16 December 2010 | International Solidarity Movement
On December 3, 2010, three leaders of the Ni’lin Popular Committee Against the Separation Wall were released from Israeli military prison: Ibrahim Amireh, coordinator of the Popular Committee; Hassan Mousa, spokesperson; and Zaydoon Srour.
Israel wrongfully imprisoned them for 11 months in apparent retaliation for their role as leaders of the nonviolent movement. During their imprisonment, Saeed Amireh, Ibrahim’s 19 year-old son, stepped forward as a powerful leader of the efforts to free his father.
ISM interviewed the four activists on December 15.SAEED AMIREH: I want to talk about the strategy of the Israeli occupation here in Ni’lin.
In 2004, Israel began to build the separation wall. Back then, there were no [organized] demonstrations and no organization like the popular committee we have now. We just went there, thousands of us, to stop the construction. One protester lost his eye to a rubber bullet.
We didn’t give up; we continued our protests against the annexation wall because it is just a way to steal more of our land. If we stay silent, they will continue to steal our land.
In 2008, they started to build the wall again and we surprised them with a large number of demonstrators. At our demonstration on May 27, 2008 the Israelis used a new strategy: high violence against us. There were many soldiers: if we were maybe 400 [demonstrators], they were 300 [soldiers]. We demonstrated every day and we could stop the construction for maybe 5 minutes but then they would shoot live ammo, tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. They were surprised when we kept returning the next day and bringing greater numbers!
They wanted to stop us because the other villages joined in as the nonviolent popular struggle developed. We had with us international activists, Israeli activists and the media.
HASSAN MOUSA: Before our arrest, there were just 4 to 5 sites [of organized protest] in the West Bank. Now, there are about 50. If you suppress the people, the people will rise up. [Israel] committed very brutal crimes against our people, but our reaction was contrary to their expectation. When they shoot our people, the people realize who our enemy is. More and more oppression creates more and more resistance.
AMIREH: Our organization, the popular committee, represents the families and the farmers. Because we had the idea that nonviolent protest is the most effective form of protest, all of the people followed. We could stop the bulldozers for hours and it annoyed [the Israeli military].
Their new strategy against us was the curfew. Starting on July 5, 2008, no one could leave their house without the threat of being shot and killed.
On the third day of the curfew, the other villages came to support us and break the curfew – all of us went outside our houses! Two demonstrators were shot and one spent six months in the hospital, but both lived. When they saw shooting didn’t work, they arrested people for breaking the curfew. When they saw arrests didn’t work, they shot and killed 10 year-old Ahmed Mousa during a demonstration on July 29, 2008. [Ahmed is Hassan Mousa’s nephew.]
HASSAN MOUSA: I lost my 10 year-old nephew. It was terrible for me. He was my favorite nephew and a special part of our family. He was shot by an Israeli soldier in the head and died instantly. I don’t want anyone – Israelis or anyone in the world – to lose someone near and dear to them because of conflict.AMIREH: They thought that we would be scared, but after the funeral – that same day! – we made another protest against what they did to Ahmed and against the Apartheid wall.
The soldiers began night raids against our village and our family’s house was raided 25 times. My father was targeted because he was elected to be the coordinator of the popular committee. They arrested him and sent him to a military prison underground in Jerusalem under very harsh conditions. They beat him and insulted him and tried to get him to sign papers against those who participated in the demonstrations.
They continued the night raids and arrested 150 guys who had been in the protests to reduce the size of our demonstrations. They were surprised when they saw the women continue on instead of the guys. They could break our high spirit or destroy our protest!
I was one arrested during the horrible night raids. I was held from December 22, 2008 until April 2009. It was during my last year of high school and all of my future depended on my grades. I had a 94 percent average in my classes. They wanted to destroy my future and punish my father who wanted to see his children educated.
MOUSA: Before my arrest, the town was invaded by dozens of soldiers during night raids. I talked to one of their commanders when he asked me why we were protesting. I told him that there had never been protests here before they built the wall that caused us so much suffering. I said give me back my land, and I will stop protesting.
