only make Israel look great.