The village of Nabi Saleh النبي صالح

Introduction: Tamim in Arabic, means strong:

Before 2009 Bashir Tamimi and his family owned a natural spring in Nabi Saleh. Then, along with access to their agricultural land, the spring was taken from them by Israeli settlers from the nearby Halamish settlement. Since then, the residents of Nabi Saleh have been protesting every week against the land confiscations. They have endured violent, long-standing and fatal clashes with the Israeli authorities.

Almost all of Nabi Saleh’s residents are part of the Tamimi family – related by blood or marriage.  They have been active in organising and participating in the protests every week. They have also gained the support of the international community through social media outlets, human rights agencies and by inviting internationals to come into their homes. They have never relented, even after two family members were killed during separate demonstrations;

Mustafa Tamimi was killed in December 2011, after a tear gas canister exploded in his face during a protest. The Palestinians throw stones at the Israeli Army. They respond with tear gas, skunk water, rubber bullets and sound grenades.

Rushdi Tamimi was killed in November 2012. He was shot by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. According to a subsequent IDF investigation he had had 80 live rounds fired at him.

19/02/13, Ramallah, Palestine.
Today I went to Nabi Saleh to meet Manal Tamimi and her family at their home in Nabi Saleh. Manal spoke fluent English and she talked to us about the protests, her family and why she would never leave her life in the village.

She told us how she had been arrested, along with her husband, Bilal, many times. She told us how her children had all been injured – one son was temporary blinded when a weapon hit him in the eye – luckily his sight had since recovered.

She showed us the different gas canisters that the family had collected. She had a bowl of rubber bullets on the table. Her youngest son was wandering in and out the room, not fazed by the large group of foreign visitors, a teargas canister locked in his small hands.

Manal told us how the family had begun protesting three years ago, when their spring was annexed as part of the Halamish settlement. Since then, the entire village has come together once a week, unarmed, to protest against the confiscation of their land, life under occupation in Nabli Saleh and the West Bank as a whole.

We heard that the Tamimi family were not alone in their protests, many internationals came from all over the world, including activists in Israel, to show support. Manal had mixed views on the involvement of foreigners however. On one hand, international support drew attention to the village and the injustices faced by its residents. On the other hand, she explained, foreigners are not used to protesting. They do not have the strength or the resilience that we do. We know how to cope with the effects of the tear gas and other weapons used against us. They do not know how to protect themselves.

Manal then put on a short video that Bilal had put together. It was a mixture of clips from different weekly protests that he had shot on his video camera, ‘Five Broken Camera’s style’. The clips showed tear gas canisters being fired at point-blank range. One showed a canister exploding inside the designated ‘safehouse’, where the children of Nabi Saleh had been hidden to try and protect them from the aftermath of the protests. It showed frantic parents holding ladders against a top floor window as the children screamed from inside. Manal told us that many of the children had suffered kidney and lung damage that day.

Another clip showed a hysterical mother flinging herself against a military vehicle as the Israeli soldiers pulled away. Manal explaned that the woman’s son had been arrested, left in solitary confinement for 48 hours and then forced to sign a document in Hebrew. Unbeknown to the youngster the document had detailed the ‘conspiracy crimes’ of one of the main organisers of the Nabi Saleh protests. The statement was used as evidence against the man, who was then imprisoned.

Then we saw a dead man whose face had been ripped apart by a tear gas canister. Someone lent down and placed a keffiyeh over his shattered face – it was Mustafa Tamimi. I couldn’t look away.

Manal turned off the video. We sat in silence. One girl ran out of the room in tears.

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Suicide Note from Palestine: New play opens at The Freedom Theatre on April 4

Juliano Mer Khamis’ Freedom Theatre is still alive : it’s founders sadly are not.

Tales of a City by the Sea

One day before her final exams, Amal has a concerning nightmare: she is Palestine and she has decided to die.

Amal’s nightmare drafts between confusion, torture and despair – notions set as strange characters that symbolise some of the key players in world politics that shape the land, history, politics and the occupation of her country. Interrogated and manipulated, Amal is forced into a comatose state and can barely speak.

– This play is important because it’s pointing at the place of the pain inside the Palestinian people’s minds and hearts, says the Director, Nabil Al-Raee.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a window into the younger generation of Palestine; a generation just as hopeless about their present as they are about the future. The play provides a rare glimpse on the general depression, confusion and concerns of a people regarding its land.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a physical video/visual…

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Extract from my diary (3) : Arna’s Children

18/02/13

One evening after work our team leader, Zara, arranged for us to watch a documentary called Arna’s Children. It was a harrowing and powerful piece about an Israeli woman, Arna, who lived and worked as a human rights activist in the Palestinian town of Jenin. In her youth she was a member of the notorious Israeli Defence Force, yet in her retirement she set up a theatre school for Palestinian children with her actor and activist son, Jude.

Arna’s Children traces the lives of a group of children from Jenin refugee camp for over a decade and is shot primarily on Jude’s handheld camera. The children are mostly refugees who are encouraged by Arna to join the theatre in an attempt to bring about some sanctuary after their homes are destroyed during a period of intense conflict.

It is particularly upsetting because Arna herself suffers from an aggressive cancer, which leads to her untimely death early into the film. She had worked with the children directly, teaching them how to express themselves as their characters and as individuals. She encouraged them to share their stories and let out their pain and anger about losing their homes and members of their families.