When they arrested me and brought me to court, I was astonished to hear the charges against us. They accused me of throwing stones. How could a person who is 37 years old and an English teacher be throwing stones!?! I said I am never a person who has believed in raising his hand against another. If I am throwing anything, I am throwing my words, speaking truth to the soldiers.
They accused me of having contacts with foreigners. If that is illegal, then this interview is illegal right now! I said that these foreigners came to Palestine through their Israeli airport and they had come here to work for peace and freedom.Third, they accused me of incitement. I asked them to define the word and they refused. If you consider incitement helping the injured, taking care of prisoners, helping those people who are suffering because they lost their land to the annexation wall – then, let the world know I am guilty.
Last, they accused me of joining a protest that is not permitted. There is an irony here. They grabbed up my land and now want me to ask for a permit to express my disagreement. I will never ask for a permit to protest on my own land. I was not protesting in an Israeli city.
They sent me to jail for a year and fined me 9,000 shekels. But the whole time we were in jail, the protests never stopped.[Being imprisoned] is beyond description. Our state of mind was terrible. All the time, we were thinking about our families, our kids. We got relief from the other prisoners, sharing stories and jokes. But I told them that I didn’t want to share my feelings. I want to forget. It is beyond description.
There is a lot of injustice against us. We want peace and justice on the ground, but Israel is not respecting that. The Palestinian people lack the right of expression, right of worship, right of movement. I think the Palestinian people are right to resist nonviolently.
Once you have a goal, you have to keep moving toward it. Despite the grabbing of our land, the suppression, the night raids, we will never seek vengeance; we will seek justice. I want peace and tranquility to prevail on this land, to put an end to the hatred. I will keep going toward this dream. Even if we don’t achieve it quickly, even if I die, at least I will have planted the roots.
We have a lot of challenges and obstacles, but I hope we will overcome them.
AMIREH: In our nonviolent struggle in Ni’lin, hundreds have been shot, hundreds have been arrested and five have been killed by the soldiers. They do what they want, but our hope is that we will tear down the wall, and our hearts are still full of hope that we will reach our aim.
Timeline of the struggle in Ni’lin:
2004: Construction of the annexation wall begins and then is halted by nonviolent protests. Both the Israeli Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice side with the villagers of Ni’lin and rule the wall illegal
2008: Construction of the illegal wall resumes. Upon completion, the apartheid wall steals nearly one-third (approximately 30 percent) of Ni’lin’s land. The village forms the Popular Committee Against the Separation Wall. Repression increases against Ni’lin; hundreds are arrested in night raids, and Ibrahim Amireh’s permit to work in Israel is revoked.
May 28, 2008: Nonviolent demonstrations begin, seeking to block the construction of the wall.
July 5, 2008: Israeli army imposes total curfew on Ni’lin.
July 8, 2008: After three days, villagers from the surrounding areas join the residents of Ni’lin in a a demonstration to break the curfew. The Israeli military shoot two demonstrators who survive.
July 29, 2008: Ahmed Mousa (10), the nephew of Hassan Mousa, is shot and killed during a nonviolent demonstration.
July 30, 2008: Yousef Amira (17) is shot and killed during a nonviolent demonstration.
December 22, 2008: Saeed Amireh was arrested during a night raid.
March 13, 2009: ISM activist Tristan Anderson was critically injured by a high velocity tear gas canister, which struck him in the head
2009: Israel establishes checkpoints around Ni’lin attempting to prevent Israeli and international activists from participating in the nonviolent demonstrations.
June 5, 2009: The Israeli military shoots five demonstrators, killing one – Yousef Akil Srour.
October 2009: Nonviolent demonstrators symbolically tear down a part of the concrete annexation wall. Israeli soldiers reinforce the wall with metal beams.
January 12, 2010: Ibrahim Amireh, Hassan Mousa, and Zaydoon Srour – leaders of the popular committee – are taken from their homes and arrested during a night raid.
December 3, 2010: After 11 months in prison, Amireh, Mousa and Srour are released. Another 10 political prisoners from Ni’lin remain behind bars.