The Veterans For Peace delegation in the West Bank was attacked by Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh today.
We had spent the night with popular resistance leader Bassem al Tamimi, who gave us a rundown on the history of settler and Israeli Defense Forces violence in the village. Until seven months ago, there were weekly protests on Fridays against the encroachment of the nearby settlement. He described how people met every Tuesday to plan actions and chose three people to plan and lead each week. Having a standing committee of the same people planning everything “would be like another government,” he said.
The village has been under siege from the settlement of Halemish and the military that protects it since 1977. In 2001, they adopted the nearby spring as a symbol of the struggle, since it encompasses many issues, like control of water resources and the occupation.
We went to the road that leads up to the spring in a taxi van stuffed with members of the Tamimi family. Others came in separate cars. When we arrived, the Palestinians began shoving the sign with name the settlers use for the spring. A single soldier walked along the road keeping an eye on us while we displayed our banner and two Palestinians carried a giant Palestinian flag.
As we held the banner across the dirt road leading up to the spring, a settler drove up and pushed VFP member Matt Hoh from behind. Soon other settler cars arrived, and one settler began attacking one of the women. When Iraq veteran Mike Hanes went to help her, the settler took a swing at him. Mike dodged the blow, but the man then pushed him backwards over a rock. Another man joined in and Mike’s hand is bruised from blocking their punches. VFP board member Tarak Kauff helped defend Mike.
Meanwhile, other settlers began attacking others in our group, in particular Munther Amira, a leader from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. We moved up the hill where more settlers were attacking the villagers who had gotten to the spring. All of the settlers were armed; none of the Palestinians or their supporters were. The settlers pushed and shoved and screamed, while VFP members tried to stand between the settlers and the Palestinians. Mostly, they went for women and children and photographers. Matt Hoh, who is tall, had placed himself between settlers and others on several occasions, but no one tried to hit him. “That just shows what kind of people we’re dealing with here,” he said. “They go after the women or the photographers, who have cameras in front of them and can’t defend themselves, but no one tried to go after me.”
Eventually, soldiers arrived and ordered the villagers and their supporters to leave. They had nothing to say to the settlers. When the Nabi Saleh residents and their international supporters didn’t leave, the soldiers threw flash-bang grenades into the middle of our group. As we moved back down the hill, the settlers followed, pushing and shoving.
Many of the young Palestinians went across the road and up the hill, where they were targeted by tear gas. Most of the internationals went down the road to avoid the tear gas wafting across the fields. The settlers crossed the road and began throwing rocks at the retreating Palestinians. The soldiers followed behind them. “This is a new strategy,” Bassem al-Tamimi told us later. “Now they are letting the settlers deal with the demonstration.”
Eventually, the settlers went back down and began harassing cars trying to pass on the road, forcing them to turn around and go back to the village. We returned to the Tamimi house. Three jeeps filled with soldiers soon came up the road and went around the corner behind the house. Down the road, Palestinian teenagers set up barricades and threw rocks up the road whenever the soldiers came around the corner. The soldiers shot tear gas back down at them.
Tarak and Mike tried to talk to the soldiers, saying they had been soldiers too, but the soldiers weren’t interested in dialog. We were scheduled to leave for Jerusalem at some point, but the road out of the village was closed by the military, so no one was leaving.
After a few hours, the soldiers finally left the village, but not before a bunch of the young Palestinians had trapped them in their jeep at a nearby gas station and taken a rearview mirror off.
Bassem is concerned that the soldiers may come to the house tonight, to try to arrest some of the youth that they might recognize from the security cameras at the gas station. Five of our delegation of eight is staying over for another night in case this happens.