Thursday night after work we headed off to Ramallah for a night out to unwind from a long week. We went to a cozy little place with some dancing, which was much needed after about 2 months without dancing. It was a lot of fun to unwind and hang out with some of my coworkers outside of the workplace, especially since it had been a pretty tough week in terms of student behavior. We stayed the night at our American friends’ house (they now have a Spanish roommate who is equally as nice).
Then this morning Amy and I set out for Belien where we knew there was a protest. On the way we ran into some other internationals going to Nabi Saleh for a protest there so we decided to join forces. We were actually pretty glad we canged courses because we realized Nabi Saleh is the town where Mostafa, a protester, was killed by a can of tear gas to the face last week. So this week was a pretty important protest for the village since they had lost one of their own last week. They are protesting the settlement that was built on top of THEIR farmland and which has now taken over their spring where they get water. They also experience night raids and other maltreatments. This week a lot of people showed up, especially internationals who had heard about what happened last week and came out to show support.
I guess for some reason I was expecting a simple demonstration. Guess again. We walked down the road to where the protester was killed last week. I stayed towards the back of the group with Amy and some other people we know from various internationals’ events and connections. There were probably between 75-100 people and a lot of them were internationals this week. Then they started firing tear gas bombs indiscriminately at the protestors. They’re about the size of a large orange and are hard…they look kind of like old school bombs. People would retreat and then move forward and then again be bombarded by tear gas. They also pulled out the skunk water canon which shoots streams of chemically enhanced water that stinks and doesn’t ever leave. We stayed far away from that.
Then the Palestinians directed people to march down to the spring which is the focal point of the protests. The spring was stolen from the village by the settlement. We waited and walked up to the top of the hill overlooking the spring. There was a 45 min or so stand-off and some arrests. Then they started firing gas at the protesters right in front of them. When they had gotten really fed up with us they started firing at the hill and that pretty much ended things for the day. *** I forgot to add this when I first published, but Ill put it in now: there were also plenty of Israeli and Jewish protesters. I wanted to include that so that people know that this is not a one sided fight against breaches of international human rights law***
Now that I’ve outlined the events, I’ll give my personal commentary and reactions. I’ll be honest the first time they started shooting the tear gas at us I was terrified. It sounds like gunfire and all you see is people running and smoke flooding the air. Once you convince yourself it’s just gas canisters, the fear subsides, but those canisters are still pretty intimidating. I stayed towards the back for the most part, but at one point they fired longer range and I got caught in the gas. It’s like inhaling fire into your nose and lungs and rubbing pepper in your eyes. I wasn’t even that close to the can and I felt the effects of the potent chemicals. Ironically sniffing onions helps and some people handed me a few pieces to calm down the effects. It wore off relatively quickly since I didn’t get hit too hard. But apparently its more potent that gas someone experienced at protests in other countries like England. And they also shoot them at you whereas in other places the gas is rolled or sprayed in. Although to be honest, its never nice whether its here or the States. And considering the mass of protesters they were firing at were completely peaceful, it was definitely excessive. The most resonating images were those of the young Palestinian boys on a hill getting gas canisters shot at them as if they were a threat. At some point some started throwing stones, but this was after they had been thoroughly gassed (although stone throwing at decked out soldiers doesn’t exactly justify shooting gas cans at kids regardless…but as I said stones were thrown later, after the gassing had started). Some I’m sure would want to see the boys in the wrong, and while I don’t believe stone throwing is the best response, when you think about it from their perspective you see things in a different light. To them they are using the only means they have to defend themselves, their livelihoods. If someone took your land and water supply and then shot gas canisters from a canon at you when you protested the seizure-- which is illegal according to international law--what would you do? Now on top of that imagine that you don’t have the bill of rights or anything like that to refer to. In fact, your country, your nation isn’t even recognized by the international community. Now honestly ask yourself what would you do?
I think today reminded me 1) of why I wanted to come here, why I care so much, where my passions lie and 2) how consuming and hopeless the oppression is for a lot of the people here, especially in places directly affected by the settlements like Nabi Saleh. It’s really hard to understand fully unless you’re here, and even then as someone who has grown up being told I am free to do anything and be anything, I can’t even fully empathize. Anyway that’s my two cents. Im sure some of you might disagree. I’m open to chatting about it : firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you concerned about my safety at protests and posting political pieces ....please don't worry. I'm smart and safe about what I do. Yes, there are some risks in going to protests, but I play it safe and it needs to be done. Since I have been given a passion for this conflict and for this oppressed group of people, I feel not only responsible for taking action but I also feel I need to stand up for what I believe and to defend the oppressed, which I have been called to do. My life is in God's hands and I have peace in that.