28th November 2013 | International Solidarity Movement | Ni’lin
Can you tell us a bit of the history of Ni’lin?
In the past, Ni’lin used to be part of the area which is within the ‘48 borders now. In 1994, when the Palestinian Authority came, Ni’lin became part of Ramallah city. So now Ni’lin is located exactly at the green line of 49 and about 27 kilometres west of Ramallah. The village is part of the West Bank but not under Palestinian control. It is completely area C and therefore under Israeli control.
After 1967, when the West Bank was occupied, Ni’lin has been suffering constantly. Since that time, the Israelis began to build colonies on our land, starting with Ni’li in the north of Ni’lin in the early ’70s, you can see that they stole the name from our village. Then Hashmonain in the south, Qiryat Sefer, Mattitjahu and then Naaleh. So there are five Israeli colonies. They also built an apartheid road called 446 that separates Ni’lin into two parts. Due to these constructions, the villagers have lost a great part of their land. The majority of the people here are farmers and their main income source comes from harvesting their land.
Besides that, Ni’lin has two main olive oil factories; the export is another major income. Ni’lin is famous for its olive oil production and for their cactus industry. Just like Hebron is famous for grapes, Jerico for bananas. During this period, intensified by the construction of the wall, Ni’lin lost about 5000 hectares of land out of a total of 5800 hectares, so there is only 800 hectares left. We have been fighting against this land grabbing and confiscation.
We also lost many people who were killed, injured or arrested, in some cases we still don’t know where they are. Many people have also left the area. We used to be about 12000 inhabitants, now we are only 5500 people left. They left to Jordan or to other locations in the West Bank in area A or area B, others went to Europe, the United States. Actually the majority went to Germany, mostly to Berlin.
Why does Ni’lin have Friday demonstrations against Israeli forces?
The demonstrations were a response to the construction of the wall. And we started our non violent, unarmed protest, as I told you, together with international and Israeli activists
What about the village’s struggle in terms of the occupation?
The struggle began in 2003 when the wall construction started. They began in Budrus and Ni’lin at the same time. They started in the north of Palestine until they reached our village. They moved very fast, there was not a lot of resistance on the way. The people were still tired from the repression of the Second Intifada. And since the Intifada was armed resistance, there was not room for everybody. That is the difference between the armed and unarmed resistance. In the unarmed resistance everybody can join and be involved. That makes it more powerful.
So when the wall construction continued, we had the first meeting here in Ni’lin in 2003. That was the beginning of the popular committee and the popular struggle movement in the whole of the West Bank. The first protest was in Budrus, where we joined the people from there. The soldiers were surprised, seeing how people returned to the tactic of the unarmed resistance after the Second Intifada. In the beginning it was only a few people who joined, many were afraid. During that first demonstration the soldiers drew a line and told us, anybody crossing that line, can consider himself dead. So we held each others hands, counted until three and then jumped at once over that line, of course they couldn’t kill us all.
We were soon more than three hundred, from all the villages. Seeing this, more than sixteen villages started doing protesting as well. Israel did not approve at all of the demonstrations but had to stop the construction of the wall in Ni’lin because they feared another uprising. Only after they were finished with the wall in all the other places, they returned to Ni’lin to finish their job in 2008. During that period the poplar struggle developed. We created popular committees. In Ni’lin we had a committee representing all the political parties, the farmers, several organizations and families. We started organizing our protests together with internationals, Israeli peace activists and journalists. That is another big difference to the Intifada. During the Initfada, there wasn’t a focus on media or on involving Israeli activists. They actually helped us a lot, in order to understand the Israeli military law and the occupation. They have been teaching us and have been a really strong inspiration and motivation for us. Especially the Anarchists Against The Wall, they are the best.
How has the resistance changed in Ni’lin over the last few years?
In the beginning we were so many; we were ready after the two Initifadas. But the suppression was heavy and the protesters became less and less. This is a big problem, because every struggle needs its sources of support. And without this support, a few people put in all their power until they reach a point where they can’t continue. Many people got arrested and injured and could not continue to attend the demonstrations.
Why did you begin to engage in the protests?
In 1997, I had a very significant personal experience. My father took me to the protest for the first time. We used to demonstrate against the colonies, peacefully as well. The man who organized the protest, his name was Atallah Amireh, was snipped with live ammunition in his head and in his heart. The Palestinian authority just had a funeral for him. Whenever someone dies under the occupation, we honor that person. We call them martyrs. We try to support the family and make them feel better, their relatives died trying to protect their home. Anyway, this man was shot in front of me. At that time I did not really understand why. I did not cry, but I was just astonished.
