“Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.”
-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The final Friday of Ramadan saw a round of demonstrations against the occupation and the Separation wall throughout the West Bank. I traveled to Ni’ilin as well as Nabi Salih, to document and support friends at the sites of struggle. The end of summer is a strange time for the popular struggle. Many international supporters who travel to Israel/Palestine for a summer of occupation tourism return to their home countries while a new wave of supporters replaces them. It is a time of transition and anticipation for the fall.
As we traveled from Tel Aviv to Ni’ilin, the invisiblity of borders between Israel and the West Bank struck me. We drove up route 443 and turned left towards Modayin Elite. Even though the roads are in the West Bank it feels as though we are in the middle of the Tel Aviv suburbs. There is no sign marking the green line. There is nothing, just one whitewashed Israeli town after another. After we pass Modayin Elite, we arrive at a checkpoint. This feels kind of like a border but it is temporary and shifting. Just after the checkpoint, we take a sharp left and are in the middle of the city of Ni’ilin. It feels like a pocket. A pocket of natives in a sea of settlers. I can’t help but think of the beginning of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, “the zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settler. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity.”
The massive separation wall on the south side of the town reinforces the feeling of existing in a pocket. With discussion of direct talks, peace and final borders in the news, it is easy to make the connection between rhetoric and reality on the ground. There are no borders between the West Bank and Israel. Only 650 checkpoints which move like waves in the sea at the whim of every military commander. Depsite the lack of borders, the difference between the settler towns and those of the natives, to borrow Fanon’s language, is stark and paralyzing.
Our small Israeli group arrives in the olive groves of Ni’ilin around one in the afternoon. We gather under a olive tree just away from the bulk of Palestinian protesters who are busy finishing Friday afternoon prayers. We sit and talk politics over the Friday edition of Haaretz and the picture created has a terrible feeling of “tel aviv lieftist’ cliche. Fall is on its way and the olive tree which has provided us shade through the heat of the summer is starting to bear fruit. Small hard purple olives are starting to bud despite the heavy dose of tear gas which these tress breath every week.
The prayers finish and the chants begin as we walk to the wall. One this day Ayed Morrar from the neighboring village of Budrus joins the protest. We barely get a chance to talk as the army begins firing a volley of tear gas at the protest. Soldiers enter the farmlands without warning and with guns drawn. They chase us back to the village and in the process catch two international protesters along the way. The internationals are released after a few hours of questions and the protest is over almost before it started.
Our group travels to Nabi Salih along the way we received messages that three Israelis had been arrested. We arrive to Nabi Salih to find that one more Israeli protester had been arrested.The army is all over the village. All of the entrances to village closed and guarded by troops. The commander on duty, an immigrant from South Africa who I believe to be mentally unstable, is running from house to house with a photo book of young men wanted for ‘throwing stones at the Israeli army”.
The waiting game begins. Throughout the village, groups of young ‘shabab” (slang for Palestinian youth usually those throwing stones) run from ridge to ridge in an attempt to surprise the army and rain down stones on them. The army reacts with force usually firing tear gas shells at the protesters in an attempt to maim them. I take a position right between a group of children throwing pebbles and soldiers in the heart of the village. Hours pass in the heat as children run around, chant and throw pebbles at soldiers. The soldiers mostly stand around. Sometimes they fire a tear gas shell at the children. Sometimes they charge into the village and grab one of the children. A mother then comes out of the house and pleads with the soldiers to let the child go and the army releases him. This is the dance lasts until someone gets hurt or the army has had enough and leaves for the day. A video that I did two months ago in Nabi Salih captures the weekly environment in the village.
Eventually the protest ends and we drive back to Tel Aviv. On this day, wind from the sea has increased visibility and one can see for miles in all directions. As we leave the village, I can see the sea and skyline of Tel Aviv. Once back in Tel Aviv, I board a transit back to Jerusalem and I can see the village of Nabi Salih. The invisibility of borders between the two places is striking. Where the West Bank begins and Israel ends is unclear despite the visibility of that Friday evening in the late summer.