Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mainstream Nabi Saleh

What happens when a popular protest becomes the next big crowd-pleasing thing to do?

This morning after a communal breakfast in Nabi Saleh, a friend and solid protester asked me if I saw any changes in the weekly demonstrations. I was enveloped in grogginess from the suffocating heat and the couple hours of sleep I had, so I waited for her to continue speaking.

Her mouth settled in a tiny pout and her eyebrows narrowed. "I hope to God Nabi Saleh doesn't become like Bil'in, that would be a disaster."

My brain cells were activated. Her blond Dutch self was full of annoyance and a little bit of anger. She pointed toward the other people in the room with her chin-a Palestinian trait picked up no doubt-and hissed, "There are too many foreigners here!"

I looked around. It was true, and the next sentence spelled out my niggling thoughts exactly.

"That's great, whatever, but in order for a popular protest and a third intifada to be sustainable, Palestinians themselves must be involved actively, not the ajanib!"

Mairav Zonszein wrote an important article adequately titled, "Where are the Palestinians?" It touched upon the fact that the Palestinian narrative was being distorted or swallowed up by the media in terms of the foreigners' experiences thus silencing the thoughts and opinions of the Palestinians, which leads to headlines only when a foreigner is affected or attacked by Israel's racist policies. I have never been one to dismiss the presence of foreigners. They are important in relaying their experiences and the reality of what Palestinians go through back in their own countries. In the taxi ride to Nabi Saleh a couple weeks ago, one Palestinian asked a French photographer how long she's been in Palestine. When the photographer replied "Eight years" the Palestinian smiled and said, "Oh so you are Palestinian!"

I was forced to come to terms with little things I had observed but consciously ignored or dismissed as small time semblances. I don't hang around foreign activists a lot (not because of anything or an invisible segregation line), we may make wry small talk here and there like, "Bloody fascists, awful temper tantrums they have" but with new faces that come only for one week, it's hard not to think of their motives. Some arrive at Nabi Saleh because they've heard so much about the weekly protests from their friends, others are simply curious to see how this "new" resistance looks like in the face of an army, and still others want to come to later boast to their family and friends about what a glorious activist they make, complete with stories filled with half-truths and over-stretched imaginative wonders.

Those who only make one appearance in Nabi Saleh don't automatically fall in the third group. They might be concerned about their safety, they might think that they can do more to help without taking part in the protests, they might have a little black dot next to their names courtesy of the Israeli Occupation Forces, they might care about being deported, they might not like the experience at all, they might be on a limited schedule, etc.

My friend steam-rolled on.

"There are a lot of foreigners who used to go to Bil'in who act like they're at a party or a photo shoot. Last time I was there, I actually heard one telling his friends to take a picture of him not just yet, but when the tear gas gets fired. It's sickening."

I looked around. "How many here do you think will make it past ten minutes in the protest?" I asked quietly.

She rolled her eyes. "I don't understand why they come at all if they want to barricade themselves inside the houses for eight hours. Like, what the hell do they do to pass the time?"

"Do you think Nabi Saleh is becoming like Bil'in in this sense?"

"Yeah, it's starting to go down that path."

We both mulled this over. I thought of the extra-excited one day activists who make their presence known with their loud talking and southern belle cries of exuberance over any trivial thing, and then as soon as the first tear gas canister hits the ground they go scurrying off to the nearest abode and remain there until the IOF leave. There's a danger that the Nabi Saleh protests will become just that, a hollow act without any context at all.

People who come to Nabi Saleh should know the reason why these protests occur at all. It didn't just start with the settlers taking over the village's main water supply of Al-Kaws Spring a year and a half ago, but way before that, back in 1977 when the settlement Halamish itself was built on the village's expropriated land. It's not like Bil'in or Nil'in in that the apartheid Wall isn't their main target, it's the whole Israeli occupation that manifests itself in the most harshest ways possible on such a tiny village. Child arrests? Been there done that. Curfew hours? A staple. Terrorism? Yawn. Soldiers barge in houses full of children and families, point their Uzi sub-machine guns, and take whoever they want forcefully and illegally. Extensions of houses are under threat of demolitions, furniture destroyed by the skunk sprayed in the rooms, windows broken and subsequent suffocation caused by tear gas thrown at the houses, fathers are detained based on coerced confessions from tortured teenagers, etc.

My friend looked at me with pained eyes. "I couldn't stand the celebrations in Bil'in when Israel finally decided to move a part of the wall from their land-"

"Especially when in the same week an extension of the Wall was being planned on the land of the Walaja village," I murmured.

"-as if the whole protest was solely based on having part of the Wall on their land, and not the dismantling of the whole thing, or the fact that occupation is still on-going-"

"Alive and kicking."

"A lot of the people from Bil'in itself have stopped demonstrating and yes there are foreigners who care and then there are others who go to Bil'in because it's the cool thing to do."

"Nabi Saleh..."

"It's going down that path, I'm telling you."

We looked at each other bleakly.

I don't see myself as an activist. When my Palestinian friends from the US tell me how proud they are of my 'activism' I get a little hot and bothered. It shouldn't be "activism" to stand in solidarity with your own oppressed people. It's a duty, it's an obligation. I initially went to Nabi Saleh because I couldn't stand how the city of Ramallah had become. All those restaurants and pubs and OHMYGOD WE'VE GOT THE MOVENPICK HOTEL all seem to me like they were opened/built because of a severe western inferiority complex. It's just another perpetuation of the illusion that everything here in the Occupied Territories is all fine and dandy because as long as people get to enjoy the night life, that deters them from the real issue at hand which is that the occupation is still 'alive and kicking'. It fosters up attitudes like, "Fuck Israel, I want to enjoy my life" and "Oh so we have to be miserable just because we are occupied?"