Since then my whole life has changed. Some people may ask my father, why he brought me to the demonstration in the first place. Because I was so young, I was seven and the demonstrations are very dangerous. Why would a father do this to his children? But you know, if our fathers don’t confront us with the reality of the occupation, it won’t be good for us. That is why they show us the reality of life from the beginning, so we can get used to it. We don’t live in an illusion when we are young, suddenly realizing the hard facts of life when we grow up.
You know we are a very big family. I have four brothers and three sisters. And I have lots of cousins, my brothers and sisters; they all have cousins their same age. I didn’t, so my father always took me with him. Everywhere he went, to all his friends and to all his serious meetings. All this time, I was never brought along as a child; he introduced me as a friend of his. And I also wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like a kid. So even though I was still a child, they treated me like a man, even as a leader. Very early on, I had big responsibilities put on me.
I got my first real chance, when the construction of the wall began in 2003, which was the most recent time after the Second Intifada.
What is the current situation in Ni’lin?
At the moment, there are many arrests. We tried to resist the expanding of the colonies. We even went to the court to file a lawsuit against Ni’li, when they confiscated our land. But they are still expanding, with dozens of new houses on our land. We are unable to do anything. They are also starting to construct a tunnel. The brutality in Ni’lin also increased. There is a new commander responsible for the area here. He wants to suppress our village, because despite everything they have done to us, the shootings, the arrests, the killings of the five people, the people are tired but they don’t give up.
From January to April this year, they arrested 16 people, and then they stopped briefly, only to intensify their repression in October. They invaded the village every day, arresting more people. In total there are 42 people from Ni’lin in prison now. Despite all this, the voice against the occupation rose. A new thing is that the soldiers started to confiscate computers and other technical devices from the village, because they know that this [the media] is our weapon. In July the army asked for permission to use live ammunition from the Israeli courts, even when there are cameras filming, which they got.
In 2008, they killed Ahmud Musa, who was ten years old at that time. The soldiers claimed they had to respond with violence, otherwise it would have been considered as a sign of weakness. The murderer of Ahmud Musa was never charged with any crime.
They also try to fill the village with drugs to weaken the movement. This is causing lots of trouble in our social life.
What effects does the occupation have on your family?
I will tell you about the history of my family. We were refugees from Jaffa. We were expelled in 1948 to Jordan. Before that my family used to live in the old city of Jaffa. We came back to the West Bank in 1968. Just my grandfather and his closer family, the rest stayed in Jordan. Some of them refused to come back, because they did not want to agree to the points that were made with the Oslo agreement. They were fighters in the PLO. When we tried to come back to our land in Jaffa, we realized that it was impossible for us to do so. That is why we came to Ni’lin, which is the closest point to that area. Everything else was closed.
The first thing is that we lost all of our land in Ni’lin. We have no more land, except the land we live in, with our house and garden. We lost the first part, when the buildings of the colonies began. The biggest part of our land though lies behind the wall now. We used to have 260 dunams of land; we are now left with six or seven today.
Since we used to be farmers but didn’t have any land anymore, we had to find a different source on income and of existence. My father used to have permission to work within ‘48, that way he still earned enough money to support his family. In 2008 however, he was arrested for joining the peaceful protest against the wall and they wouldn’t extend his permission so he became unemployed. We had no more farming land and no more work, which was a very big problem for us. Since that time, several things have happened. Many of us were arrested. I was arrested, so were my two brothers and my father. My sister and my mother were injured with live ammunition. Another problem was the night raids. The soldiers used to come to my family house; they invaded it more than 25 times. They would always come in the night, wearing masks with their dogs. Once they isolated us in one room, but my little brothers, who were about four at that time, were still asleep. So when they woke up, we were all gone, locked up in one room. That was a shock for them, they started to shout and scream. This experience left a mark on them. Up until now, they sometimes pee without realizing it, because of their fear.
My mother also has developed panic attacks due to all the stress she has been going through. These attacks come in moments when she is anxious and under a lot of pressure or stress. It started during the Intifada and increased during the period after 2008, when so many of us were arrested, injured and our financial situation deteriorated. My father has been unemployed for the last six years. There is no more land, no more work left here. The occupation affects our life in so many ways, economically and socially.