When we finished visiting Hebron Jan proposed to go to Ramallah where we could sleep in an ISM house and see the organization in action. Every Friday protests brake out in various cities and villages around Palestine and ISM wants to be present to report on anything bad happening during these demonstrations. This goes from Palestinians getting harassed, soldiers shooting tear gas to people getting shot and killed.
We woke up quite excited and nervous after our night in Ramallah. The ISM-ers had been briefed about their different missions and we were being told about our position should we decide to go with them. We would go with a number of other volunteers from ISM to a small village called Nabi Saleh. There, like in so many other places, there would be a demonstration against the Israeli occupation after the prayer.
The weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh is usually quite small with only a handful Palestinians. And it doesn't turn into large displays of violence unlike in Hebron. Despite this, during the briefing we were still told we couldn't turn to ISM for legal support in case things went wrong. So both of us were excited and nervous but quite convinced nothing significant would happen.
In the morning we took a minibus taxi from Ramallah to the village with four of five other ISM-ers. First passing a sign indicating the dangers of entering Palestinian territory, and later driving next to the Israeli settlements and ironically through the Israeli checkpoint at the entrance of the village. About one kilometer after we passed the checkpoint we got out at the gas station which was used as the meeting point. Shortly after noon some Palestinians had arrived, even less than I expected. But there were many children and a local film crew. Some more internationals also arrived (ISM and other organizations).
In the end there may have been more international people than Palestinians this particular day. Which was strange in a way but I suppose it must be heartening to them to see so much support from the outside. In total we were only about 30 or 40 people. It was reassurance to us that things would probably remain calm.
This turned out to be quite untrue...
Together with the Palestinians we marched toward the checkpoint through which we had just driven and had now been closed. In front of it stood now about ten fully armed soldiers and a shielded truck. We halted a few hundred meters in front. The group was proudly bearing the Palestinian flag and a banner of a teenager who had died this day a couple of years ago during a protest.
There was an eerie silence for about fifteen minutes during which both parties just looked at each other. Then without warning one of the soldiers decided to fire of a tear gas grenade towards us. Then another, and another,... What followed was a back and forth fight during which the soldiers shot tear gas at us and the teenagers threw back stones in slingshots. When possible they even picked up the still active tear gas grenades and shot them back to the soldiers. Risking getting caught in the gas as well. Which I can assure you is a horrible experience.
After a while there was tear gas everywhere and it was impossible to escape it. Resulting in burning eyes, lungs and noses. Absolutely horrible! Some of the kids got hit straight in the face and could hardly see and breath for a couple of minutes.
Palestinians hiding from the soldiers with an Israeli settlement in the background:
Tomas and I were quite shocked about what was unfolding in front of us! The fighting slowly got more intense in the sense that many more tear gas grenades where fired and a few rubber bullets got fired as well (luckily not hitting anyone). Then after some time the soldiers started to get closer too and were firing more accurately, causing us to retreat.
Everyone was advised to go back to the gas station. It was over... for us. For us this was one unbelievable episode, for them this was a recurring thing. Every week again they go and protest against the Israeli occupation. Making little to no progress.
Back at the gas station the father of one of the children invited all of us to have lunch at his place. This was a wonderful experience. The food was amazing and we had the chance to speak with some of the children and the adults. We were all enjoying ourselves very much. Adding to the contradictory feelings I had while being here. The situation is absurd and very tragic, meanwhile the people are very welcoming, they enjoy talking with us and laugh and smile.
Here is a documentary by the genius Louis Theroux about the absurd and tragic situation in Israel and Palestine. The man at 29:20 is the one who invited us for lunch! Louis Theroux: Ultra Zionists