After 65 days of protests, 4 deaths and 294 wounded and hurt, including 84 with rubber-coated bullets and 3 with live ammunition, Palestinians in the village of Beita, South of Nablus in the occupied West Bank celebrated on Friday the evacuation of the illegal Israeli settlement of Avitar, on the hilltop of Mount Sabih. The Israeli government announced on Thursday that it reached an agreement with the 50 settler families on Mount Sabih to evacuate the outpost, while maintaining the built structures. According to the Israeli government, the land property in the location will be reviewed, in order to determine the supposed legality of the settlement. Activists in Beita told QNN that they will continue their protest movement until all settler structures are removed from Mount Sabih, insisting that the lands on the Mount are privately-owned by Palestinians.
Beita had become the center of attention in Palestine since late May, due to the mass popular resistance it showed. For many Palestinians, the creative aspect of protests and the mass participation of residents in Beita represented a new trend in popular resistance. One that reminded Palestinians of the years of the first Intifada. QNN accompanied the people of Beita in their protest activities, shortly before the evacuation of the settlers from Mount Sabih. This is the story of the popular resistance of Beita, from inside.
How “everybody became involved”
One week to the evacuation of settlers, it’s time for Friday prayer in Beita. The narrow dirt road between olive groves is filled on its both sides with old dusty cars that Palestinian villagers use for agricultural work. In a field overlooking a deep valley, hundreds of worshipers form lines for prayer, as the Imam of the village urges the participants through a loudspeaker: “leave some space between the lines, we are about to start”. More people continue to arrive, while the media crews with their cameras take their positions on the road, between the worshipers and the hilltop across the valley, where the concrete houses of the Avitar settlement stand.
After a long breath, the Imam begins his sermon: “In the name of God, the most clement, the most merciful…” A few phrases into the ritual speech, a tear-gas canister flies across the dirt-road and falls near the Imam. Worshipers cough and begin to move back into the olive grove, while the Imam interrupts his eloquent classic-Arabic sermon, yelling in a Palestinian peasant accent at Israeli soldiers, stationed nearby in the valley: “you bastards, let us finish the prayer and then we’ll deal with you!”
While protesters strive to form back in lines and start their weekly prayer, amidst tear-gas, Khaled Mufleh, a local journalist and resident of Beita explains to QNN that “protests in Beita started at the same time as the larger protests that followed the Israeli police incursion into Al Aqsa mosque, during the holy month of Ramadan. Israeli settlers took advantage of the upheaval to open roads and build the settlement”. By the end of May, Palestinians across the green line were celebrating their unified movement, as well as the cease-fire reached between Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel, following 11 days of bombardment. Beita, however, was yet beginning its own fight.
In a few weeks after the first settlers moved into Mount Sabih, the outpost grew into a small, fully-built settlement, with services and tens of families installed. Protests began to gain momentum. “Then, came the first martyr” recalls Khaled Muflih, “Issa Barham, a 42-year-old lawyer and father of four was shot dead while taking part in the protests. Two weeks later, Israeli soldiers killed Zakariyah Hamayel, a 28-year-old school teacher. At that point, anger in the village had reached its highest. Everybody became involved”.
Resistance, the only show in town
Two more Palestinians were killed in the weeks that followed. The latest, Mohammad Hamayel, was only 15. His posters hang in every street of Beita and even inside buildings. Traces of burned tires mark the entrance to the town, not far from a junction where the Israeli army watches closely all movement In and Out of the town. Especially on Thursday afternoons, when protesters, journalists and curious people of all kinds arrive at Beita’s weekly mass-protest event. Mahmoud Hamad, a 30-year-old agricultural worker drives two visitors directly to one of the clashing points near Mount Sabih. “Friday protests start on Thursday”, he points out, “If you’re visiting Beita you must be here for the resistance. It’s the only thing happening on weekends”.
Mahmoud considers that “the popular resistance in Beita is so effective because everybody feels concerned about it. There has never been any settlement on the lands of Beita before, so if we let this settlement stay, more lands will be threatened in the future”.
In fact, Avitar is the first Israeli settlement on the lands of Beita. Its location is in area (c), where Palestinians are forbidden to build, but villagers insist that the lands are privately-owned. In 2018, the Israeli army issued an order to confiscate 24 donums of land on Mount Sabih for military purposes. The confiscation never took place, and the order expired in the same year. Nevertheless, the strategic location of Mount Sabih, overlooking the Israeli road 5, meant that an Israeli attempt to take over the Mount was a matter of time.
At the clashing point, tens of Palestinians of all ages, mostly men, gather between olive groves some 200 meters away from a group of Israeli soldiers. A man holds a 5-year-old girl who chants through a loudspeaker: “Save Mount Sabih in Beita! Allahu Akbar!” as protesters repeat after her. A group of youngsters with their faces covered throw stones towards the occupation forces, while another group, under an olive tree shout insults in Hebrew. One of them, with his face covered, suddenly shouts in Arabic: “Hey Rany, why did you take the hairdressing tools?”.
