On Friday I went to the anti-separation wall demo in Ni’lin in the West Bank, the same village where International Solidarity Movement activist Tristan Anderson was critically wounded last week. Several hundred villagers were accompanied by Jewish Israeli activists (most with Anarchists Against the Wall ) and ISMers, plus a few journalists like me. The IDF started firing tear gas at us even before we got close to the wall. The shebab (Palestinian youth) responded with stones, and the game was on: back and forth street battles, with the soldiers alternating between tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and occasional live ammunition, often fired by snipers, and the shebab hurling their stones by slingshot against the Israeli Goliath.
The IDF often fires tear gas now with a high-velocity rifle that can be lethal, especially when they fire it straight at you rather than pointed up in the air. Pointed straight, it comes at you like a bullet. That’s what seriously wounded Anderson. I saw these projectiles coming very near us, and saw how dangerous they could be. Not to mention the live ammo they occasionally fired–but they fired live rounds only at the shebab, never at the Jews or internationals. After a few hours, the clashes died down. Six were injured, one critically. Me, I just coughed and teared up from the gas on occasion. (In simultaneous demos in the nearby village of Bi’lin, three were injured, including two Americans.)
I mistakenly thought the army would be less aggressive on Friday, and not only because of the negative publicity surrounding the shooting of Anderson (the killing of Palestinians is of course routinely ignored in Western media; in Ni’lin alone, four villagers have been killed in the past eight months, with hundreds injured). The day before Friday’s march, revelations from Israeli veterans about war crimes they’d committed in the recent Gaza campaign made world headlines .
As villagers prepared yesterday’s march, Jonathan Pollock, a veteran activist with AATW, showed me where Anderson was standing when he was shot and where the IDF soldier was standing who shot him, just up the hill. The soldier had fired a high-velocity tear-gas canister at close range–what looked to me like about fifty or sixty meters–directly at Anderson, hitting him in the head. It was hard to imagine the intention could have been anything other than to seriously maim or kill.
The courage and steadfast resistance of the people of Ni’lin, and many other West Bank villages just like it that are fighting the wall’s illegal annexation of their land, is truly remarkable. Every week, for years now, West Bank Palestinians have stood up against the world’s fourth-most-powerful military machine, which shows no compunction about shooting unarmed demonstrators. This grassroots resistance–organized by the villagers themselves, not Fatah or Hamas–has gotten little publicity from the world media , which seem to prefer stories about Hamas rockets and the image of Palestinians as terrorists.
The village protests against the wall are inspiring, and not just because they’ve continued for so long, against such daunting odds. The villagers recognize the power and revolutionary potential of mass, unarmed resistance, and the shebab with their slingshots hearken back to the first intifada of the late 1980s and the “children of the stones,” when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were directly involved in the struggle against the occupation. The Israeli government knows how difficult it is to suppress that kind of mass resistance, which is why it has used such brutality and provocation against the villagers. The army wants to shut this uprising down before it spreads, and would like nothing more than for the villagers to start using guns, as the IDF is certain to win a purely military confrontation. The other inspiration of this struggle is the courage and solidarity of the Israeli and ISM activists. They risk their lives day after day, and the villagers appreciate it. I saw signs in Ni’lin praising Tristan Anderson, who, just like Rachel Corrie six years ago, was willing to sacrifice his life for Palestinian justice.