Combined with Israel’s unrelenting expansion of Jewish settlements on land wanted for a Palestinian state, many Palestinians have begun questioning the usefulness of peaceful tactics. Hugh Naylor reports
As peaceful protests decline, fears rise of a third intifada
NABI SALEH // Each Friday, Bilal Tamimi and fellow residents of Nabi Saleh have been determined to peacefully rally against the seizure of their land and a village spring by Israeli settlers.
Although many in this Palestinian hamlet, along with foreign activists and liberal Israelis, have tried to embrace non-violent struggle against Israel, most Fridays Mr Tamimi and fellow protestors face barrages of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by Israeli soldiers.
At night, the military sometimes raids their homes, arresting scores of people, including children, for participating in the rallies.
For four years, they have carried on with almost unflinching resolve. But that is changing.
“The people are tired, and they don’t see results,” Mr Tamimi, 48, said. He was forced to call off a demonstration on a recent afternoon because he was one of a mere three people who showed up.
The village of Nabi Saleh is not alone in experiencing such fatigue. About a dozen other Palestinian villages in the West Bank have in recent years also attempted to use what they call unarmed resistance to Israeli occupation.
But combined with the harsh response of Israel’s military and the unrelenting expansion of its Jewish settlements on land wanted for a Palestinian state, Palestinians are increasingy questioning the usefulness of peaceful tactics. Some even predict a return to armed struggle and its painful consequences.
“There are those who are saying we should change the style, to be more violent,” said Iyad Tamimi, 47, a Nabi Saleh resident and a relative of Bilal who supports the non-violent approach.
“But violence means we pay a big price.”
The push to use non-violent tactics by these villages was initiated as an alternative to the violence of the second intifada that began 13 years ago and became notorious for Palestinian suicide attacks on Israelis.
By trying to refrain from using violence during such protests against Israel’s separation barrier and expanding settlements, community leaders hoped to expose Israel and its military’s often-brutal tactics.
While demonstrations often have descended into stone-throwing by youth, protests have until recently had large turnouts and garnered sympathetic international media attention.
Now, the villagers say they have been worn down by Israel’s tough response to their protests. Soldiers routinely raid their homes. Israeli tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire have injured and even killed scores of them.
Protest leaders from West Bank villages have sought to address falling turnout at their demonstrations. This month, participants in the protests with various political affiliations, held a conference in the West Bank village of Bilin, where weekly demonstrations against Israel’s separation wall have been held since 2005, to discuss the issue.
Bilin gained international attention from the documentary, 5 Broken Cameras, which focused on how the village has struggled against Israel’s wall and its confiscation of their ancestral farmland. But even though it won an Oscar-nomination last year, the film’s acclaim has not been enough to reinvigorate the rallies, according to Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, a protest leader in Bilin who attended the conference.
He blamed the decrease in rallies across the West Bank, in part, on the division between the Fatah faction, which controls Palestinians areas in the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers. Without unity, the protests lacked crucial support, he said.
He also said difficult economic conditions played a role. The injuries sustained during the rallies can incur expensive hospital bills, while Israel also arrests family breadwinners.
“Their focus right now is bringing food to their families,” said Mr Rahmeh.
Some also see the ebbing participation of both Palestinians and foreigners as possibly linked to a loss of creative edge. The demonstrations had often caught Israeli soldiers off guard, for example with the mass prayers held in olive-tree orchards about to be levelled by bulldozers.
“This is something we have to be cautious of, making this into a routine, a ritual. Because the idea is that we are demonstrating to convey a certain a message, not to carry out a routine,” said Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli leftist and participant in the village protests.
Ayed Morrar, who led peaceful protests against Israel’s separation wall in his village of Budrus in 2003, places some of the blame on the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority (PA). Because of its economic and security agreements with Israel, the PA has discouraged villages from snowballing into a mass movement, he said.
He and others have accused the PA of co-opting many of the village protests by offering them money in return for restricting them to weekly, localised endeavours. “The leaders prefer to keep us working in offices,” Mr Morrar said of the PA. “You can’t lead a popular movement from an office.”
Many now express concern about an uptick in violence in the West Bank, including the recent killing of several Israelis by Palestinians. That may be partly related to the diplomatic stalemate between Israel and the PA. Despite the peace talks that they restarted in July, Israel has continued to construct settler homes.
Writing this month in Israel’s left-leaning +972 Magazine, the journalist Noam Sheizaf predicted more violence. “The tragic truth is that so far, the only way to get concessions out of Israel has been through struggle,” he wrote, adding that the message for Palestinians is that cooperation “won’t get you anywhere”.
Back in Nabi Saleh, Bilal Tamimi and his family expressed similar concerns.
His wife, Manal, 40, checked off the persecution Palestinians have faced over the past four years of demonstrations in Nabi Saleh: more than 400 people injured, more than 150 arrests – including dozens of children – and two deaths. One of her sons temporarily lost his vision after being struck in the left eye by a tear-gas canister.
For now, the village children have begun spending their Fridays playing football instead of joining rallies. That may have reduced turnout, but after enduring the consequences of protesting, Ms Tamimi said that “they also have the right to be kids”.
Still, Mr Tamimi predicted that the youth would eventually be dragged into another mass Palestinian uprising.
“Most people accept there will be a third intifada.”