Merely a week after a senior Israeli officer was caught on tape hitting an international activist, an Israeli officer is caught on tape again using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Following the event in the Jordan Valley last week, large forces of army and Border Police were sent to confront protesters in the village of Nabi Saleh, headed by the army's division commander, Brig. Genral Haggai Mordechai, in his person. The forces took over the center of the village before the march had even began, in a display of force that included military jeeps, many soldiers on foot and a water cannon.
At some point, the soldiers and Border Police officers confronted a group of women and children, who were standing at the village's main junction, chanting slogans. For long minutes, and at the presence of the devision commander, one of the Border Police commanding officers began assaulting the protesters around him for no foreseeable reason. The officer snatched a flag from a girl who walked in front of him, hit women with his baton, attacked a photographer and eventually charged at a Palestinian woman who stood in front of him.
When the woman's husband, local cameraman Bilal Tamimi, tried to protect his wife, he was himself punched in the face, pushed to the floor and arrested. Despite the fact that the officer's violence spanned over several long minutes, the division commander, who, as the video shows, stood only meters away, did not deem it right to stop it. Thevideo also proves very clearly that throughout the whole time, the protesters were completely peaceful and could not possibly have been perceived as posing any threat to the soldiers.
After watching the video presented at court by Tamimi's lawyer, Adv. Nery Ramati, the military judge ordered release on bail – an unusual step in regards to Palestinians in the military court system. Tamimi intends to sue for false arrest and assault.
Late in 2009, settlers began gradually taking over Ein al-Qaws (the Bow Spring), which rests on lands belonging to Bashir Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council. The settlers, abetted by the army, erected a shed over the spring, renamed it Maayan Meir, after a late settler, and began driving away Palestinians who came to use the spring by force - at times throwing stones or even pointing guns at them, threatening to shoot.
While residents of Nabi Saleh have already endured decades of continuous land grab and expulsion to allow for the ever continuing expansion of the Halamish settlement, the takeover of the spring served as the last straw that lead to the beginning of the village’s grassroots protest campaign of weekly demonstrations in demand for the return of their lands.
Protest in the tiny village enjoys the regular support of Palestinians from surrounding areas, as well as that of Israeli and international activists. Demonstrations in Nabi Saleh are also unique in the level of women participation in them, and the role they hold in all their aspects, including organizing. Such participation, which often also includes the participation of children reflects the village’s commitment to a truly popular grassroots mobilization, encompassing all segments of the community.
The response of the Israeli military to the protests has been especially brutal and includes regularly laying complete siege on village every Friday, accompanied by the declaration of the entire village, including the built up area, as a closed military zone. Prior and during the demonstrations themselves, the army often completely occupies the village, in effect enforcing an undeclared curfew. Military nighttime raids and arrest operations are also a common tactic in the army’s strategy of intimidation, often targeting minors.
In order to prevent the villagers and their supporters from exercising their fundamental right to demonstrate and march to their lands, soldiers regularly use disproportional force against the unarmed protesters. The means utilized by the army to hinder demonstrations include, but are not limited to, the use of tear-gas projectiles, banned high-velocity tear-gas projectiles, rubber-coated bullets and, at times, even live ammunition. The use of banned 0.22" munitions by snipers has also been recorded in Nabi Saleh.
The use of such practices have already brought about the death of Mustafa Tamimi and caused countless injuries, several of them serious, including those of children - the most serious of which is that of 14 year-old Ehab Barghouthi, who was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet from short range on March 5th, 2010 and laid comatose in the hospital for three weeks. Due to the wide-spread nature of the disproportionate use of force, the phenomenon cannot be attributed to the behavior of individual soldiers, and should be viewed as the execution of policy.
Tear-gas, as well as a foul liquid called “The Skunk”, which is shot from a water cannon, is often used inside the built up area of the village, or even directly pointed into houses, in a way that allows no refuge for the uninvolved residents of the village, including children and the elderly. The interior of at least one house caught fire and was severely damaged after soldiers shot a tear-gas projectile through its windows.
Since December 2009, when protest in the village was sparked, hundreds of demonstration-related injuries caused by disproportionate military violence have been recorded in Nabi Saleh.
Between January 2010 and June 2011, the Israeli Army has carried 76 arrests of people detained for 24 hours or more on suspicions related to protest in the village of Nabi Saleh, including those of women and of children as young as 11 years old. Of the 76, 18 were minors. Dozens more were detained for shorter periods.