Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence

Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldier Testimonies 2000–2010

by Breaking the Silence
Jerusalem, 431 pp., available at jfjfp.com/?p=19918
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Agostino Pacciani/Anzenberger/Redux
Sari Nusseibeh, Jerusalem, April 2004

A few weeks ago I was in al-Nabi Salih, a Palestinian village northwest of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. It wasn’t so easy to get there; the Israeli army had closed off the area on every side, and we literally had to crawl through the olive groves, just beneath one of the army’s roadblocks, before we managed to reach the village. Al-Nabi Salih is a troubled place. The large Israeli settlement of Halamish nearby has taken over nearly half of the village lands, including a precious freshwater spring. Most Fridays there are dramatic confrontations between the soldiers and the villagers protesting this land grab and the other difficulties of life under occupation.

Yet the first thing I saw in al-Nabi Salih was a huge sign in Arabic and English: “We Believe in Non-Violence. Do You?” It was World Peace Day, and speaker after speaker reaffirmed a commitment to peace and to nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Particularly eloquent was Ali Abu Awwad, a young activist who runs a new organization, the Palestinian Movement for Non-Violent Resistance, with its offices in Bethlehem and growing influence throughout the occupied territories. “Peace itself is the way to peace,” he said, “and there is no peace without freedom.”1

All of this is, in some ways, rather new in Palestine, although in his latest book the philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al-Quds University in Jerusalem, traces an earlier stage of organized Palestinian civil disobedience in the popular struggle of the first intifada in 1988 and 1989, in which he had a significant part. In the more recent past, nonviolent resistance in the form of weekly demonstrations and marches has been a mostly local phenomenon, limited to a few villages between Jerusalem and the coastal plain such as Budrus and then more famously Bil’in, and to some extent to a cluster of villages in the Bethlehem area to the south. These demonstrations are invariably violently suppressed by the army with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and, quite often, live ammunition. Sometimes they degenerate into clashes, with stone-throwing from the Palestinian side; at other times, as on the day I was in al-Nabi Salih, the demonstrators manage to maintain discipline in the face of the guns.

The army has so far kept these protests from spreading beyond the villages in question—in keeping with the general policy of fragmenting, isolating, and fencing in all Palestinian communities in the territories controlled by Israel. Budrus was a success story—really the only one so far; nonviolent protests by the villagers, with women prominently involved and with the support of Israeli and international activists, forced the army to redraw the path of the separation barrier and to restore the lands initially appropriated by the government.2 Bil’in, in contrast, though it has kept up a weekly protest for some six…


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