Saturday, May 16, 2009

Live fire at Ni'lin - after the reporters have gone

Max Blumenthal, @ Mondoweiss.

I was in Ni'lin today, a town in the West Bank that has been the site of weekly demonstrations against the construction of a portion of the Israeli separation wall that would effectively and deliberately annex farmland from the villagers for a nearby Jewish settlement. Each week the Israeli Army puts down Ni'lin's demonstrations in a draconian manner, escalating from the firing of teargas from surrounding hillsides to rubber bullets and live fire when they invade the town center.

Yesterday, true to form, the army set up positions in the hills above the village and began firing teargas volleys towards a cluster of about 30 demonstrators seeking to block the path of the wall's construction. I stood behind the demonstrators and filmed. Within minutes we were blanketed by teargas as canisters exploded all around us. My eyes burned until I couldn't see; I struggled to breathe as I ran down a narrow street, seeking cover behind walls. This happened over and over throughout the day. At one point the army cornered journalists and a group of demonstrators in a parking lot then appeared to pursue us until we leapt over a series of backyard walls and scattered. Afterwards the Shabab assembled at various points and began slinging rocks towards the Israeli positions.

By 3 pm I was exhausted. My head was searing with pain and my clothes were immersed in teargas residue. Most of the journalists and many of the international demonstrators had left, so I followed them out of Ni'lin, passing on my way out through an Israeli flying checkpoint that had sealed off the town's main entrance. With the media and international presence gone, Israeli forces transitioned from tear gas to live bullets.

At approximately 4:30 pm, a 12-year-old girl named Summer Amira was struck in the arm by a .22 caliber bullet from an Israeli rifle as she passed by the window of her home. She was taken to the hospital fifteen minutes later. This is nothing new for the residents of Ni'lin. The town of only 5000 residents has lost four young people to Israeli gunfire since May, including an 11-year-old boy. This is the price they pay for daring to resist the impending destruction of their farmland and the irrevocable rupturing of their community. Next week they will try again to stop the wall.

In a few days I will begin releasing video of the struggle inside Ni'lin and other footage I shot during an intensive reporting trip through the West Bank. The ISM's account of Summer Amira's shooting is here.

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