Those people don't realize that their priorities are seriously mangled. It goes without saying that working progressively in order to be liberated from colonization and apartheid rule is imperative in order to secure a better and brighter future, but Ramallah needs a bit of reminding. It's simply disgusting the way people act, living the 'good life' and content on passing through checkpoints and being treated as sub-human beings.

But I've digressed. The March 15 youth movement have been crucial in recruiting other Palestinians from around the West Bank to Nabi Saleh, but as was apparent yesterday it just wasn't enough. We pondered this over.

"They're very nice people-"
"Yes they are" I heartily agreed.
"-But..their organization.."
"They lack a clear line of strategic planning-"
"Yes, they need to.."
"Mobilize the masses. It wouldn't be a youth movement if it didn't do that. They've organized a lot of seminars, lectures, conferences which is simply great because a third intifada definitely needs education and awareness and not rash behavior, but at the same time-" I stopped.

I realized "It wouldn't be a youth movement if it didn't do that" sounded extreme. Of course it's a youth movement, and they have been active on a lot of fronts. They mirror the BNC (Boycott Natonal Committee) in the sense that they are there, ready and available, but encourage others to start initiatives which they'll contribute to with their support and backing.

Before the actual protest started yesterday, the soldiers fired tear gas canisters to where we were coming down the dirt road after we had sat in the tent erected for foreigners who slept over on Thursday night. I looked behind me and saw a few Italians absolutely sprinting back up to Nariman and Bassem Tamimi's house, where they stayed until after 8pm. One of the village girls bounded up to me with a wide grin, yelling out "I thought I saw your sister, I'm glad you're here!" as a way of greeting. She stood next to me, watching the Italians run.
"Why are they dressed like that?" she scoffed. "Sandals are really appropriate. Their legs would have been scratched up and bleeding in those short leggings had they actually climbed a hill before."

I went home later that night as usual with my thoughts swirling. I thought of my Dutch friend's agony and how she yelled at the soldiers for arresting (later released) Wisam Tamimi from the village's only supermarket, how she turned to me and said, "I hate myself for not holding on to him [Wisam] more strongly. They just barged in and took him!"
I thought of my sister's friends who came for the first time to Nabi Saleh, fawning over everything, taking a lot of pictures and videos and asking, "What are your thoughts on this? What are your thoughts on that?" to a sixteen year old boy from the village who had his ego positively inflated.
I thought of the medics surreptitiously passing on their IDs to me to hide in my bag, before one of them got arrested.
I thought of Nariman instructing her 10 year old daughter not to run away but to hold her camera and stand her ground in the face of intimidation acts by the IOF.
I thought of Abu Hussam leaning against a wall conversing in Hebrew with one of the soldiers, trying to educate the soldier and point him in the direction of humanity in between sarcastic remarks like "It's forbidden for you all to stay in the shade, you must endure the sun if you want to shoot at us."
I though of what seasoned protesters kept reiterating over and over again, how the army in Nabi Saleh were the most brutal sadistic bunch they had ever come across, a lot worse than the ones in Nil'in and Bil'in.

If only Nabi Saleh can attract as much Palestinians as it does foreigners, those who are committed and sincere and those who can't wait to upload a new profile picture of themselves with the white smoke of tear gas as a backdrop.


  1. The last sentence there is poignant I think...yes sure Nabi Saleh's Popular Committee and all the existing popular committees in the villages are great at organising the protests and keeping them going in the face of arrests and torture and all the rest, but in actuality, the Palestinian who protest at Nabi Saleh, Bi'iln, Sheikh Jarrah, etc is such a small number. The Israeli activists run the Sheikh Jarrah movement and at their 'big' protest a couple weeks ago the dynamics between the Israelis who came along for a stroll basically, and the small group of Palestinians chanting their hearts out (right of return chants, Palestinian resistance leader-naming chants which was not the agenda of the march!) was fascinating.
    I'm not trying to make any statement here, but what are the reasons the Palestinians from all over don't join en masse at Nabi saleh, or anywhere--of course the obvious huge fear of arrest and beatings but...mass protests along with the foreigners and Israelis, if this can be done and sustained, I would think it would be too powerful for the West to ignore. Sure, the leftists in the US are increasingly getting news about 'new' (ha) Palestinian popular nonviolent resistance to the mainstream, but the strength in huge numbers just isn't there...sigh. What does it take? To not be afriad of arrest and do this national duty of resistance in huge numbers and with great motivation week after week..?

  2. I feel that some people are ready to be gassed, skunked, detained, tortured and even killed fighting for their rights but they do not want any of their family members to be hurt. The coward criminals like to punish the families by night raids, house demolitions and detention.
    I do not know why the brave people who resist the occupation are blamed for the crimes committed by the occupation forces and laws.

    Please stay united, patient and hopeful.
    I am proud of you, all of you.

  3. Frank Tamimi KahnJuly 25, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    All I can say is thank you!

  4. It explained a lot, felicitation for the article but for the rest, it might be more and more complicated the time going

  5. Interesting post. As an international in Palestine, I was continually asking myself what my participation should be, and what were the most effective things I could do. It will be at least another year before I return to Palestine, and those questions remain.

  6. Nabi Saleh resistance definitely inspires other Palestinians, at least from the ones I hear from, yet some have a little that they are afraid to lose. When Nabi Saleh comes to Ramallah you will know that they have taken their courage and their future in their own hands and are not willing to take small favors of the occupier as a real life.