Nabi Saleh’s 550 residents have endured decades of dispossession.
Since 1977, they have been gradually losing their land to the Israeli settlement of Halamish (also known as Neveh Tzuf). The grabbing of their resources became especially pronounced in 2008, when settlers seized control of several freshwater springs on which the West Bank village depends.
A new play, The Story of Nabi Saleh: Our Sign is the Stone, is a testament to the determination with which the village’s inhabitants have resisted the Israeli occupation. As its title suggests, one of the main methods used to oppose the presence of Israeli forces in Nabi Saleh is by throwing rocks at them.
Now being performed by Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, the play draws attention to a village where weekly demonstrations began in 2009. Israel’s response to these protests was typically brutal. Within two years, 64 residents of the village — or 13 percent of its population — had been arrested. Of these, 29 were children or teenagers and four were women.
Two cousins, Mustafa and Rushdi Tamimi, have been killed. At last count, 432 residents have been injured.
Our Sign is the Stone is based on first-hand accounts collected from the village by writer Decca Muldowney and director Di Trevis. It traces the development of the protests, as well as depicting the hardship and comic absurdity of living under occupation.
In one scene, a couple of Israeli soldiers force themselves into a family home. They assert their dominance by demanding papers, taking pictures and snooping around.
Though their behavior is intrusive and violent, they are portrayed as pathetic clowns, who mindlessly abuse the chain of power with the sergeant ordering around the private, and the later ordering around the family. Some Nabi Saleh residents watching the play agreed that this is how they perceive Israeli soldiers.
When the soldiers enter the house, an international activist staying with the family hides. Fidaa Zidan, a member of the cast, said, “Many foreigners support the Palestinian cause, they come here to demonstrate that support and to raise international awareness about the Palestinian tragedy.
“The Israeli authorities are not interested in having the news of their crimes spread around the world, which is why if they come across pro-Palestinian activists they will arrest, deport and ban them from returning to Palestine for seven, sometimes ten years.”
Zidan added, “In the play, the family hides the activist to protect him. In my opinion, that is a demonstration of Arab hospitality and Palestinian values. We are brought up this way. A guest is a responsibility; he must be safe in our care.”
The play highlights an issue that has been underexplored: the role of the Palestinian woman in protests. Of the six actors involved, two play female characters. Despite only being one-third of the cast, it is the two women who do most to set the pace of the protest.
Zidan plays Manal Tamimi, an organizer of the protests. (Manal’s name is only mentioned when an Israeli soldier reads it aloud.) “Women all over the West Bank participate in all forms of resistance, but the situation in Nabi Saleh is very unique,” said Zidan. “Unlike in other places in the West Bank where we had to do two gender-separate shows, in Nabi Saleh the audience was mixed.
“It is a step forward. My character says in the play: ‘together we stand women and men together’; I say this to inspire women in the audience to follow the example of Nabi Saleh.”
Fellow actor Hassan Taha said that “the play reflects the reality of the protest in Nabi Saleh, the women of Nabi Saleh stand in front of the heavily-armed soldiers, the armored Humvees and the skunk water hose. They bravely face the tyranny of the occupation army.
“We’ve seen them often throw themselves selflessly between the soldiers and members of their family trying and sometimes succeeding to prevent the arrests of their husbands and their sons. In Nabi Saleh, you get the feeling that the woman is equal to the man not out of charity but merit.”
In the first act, a family is shown discussing what form the protests should take. Both female characters oppose armed resistance, viewing it as counterproductive. They push for peaceful weekly demonstrations afternoon prayers on Fridays.
At this point, an important question has to be addressed. Does stone-throwing make the protest less peaceful? The international activist played by Ben Rivers seems to believe that it does. The world will see stone-throwing as violent, his character argues.
But the women disagree. They adamantly refuse to march like sheep to the slaughter. When faced with Israel’s automatic weapons, the slingshot and stones of Palestinians are symbolic, they argue.
Of course, this is not the first time that the importance of throwing stones as a means of resistance has been underscored. When the first intifada broke out in 1987, youngsters who took part in it became known as “children of the stones.”
Some of the images most widely associated with Palestinian resistance are those of stone-throwers. These range from a photograph of little Ramzi Aburedwan, now a professional musician and founder of the Kamandjati school, throwing stones in the late 1980s to Faris Odeh standing in front of an Israeli tank in 2000. Faris was shot dead by Israeli soldiers just days after his picture was taken.
No matter what Israel and its supporters may claim, a stone is no threat to one of the world’s most powerful armies. Throwing a stone at a soldier carrying lethal weapons is an act of bravery; it betokens a determination to resist against the odds. Our Sign is the Stone reminds us of this important fact.
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article misspelled the name of director Di Trevis. It has since been corrected.
Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.