Yesterday more than 2000 Palestinians, Israelis and internationals gathered in the village of Nabi Saleh to mourn Mustafa Tamimi, who was killed last Friday during unarmed protest against the theft of village land and water.
This morning, Holly Rigby, a British volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, posted a searing eyewitness account of a funeral under attack:
“This has been one of the darkest and most disturbing days I have ever had to experience. The funeral of Mustafa Tamimi, murdered by the IOF [MR: Israeli Occupation Forces] at a demonstration at Nabi Saleh on Friday, ended with the IOF shooting endless rounds of the teargas canisters that killed Mustafa at unarmed mourners, beating and arresting people with impunity as they walked across Nabi Saleh village after the funeral.
Nabi Saleh, a small village of only 550 people, has been organising non-violent protests against the theft of their land since 2009. The illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish has continued to grow and expand since 1976, and the tiny village has been holding the demonstration for two years protesting against the confiscation of the village’s main water supply, the Kaws Spring. Nabi Saleh has become infamous for army violence and arrests against Palestinians, but until yesterday nobody had been killed there by the IOF.
Mustafa, a 28 year old Palestinian activist, died on Saturday morning after being critically injured when a tear gas canister was shot directly at his face from the inside of an armoured Israeli jeep only ten meters from where he was standing. The tear gas canister ripped through one side of his face causing a massive brain haemorrhage, and despite initial optimism he would survive on Friday night, he tragically passed away on Saturday morning.
I was initially supposed to be going to the Golan Heights today with the other volunteers, but when a funeral march was organised from the hospital where Mustafa died back to his village, I knew there was no way I could go and enjoy the tourist trappings of the Golan Heights on this terrible day for Palestine. Having always followed the tragic events that happen here, I had heard many times of Palestinians murdered by the IOF, but since being here the Palestinian struggle has become my struggle – when Mustafa died I felt my heart breaking at this unnecessary and cruel loss of life, and wept last night as if he were my own.
Around 200 people marched through the streets of Ramallah this morning carrying Mustafa’s body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag with a kuffieyeh to cover his head. As his body was laid in the ambulance, we got into a service [MR: small van, a group taxi] to follow it to the village. On the way there, I called an activist friend of mine to let her know where we were going, and she warned me to be careful. I assured her that there was surely no way that the IOF would be able to unashamedly devastate the funeral of a young man with violence. I now realise just how naive that was, and how deeply I underestimated the savagery of the Israeli army.
By the time we arrived in the village of Nabi Saleh, there were more than 2000 people who had joined the funeral procession, the men carrying his body above their heads with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Great’) and the chilling howls of the village women calling Mustafa’s name echoing through the tiny village streets.
We saw Mustafa’s sister walking distraught but defiant, with tears wracking her face, and his father being held by both arms by men around him, almost unable to walk, crippled by his grief. This was the death of a martyr for the Palestinian struggle, and the devastating effects of his death could be seen in every face I turned to.
His body was carried through the streets to his home for a final goodbye, to the mosque where the funeral prayers were spoken, and then eventually to the grave overlooking the beautiful Palestinian valleys on the outskirts of the village. My flatmate wanted to say some prayers for Mustafa so we walked back towards the mosque, but when we returned to the cemetery I was surprised to see the mourners had dispersed, when suddenly I recognised the acrid smell of tear gas fill my nose and my stomach turned as I realised what was taking place.
As I sprinted down the rocky terrain towards the entrance of the village, I saw elderly women and children running back up the other way, their faces blotchy and red with burning tears, doubled over and wretching as they tried to move away from where the army was firing. Unarmed mourners who only moments before had been grieving tears for their lost son, were now being attacked by the Israeli army with round after round of tear gas and being sprayed with skunk water, a foul smelling liquid unlike any waste sewage you have ever smelt.
As I moved closer to the protesters, I asked what had happened and they explained that the ten Israeli army jeeps I could see in the distance had arrived during the funeral, and were placed there to taunt and goad this grieving village. In the distance I could see the young men throwing stones at the army vehicles, a symbolic gesture expressing their deep anger against the death of their brother and against this cruel and twisted occupation.
Suddenly, I heard a loud crack and all around me the silver tear gas canisters that had killed Mustafa were being shot directly at where I was standing with other activists from ISM, and we ran up the road through clouds of billowing tear gas smoke, desperately trying to avoid the path of these silver bullet-like objects.