The children loved her as they loved their own mothers. They comment after her death on how she nurtured them and took them under her wing, despite being an Israeli; a Jew; a citizen of the society who had contributed to their misery in the first place.

Without mother Arna, the lives of the children begin to crumble one by one. They become tangled in the arms of the conflict; many being killed in the Battle of Jenin when, during the second intifada, the IDF stormed the camp with infantry, commando forces and assault helicopters. Two of the children are martyred after carrying out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. At the end of the film, Jude, who leaves Jenin to pursue his acting career, revisits the theatre. Only two of Arna’s children are alive and free from jail. One is married with a small child. One leads a resistance group.

When the film finished, Zara told us that Jude, aged 52, had been assassinated in his car outside of the theatre. He was shot by a masked militant and left behind a daughter, step-daughter, young son and wife Jenny – who was expecting twins.

You can watch the film by following this link to Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQZiHgbBBcI

You can read Juliano Mer Khamis (Jude)’s obituary on the Guardian here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/apr/11/juliano-mer-khamis-obituary

Extract from my diary (2) : the ancient city of Jericho (PHOTOBLOG)

19/01/13

This post is unashamedly touristy and is really just an opportunity to show off my photos from beautiful Jericho, the oldest city in the world…

We started here, at the foot of the Mount of Temptation, the spot where the devil is said to have tempted Jesus to make a loaf of bread out of stone during a 40-day fast.

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We climbed the mountain with the warm sun on our backs (Jericho is always warmer than the surrounding areas because it is so low, the lowest city on Earth in fact). The hike took about an hour and wasn’t too demanding, however I can imagine in the occasional 55c heat of Jericho’s summer it would be unbearable.

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When we got to the top we reached the Monastery of the Qurantul, here I think the picture speaks for itself.

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We were lucky enough to be able to go inside the monastery before it closed, the view from the balcony was incredible.

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After sipping some well needed pomegranate juice which was deliciously in-season, we walked back down to the city of Jericho. Here we ventured to the Tree of Zacchaeus, a sycamore tree famous because of its mention in the Bible, and Hisham’s Palace, an ancient site of archaeological ruins.

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Extract from my diary (1) : Notorious Qalandia checkpoint

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14/01/2013

Today I experienced going through Qalandia checkpoint for the first time. To get into holy Jerusalem from the West Bank you must go through an airport style security check (unless you are important enough to go through one of the special checkpoints for diplomats). It is manned by Israeli border police and Israeli Defence Force soldiers, known for their brutality towards Arabs.

The journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem used to be a mere 15 minutes in a service before the Barrier was built (shared taxi). Now it can take up to 2.5 hours to get into the ancient city because of the deeply congested traffic and the scrutinising security regime.

As well as being tediously slow to get through, Qalandia is also one of the most notorious checkpoints for volatility. On the Palestinian side it is common to see burning tires and stones being thrown towards the wall, particularly on a Friday after prayers. It is just as common to hear the sound of rubber bullets and tear gas being fired by the IDF back at the protesters. This time we were lucky, we got through without witnessing any violence.

We sat in the slowly moving, very noisy traffic inching towards the checkpoint for around 30 minutes. The graffiti on the Barrier, impossible to miss, highlighted the faces of famous Palestinians accused of terror crimes against the State of Israel. When we got to the checkpoint we were ushered out of the car and into the wall to floor caged queue lines; one terminal for Israeli ID holders, one of Palestinians and another few unsigned which we guessed were for foreigners. We guessed wrong and were shouted at loudly in Hebrew before moving to the back of the Palestinian queue. Again we waited. Four at a time through the first turnstile, through the second turnstile, bags and coats in the baggage machine, body through the body scanner, show your passport, show your visa, collect your bags, through the final turnstile.

For me, as a British person, and, significantly, a white British person with a British name and British heritage, no real delay. However, for my British friends with ethnic heritage, the procedure was more trying – Take off your shoes, your jacket, your jewellery, put your bag through again, show me the photo page in your passport. For Palestinians, it is 100 times worse. Most cannot go through at all, of those who hold permits, many choose not to because of the time it takes and the treatment they receive there. For those who work on the other side of the Barrier, those with no choice but to cross, they face hours of waiting in metal cages in the 30c+ summer heat. They face arriving at 5am, or sleeping in front of the checkpoint, to get to work or school on time in the morning. They face torment from the guards and regular refusal without reason.

Today, Ranaa was the last of our party to come through. After showing her passport and reaching for her bag she was told to wait, it had gotten ‘stuck’ in the machine. Everyone else was already on the bus to leave at this point. The driver wanted to go and so we had no choice but to leave her there to catch the next one. Of course, Ranaa, is an Arab name.

Safe and Sound.

A few days ago my travel diary arrived safe and sound – I had to send it via mail as I couldn’t take it through the airport with me (Israeli airport security couldn’t know what we were doing in the West Bank or we would have been deemed a threat to the state and banned from returning!)

I really want to continue publishing stories, photos and articles about some of the things I have seen and heard during my time in Palestine. I feel that there is so much which could and should be shared, and now I have some time I can sit in a little coffee shop with my laptop and a cup of tea and reminisce about the best three months of my life.

The arrival of my diary means that I can flick back through the past three months and copy some of what I have written onto my blog to share with you all. Over the next few weeks I endeavour to update Palestinian Diary as much as possible. Following all the humility and warmth I received from the people I met, the least I can do for them is to share their stories.

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Children in Taybeh practising their dance routine for Mother’s Day (March 2013)