I’m stepping into two kinds of new territory. The first is this land, Palestine; and the second is politics. For excuses I won’t explain, I’m not political, or I haven’t been, and as a result have been mostly uniformed and therefore un-opinioned on the subject of the Palestine/Israel conflict. In Journalism we call that being objective.
Yesterday I went to Ni’Lin for a demonstration. As I was told, a demonstration, a peaceful, non-violent display of Palestine’s opposition to Israeli occupation. The history is on wikipedia. But in short, in 1948 this land was 15,000 acres, and now it is 4,000 acres, due to the construction of the wall 2 miles east of the green line in 2008, and the walls that surround Nili and Na’ale, Israeli settlements constructed in ’81 and 88. These demonstrations have been held since the beginning of the construction of the wall, every friday.
So I arrive and am led to a field with a man under an olive tree, shouting over a megaphone in Arabic. His words, I’m sure, speaks for Palestinian freedom from Israeli occupation.
He speaks, they pray, and I follow as we step over rocks, cacti, and expended teargas grenades onto a dirt path that leadI s to the wall of the West Bank. They march, about 40 in number, chanting, waving flags—it’s a ritual dance at this point. Boys, men, angry youth, waving their flags, putting on uniforms of headscarves and gas-masks.
At the wall, Palestinians wave flags, shout, throw rocks over the wall and at a small tower jammed with IDF soldiers. They climb ladders, peer over the edge, and place palestinian flags on top of the wall. The skies streak with teargas grenades from the IDF, and the group scatters into clumps.
The dance goes on, more rocks, more shouting, more gas. It comes in waves, 4-7 grenades at a time infecting the area, burning the fields. We gather, and then flee, gather and flee. It stings their eyes and chokes their lungs. There is no official surrender, but as the hours pass, the numbers dwindle, and we return to the city. I follow a man, who seems in charge.
I know his face from a youtube interview I saw just the night before. I find a peace team from Michigan and he takes us to a room, long, and tiled with pictures of protests, wounded, martyrs. He shows us video, from two years before, when the wall was being built through his field, over his olive trees. He, Mohamed, takes us through the video, translating the parts where he’s begging the soldiers to stop, to have peace. He’s carrying his son, less than 2-years old, and the soldiers are yelling at him to move. They make a move, he collapses, his child cries.
I talked to a man today, a recent political prisoner of Israel who works with the Stop the Wall Campaign. I told him I wish they didn’t throw rocks. He said they haven’t always. They’ve tried many kinds of peaceful resistance, but after so long, you don’t know what else to do. The government isn’t organized enough to fight back, they have no outlet. As I see it, In the small town of Ni’lin, their best chance at opposition is this wall of pictures. There’s a reason I was escorted to that field of olive trees without question, there’s a reason I was in this room. Palestinians and Americans, adults and children are injured and killed in these demonstrations, and each time, a photograph runs around the world under headlines. And they hope that people will respond to the image of injustice.