As the peace efforts between Israel and Palestine have come to a halt, the Palestinians in Nabi Saleh dream about access to the Mediterranean Sea – still out of their reach.
All of a sudden – a flash. A grenade blows up. It’s the beginning of February and the dead of night, when the army swoops in. No one looks surprised. «Usually they come a little later,» says Manal Tamimi – a well-known Palestinian female activist. From behind a window, and with an M16 gun sight aimed at her direction, she starts live streaming for a local Palestinian TV station.
Six or seven soldiers jump out of their armoured vehicles and start to scatter around the street. They fire into the air, stun bombs – bombs that daze and duzzle, not hurting anyone. Suddenly there is tear gas everywhere, and immediately on the roofs and in the courtyards, you see the silhouettes of Palestinians – replying back with slings and rocks. But the raid seems to have no clear target. The soldiers are not searching for anyone in particular. They don’t enter any house. Everybody seems relaxed.
«First they shoot you, then they save you […] It makes no sense.» – Bilal Tamimi
On the night tables in their bedrooms, Palestinians keep both an alarm clock and a gas mask. «At the end of the day, you are safer in jail than outside,» Manal says.
She speaks from experience. Like most Palestinians, she has been arrested several times. But from the water taps in her house, water hardly comes out. Water is now a desired resource that is being fought over in Palestine – equal to that of land. When talking about the prison, Manal sarcastically remarks: «Great showers.»
The new Malala
Nabi Saleh is an ordinary group of houses in the middle of the West Bank, but the area has been in the headlines worldwide for months; it is here that the 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi – after her cousin ended up in coma with a bullet in the head – noticed a soldier in front of her home. While telling him to leave, she started hitting and punching him, and eventually, she slapped him. It was December 18. A few hours later, the army came back and took her away. Since then, Ahed has been in jail – charged with assaulting security forces. For international activists, she is the new Mandela, or the new Malala.
For the Israelis, she is instead an actress. The legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset, ordered an investigation to verify if Ahed – with her blond hair and blue eyes, and no hijab – is really Palestinian. Or if she’s perhaps paid, together with all her family, to liven up the long resistance of Nabi Saleh that has been standing against the nearby Israeli settlement of Halamish since 2010. Of the 600 inhabitants in Nabi Saleh, 350 have gotten wounded, while 50 inhabitants – including Ahed’s mother – are now permanently disabled.
A stripped landscape
Nabi Saleh reminds you a bit of south of Italy – the backcountry where nobody lives anymore. During the day, Palestinians are all in Ramallah, which is a half-hour drive away from Nabi Saleh, and some 10 kilometres north of Jerusalem. In Nabi Saleh, there are only single-storey, shabby buildings, located around a square which seems as an empty space. There is a gas station and a small grocery store, but nothing more. Among the chickens and the cicadas, plastic bags blowing in the wind; you can hear a drone buzz – reminding you that you’re never alone. It’s hard not to think that if they didn’t have to oppose the Israelis and defend their homeland – probably they would have all moved away a long time ago. The same goes for the Israeli Halamish, and all these nearby settlements – built on the top of these barren, godforsaken hills – sunburnt, and suitable at the most for goats.
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