One day after the “air flotilla” landed in Tel Aviv, Palestinian and Israeli activists held a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh just west of Ramallah. The village’s agricultural spring was taken over by Jewish settlers in the nearby settlement of Halamish over two years ago. Every Friday since, villagers and their Israeli and international supporters have been holding weekly unarmed demonstrations in protest of the takeover. Yesterday saw a similar protest but for the first time in months, Palestinians were able to get close to the spring itself. Normally, the army blocks demonstrators while still inside the village but yesterday they were seemingly caught off guard.
In the course of the demonstration yesterday, three Israeli activists were arrested by soldiers. The Israeli media reported that these activists were actually part of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign although they were unable to provide concrete facts to support their claim. The Israeli activists were charged with assaulting officers and transferred to the Russian compound jail in Jerusalem. This afternoon, the activists were brought before a judge as the state sought the unusually harsh punishment of six months banishment from the West Bank and one month of house arrest. In the end, they were given one month banishment from Ni’ilin, Bil’in and Nabi Saleh. In other words, their punishment was that they can’t participate in the demonstrations for one month.
The punishment which Israel sought against these activists from Tel Aviv seems to be proof that after preventing internationals from joining unarmed protests in West Bank, Israel is trying to do the same thing to Israeli activists. Barring activists, whether European or Israeli, from the West Bank is one of Israel’s only concrete responses to Palestinian nonviolence. Naturally, Palestinian nonviolent leaders like Nabi Saleh’s Bassem Tamimi or Bil’in’s Abdallah abu Rahmah face long jail sentences in Israeli prisons on trumped up charges of ‘incitement’ and ‘illegal protest’ for unarmed resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank. That Israel is desperately trying to ban Israeli and international activists from demonstrations reflects how seriously military planners are approaching these isolated outbreaks of nonviolent resistance. In the age of new media, foreign activists armed with video cameras and smartphones attending a nonviolent demonstration in Nabi Saleh pose a clear and present danger to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank.
However, the question remains. What is the best Israeli strategy against Palestinian nonviolent resistance to occupation? Perhaps the worst strategy is about to unfold tomorrow when the Israeli Knesset passes a law which will criminalize Israeli support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign. When the bill becomes law, Israeli citizens that support this nonviolent Palestinian initiative will be subject to grave fines and possible imprisonment for their exercise of freedom of speech. Barring activists from the West Bank and criminalizing support for BDS are the two concrete responses which Israel has chosen to combat the recent wave of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. As nonviolent efforts like the ‘air flotilla’ continue to gain momentum, Israel will surly have to chart a new course in order to maintain its occupation and its standing in the international community.