We are sitting outside our host’s house, the sun is shining, beside the house construction workers hammer away, birds a singing… the smell of delicious falafel is in the air… as you go down those sunny stairs of this homely patio to take a stroll down that inviting luscious green slope, you will soon trip over tear gas canisters, sound bomb shells and other paraphernalia of occupation and war crime whilst the trees make way for a different view – an illegal Israeli settlement sits ugly and menacing right on the opposite hill.
We are in Nabi Saleh.
Many people have a bucket list, on it are the things they hope to do before they leave this world. Yesterday all of us here ticked off from our lists: having tear gas grenades and sound-bombs shot at us. The weekly demonstration was as usual met with reckless force by the occupation forces, however due to the high number of international participants and an entire battalion of cameras the army did not show their usual “effort”.
It’s a surreal experience… the march begins at a square, the group is waiting for those who attend the mosque to finish their prayers and then everyone rallies around the leader, flags, posters, pictures of martyrs are handed out to everyone. At the start of this peaceful demonstration, children walk upfront, carrying flags and posters until the procession reaches the bend in the road after which they are within immediate shooting range of the occupation forces.
The awkward moment when you find yourself in an acre, trying to make your way without tripping over one of the many rocks, at the same time checking the skies for tear gas grenades whilst keeping an eye on the soldiers of the occupation forces – and still take some decent pictures to pass on what you saw – we all had that yesterday.
As we watch clouds of tear gas descending from the valley, sound bombs explode, shots can be heard… and someone asks: “Imagine to live in that settlement and watch this every Friday.” Well, if you are in that settlement, then you are the kind of person that watches this every Friday. It’s simple.
One injury was reported – the occupation forces shot a paramedic, a war crime in itself, but he got away with minor injuries and trauma as the bullets were rubber coated projectiles. Again, probably part of the special show put on for foreigners – the locals say that since the weekly demonstration here has attracted international attention, the forces have changed tactics. As collective punishment they drive through the entire village spraying houses with skunk water, a chemical and poisonous strong smelling mix. They take special care to target the water tanks on the roofs – fully aware that they are who deprive Palestinians not just of land but also water resources – the supply to Palestinian villages is restricted and oftentimes additional water has to be bought from the Israeli water company. The water vendor only comes around every so often, think about that next time you take a shower, flush the toilet…. Etc.
This March Freedom Ride is for most people a trip to reality because it is so easy to forget, so easy to ignore. The suffering of people here is hard to imagine, in fact you cannot fully comprehend it until you find yourself feeling like a child on its birthday because you get three minutes to take a shower – the first after a week.
Our host has an archive of every army incursion over the past 4 years, he shows us documentaries, one of them is a film made by a Belgium film maker who conducts interviews in Nabi Saleh as well as the illegal settlement. After watching it most of us are deeply shocked, someone apologizes to our tour guide for ever having questioned the right of Palestinians to fight back.
After a long and intense day we have dinner in a different house, the views are stunning, the sun sets behind us, bathing Nabi Saleh in a magical golden glow and again we feel so proud to be here because this place is special. People are so very strong, their inner peace and determination to hold their land is deeply inspiring.
We discuss how we are all controlled by this, how we are questioned and interrogated by border control of Israel why we have been e.g. on a holiday in Morocco… the most inappropriate questions are asked, making many people never return again.
Today we wake up to news that the Israeli Occupation forces have entered Jenin Camp. Three young men have been martyred. Houses have been demolished.
Our work might never end, but it’s worth doing it every second. Day #5 of The Freedom Ride – three run-ins with the occupation forces so far.
This is Palestine.