The young man then explained to QNN that “the hairdressers in Beita brought their tools to Mount Sabih and offered free haircuts to anyone who donated car tires for the “night disturbance” activities. The soldiers then came and stole the hairdressing tools”.
After night-fall, the most iconic event of Beita’s resistance begins. At the same location of the next day’s prayer, hundreds of Palestinians from all ages gather in separate groups to take part in the “night disturbance” actions. “The idea is to make settlers so uncomfortable that they can’t sleep”, says 39-year-old Ali Hamayel. “We want to remind them that they are strangers and that their presence is not welcome”.
Ali holds a laser-light that he points at the settlement houses, moving it in circles. Tens of laser-lights point at the settlement across the valley, some held by men as old as 60, some by children as young as 10. “A wealthy merchant from the village saw some children pointing laser-lights at the settlement, in the early days of the protests”, recalls Ali, “then he looked for the best quality of laser-lights in the market, bought hundreds of them and distributed them for free on protesters, to disturb the settlers at night”.
Nearby, a group of young men operate a large buggle, powered by a diesel generator, producing very loud sounds towards the settlement. Ali uses his laser-light to point at the fire, down in the valley, as he explains: “those are car tires. The youth place them during the day and then set them on fire during the night. All the smoke blows up to the settlement”.
The “night disturbance” is a mixture of protest actions and a town-gathering. Around a camp-fire, a small group of young men share coffee as they watch the events. “Every Thursday, I leave work early. I don’t even go home. I come straight ahead here”, says
Awad Farhat, a 32-year-old construction worker. “Nobody plans anything. It all started spontaneous and continues to be spontaneous”, he affirms.
The “culture of resistance”
The night disturbance continues until 3am. Next morning, three young men gather in a closed coffee-shop, in the center of Beita, to share breakfast and talk about the events. “This coffee-shop is my business”, says 23-year-old Malek Hamad. “It has been closed since the beginning of protests in Beita. Especially after the Israeli army closed the entrances to the town, two weeks ago”.
The occupation forces imposed a closure on Beita in early June. It was only lifted for the visit of Palestinian Prime minister, Mohammad Ishtayah, on June 24, when the municipal council of Beita and elders of the town presented to him a list of demands, including the building of a hospital. “That’s the most important demand right now”, insists Malek, “all the wounded in the clashes are taken to the Rafidia hospital in Nablus, and they don’t receive proper treatment because the hospital is always full”.
Malek points to what he calls “a culture of resistance in Beita”. According to him, “families have integrated the idea that resistance is everybody’s business, and they don’t try to hold their young back from participation”. This culture of resistance, as Malek affirms, “includes self-organization. No political parties lead anything. It’s the people, collectively, with our own means”. Self organization translates into different groups of people taking care of different parts of the resistance process. “Women take care of the logistics, especially food on Fridays”, details Malek, “Some of us prepare the car tires for the night, and there’s a special group that checks every person who comes to the town, for security”. After a short, tense silence he confirms: “yes, also journalists. We checked you out too”.
This culture is not new in Beita. In 1988, during the first Intifada, the occupation demolished 15 houses in the village, in an attempt to suppress its resistance. “My father remembers how an Israeli officer opened a map on the front of a military jeep, at the entrance of Beita, and said that he will erase Beita from the map”, says Malek, as his friends affirm having heard the same story. “My father is 55 today, and he was wounded in the knee while protesting, three weeks ago”, he concludes.
The young men look through their smart-phones. Malek’s friend sends a stressed voice-message: “you’re too young to know what you’re talking about, stay out of it!”. He then laughs and explains: “We organize through social media groups, and that was a kid telling us what locations we should protest at today. He’s too enthusiastic”. When asked about his own age, the young man replies: “I turned 17 this year”.
“We have roots”
After breakfast, Malek and his friends drive an old car towards Mount Sabih. Hundreds of people begin to arrive and form lines for Friday prayer. Some of them come on crutches, while the young wrap the Palestinian koufiyehs around their faces for each other. The Imam opens his sermon and tear-gas canisters begin to fly. Half an hour later, the prayer is unofficially concluded, as the occupation forces shoot even more tear-gas and rubber-coated and real bullets. Protesters scattered in groups escape gas, chant slogans and throw stones from slings towards the soldiers.
Under an olive tree, Malek uncovers his face and takes a drink from a water-bottle. “Did you make good pictures?” he asks, laughing. He stares across the valley at the houses of Avitar and exclaims “they’re already half empty! I’m sure in a few weeks they’ll give up and leave”, then he concludes with a smile: “We, on the contrary, have roots here. No army can fight against that”.
Note: All the first names of interviewees were changed upon their own request