We were called up the road by a Palestinian from the village and he pointed down the hill to the east of the village where another unit of IOF soldiers were standing languidly at the bottom – waiting, goading, intimidating – knowing that the Palestinians would not stand by as another group of soldiers occupied their land on this day. We ran down the rocky slope where at the bottom the women who earlier had been sobbing and lamenting the death of Mustafa were now screaming into the faces of these IOF soldiers, holding his picture to their faces and demanding to know which one of them had killed their brother.
As I stood taking photographs of this painful scene, time suddenly collapsed into itself when I saw one of the soldiers smirk and tear the poster of Mustafa from a woman’s hands and rip it into pieces at the same moment a sound bomb exploded next to me, quickly followed by a tear gas canister that had been thrown and detonated at my feet. My face, my head, my mouth, my whole body was suddenly filled with tear gas and I ran away blindly as my face scorched from the gas and I felt like my head was going to explode on itself. I couldn’t breathe nor see nor think of anything apart from the burning that filled my lungs and head, and in the panic and confusion I ran as fast as I could from the canister.
But no demonstration I have attended here could have prepared me for the scene that was unfolding when I finally managed to regain my balance and ran back up the road to where the soldiers and Palestinians had gathered.
IOF soldiers were savagely beating anybody within their vicinity, three or four soldiers at a time grabbing men and throwing them to the floor, kicking them violently and stamping on their heads. As I stood back from the scene taking photographs, a soldier suddenly lunged towards us entirely unprovoked and threw one of the ISM activists I was with against the barrier of the road, doubling him over it as his body crashed to the ground. I screamed in his face WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING YOU ANIMALS and he shoved me out the way and turned back to the group of soldiers that has amassed to join in the violent spree.
As they tried to arrest more and more people the group of strong and defiant Palestinian women we were with threw their bodies over the men they were trying to drag away, and the soldiers began dragging these women by their hijabs, their clothes, wringing the necks of the men who were under this pile of women and trying to pull them from underneath. Covering and protecting the bodies of those trying to be arrested, the women were screaming so loudly for the soldiers to stop and this sound pierced my heart more deeply than any sound bomb could ever have done.
As I stood a few paces back from what was happening, my whole body was wracked with uncontrollable sobs as I helplessly looked on as the scene unfolded. Never in my life have I felt more powerless, weak and unable to do anything to intervene in the horrific scene that was playing out in front of my very eyes. The soldiers there were like savages, no remorse in their faces as their murderous hands grabbed and pulled the bodies of these innocent people who had come that day to mourn the loss of their brother.
After arresting three and beating many more, the group was forced to retreat back up the hill we had come from, running from the soldiers as they fired round after round of tear gas after us. A tear gas bomb exploded directly at the feet of one of the protesters, and inhaling the thick plumes of smoke he began suffocating and collapsed on the ground. As people gathered around him trying to help him, the soldiers who were watching what was happening started firing tear gas directly at the group that was helping the unconscious man, and they were forced to drag his body up the hill to escape.
We spent the next twenty minutes dodging tear gas as we made our way back up the hill, until eventually things began to calm so we made our way back to where the protest had begun originally, and the violence there too had dissipated.
As we sat in the service on the way back to Ramallah, I came to understand what the word ‘shell shocked’ really means. My mind was almost numb as we drove through the Palestinian valleys, unable to truly comprehend the things I had seen. It was only when I got back to my flat and recounted what had happened to my anxious flatmates that all my anger and distress bubbled to the surface once again, and I sobbed uncontrollably as I tried to understand what I had just experienced.
Knowing that this level of violence is what the Palestinian people have experienced for 64 years, almost powerless against the brutal, mechanised force of a murdering Israeli army, serves to only more deeply cement my hatred for the IOF and the terrible things they inflict on the wonderful people I have spent the last three months with. Its difficult to put into words the grief and humiliated anger that I feel as I sit here writing this, and yet I still cannot believe that the Palestinians are so strong and defiant against this savage, repressive force.
The injustice of the occupation courses through my veins, and I cannot begin to get my head around the mentality that would allow the Israeli soldiers to act as they did today. As one of my flatmates said, the IOF have no respect for the living, so why would we think they would have even an ounce of respect for the dead? What I saw today was humanity at its very worst, savagery that I did not think possible. Yet still knowing that this is only scratching the surface of the suffering experienced by Palestinians as they try to defend their lives, their lands and their homes hurts me more deeply than anything I have experienced in my life.
This is not propaganda. This is not my opinion. This is an account of a terrible scene that should only reinforce how destructive and cruel this occupation really is. Those who try to explain or justify the behaviour of the Israeli army are as complicit in these actions as the soldiers perpetrating these terrible crimes. Silence is compliance – I will not be silenced.”