3 Hospitalized, 4 Detained in Ni’lin

29 August 2008

Thursday, August 28, the demonstration in Ni’lin began ‘unofficially’ hours before the appointed time, when soldiers took up posts around the edges of the village mid-morning. Not content with ‘simply’ firing tear gas canisters at pockets of youth with stones, by noon Israeli Occupation Forces were firing enormous amounts of tear gas into the center of town, not even taking care to see where they were firing, they rained down tear gas on young girls age 6-16 walking home from school. Several small girls panicked at the shots being fired and the clouds of tear gas surrounding them and began running into nearby homes crying and gagging on the suffocating gas.

For two hours before the demonstration was officially to begin, hundreds of young Palestinian boys and some girls shouted chants against the Wall and slung stones at the armored soldiers who surrounded the village. Soldiers fired tear gas indiscriminately into homes, yards and the center of town. One woman was desperately trying to herd her chickens out of their coop that was hit by a tear gas, trying to save an important source of the family’s income. When international activists positioned themselves on the roof of home to attempt to see from where the soldiers were shooting, an Israeli soldier was seen taking direct aim and shooting a tear gas canister through a window of the home below the activists. (An independent international activist and PSP are covering the cost of the broken window). The tear gas canister landed inside the home where a baby less than a year old lay sleeping. The mother grabbed the baby but had no where to run, as the entire family compound was surrounded by tear gas. Children and elderly women were trapped inside, quickly trying to seal off the room where the tear gas canister lay.

Israeli soldiers continued their advance into the village, coming within 50 meters of the center of town before retreating to wait for the main demonstration to begin.

At 2pm, members of the Popular Committee along with community leaders, youth, and a small delegation from the neighboring village of Budrus met at the city center and began to march along the main road before cutting into the olive groves in an attempt to avoid the Israeli soldiers as much as possible on their way to the bulldozers. Well before reaching the bulldozers and when not a single rock had been thrown, however, demonstrators were met with soldiers who began firing tear gas in quick repetition, covering the hillside with clouds of gas. Soldiers then came up from behind the demonstrators, cutting off a retreat to the village. While most of the demonstrators retreated down the hill where they were continuously bombarded with tear gas which led to one woman in a nearby home fainting from inhalation, a few small groups of Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals were left on the hillside, cut off from the larger group. Soldiers then began firing metal tear gas canisters at the heads of the demonstrators remaining on the hill, and surrounding them with gas, incapacitating them. 3 Palestinians, including the imam from Budrus and a young independent journalist were grabbed by border police who had come from behind and they, along with an Israeli activist from Jerusalem, were taken away and detained for several hours, only to be released in the middle of the night.

One of the two international activists left on the hill, a middle-aged woman from Scotland, had asthma which was triggered by the enormous amount of tear gas. After one group of border police allowed her and another from PSP international to leave, a second group began firing tear gas directly at them. The international with PSP shouted clearly at the soldiers in Hebrew not to shoot, and that the woman had asthma and the soldier responded by shooting a canister of tear gas directly at the activists, landing less than 15 feet away but luckily did not release its gas. By the time the woman from Scotland made it back to the village, while being constantly pursued by tear gas, she had a full-blown and very dangerous asthma attack which necessitated her hospitalization in Ramallah. She was released later in the day.

Soldiers then pursued all of the activists into the village and as demonstrators built makeshift roadblocks in anticipation of a full army invasion, Palestinian youth continued to battle back for control of their village, slinging stones at soldiers who began to shoot rubber-coated steel bullets in addition to tear gas. 2 Palestinians were injured, one 38 year-old severely when a rubber-coated steel bullet, shot from an illegally close range, entered his chest near his heart. Another young man was grazed in the head by a rubber-coated steel bullet, which only demonstrates that even after 2 deaths the Israeli military is continuing its policy of using so-called “non-lethal” weaponry in illegal and lethal ways including aiming for the head, firing tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets from close range, and firing tear gas into homes of children and the elderly who aren’t even involved in the demonstrations.

This week’s demonstrations, like the past several weeks, have clearly demonstrated the Israeli Occupation Forces’ complete disregard for human life and their own stated rules of engagement.