On Friday February the 3rd during the weekly popular resistance protests in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, Israeli border police fired tear gas canisters at head level directly at a group of unarmed protesters who were perhaps 25 to 30 meters away from the border police and who were merely chanting, nothing more. It should be noted that the border police are known for their vicious disproportionate and violent reactions to these kinds of protests, more so than the army itself. One tear gas canister lightly grazed the cheek of a Palestinian female protester, before hitting a French activist in the back of her head and, still propelled by its velocity, continued its course to hit a Dutch activist in his waist.
The video above, shot by local activist Nariman Tamimi, clearly captures the moment and leaves no room for doubt as to what hit the French activist, contrary to the lies emitted from the IDF spokesperson and other Israeli officials on Twitter who initially and outrageously claimed that the activist was injured from a rock thrown by a Palestinian.
Firing tear gas canisters at high velocity directly at unarmed protesters has become the staple of the Israeli army’s reaction in popular resistance protests. Two months ago, Nabi Saleh resident 28 year old Mustafa Tamimi was killed after an Israeli soldier opened the back door of the armored jeep and shot a tear gas canister at Mustafa’s face from a distance of three meters. The army has paid lip service to conducting its own investigation within the incident, which if carried out will be anything but impartial.
Today I sat down with the French activist, 20 year old Amicie P. and her Palestinian fiancé Aram S. to discuss the details of the actions that took place yesterday. The injury seemed pretty serious at first, owing to the fact that there was a large amount of blood, so it was a huge relief to see Amicie sitting next to me casually smoking cigarette after cigarette with a bandage swathed around her head.
Do you remember the moments right before the Israeli border police fired at us?
Amicie: “I was discussing with Diederik [the Dutch activist who was injured in his waist] about when we were going to leave to Ramallah. We agreed to stay for five more minutes. I wasn’t aware of when I got shot. I just felt something hit my head. It hurt me so much. I fell down and couldn’t seem to get up. People were carrying me because I wasn’t able to stand on my feet and the Israeli [border police] were still shooting at us. I wasn’t able to run. The medic Muhanad Saleem was screaming at them to stop shooting.
“I was really so afraid. I didn’t know if my injury was serious or not. I saw a lot of blood and thought of Mustafa and how he was killed in December.”
Aram: “I have asthma. I inhaled a lot of tear gas and couldn’t think clearly. I tried to help her then found myself away from her. I went mad when I heard that she was taken to one of the Israeli jeeps but it turned out that that didn’t actually happen. I was afraid they were going to deport her because she didn’t have her passport with her.”
Amicie: “The soldier asked if I were Palestinian. They wanted to take me inside one of the jeeps. They were shocked when they found out I was French. One of the soldiers panicked and took me behind from where the rest of the soldiers were standing, behind a jeep. I didn’t know if he wanted to arrest me or not but he wanted me to go inside the jeep.”
Did the soldiers try to treat you?
Amicie: “The soldiers tried to help me while I was waiting for the ambulance to come. They put some sort of liquid on my head—I think it was water—then tied a bandage on the wound. I was lying on the ground and was really scared because the soldiers were all around me looking down at me and holding their guns. They told me I was hit by a rock thrown by a Palestinian. It’s crazy because it’s so obvious that I wasn’t.
“When I was in the ambulance one soldier kept opening the door to ask for my full name, many times. The soldiers were talking about how I wasn’t a Palestinian but French. I didn’t have my passport with me, so I only gave them my first name. I wasn’t treated inside the ambulance.”
You were taken to Ramallah Hospital. What happened there?
Amicie: “I stayed at the hospital for only an hour. They took an x-ray of my head and stitched the wound up. I have to go back in another week for a check-up, and I might get the stitches removed by then.”
Amicie studies political science at the University Po Lyon back in France. As part of the program, students have to spend one year living and studying abroad in a foreign country. As her specialty is Middle East politics, Amicie came to Palestine August 1st 2011, where she enrolled in the Palestinian and Arabic Studies program at Birzeit University. Her visa expires in two weeks and she plans on going to France before coming back to Ramallah. She’s worried that in light of what happened on Friday she won’t or at the very least face a lot of trouble getting back in. When I asked her if she wanted to file a complaint against the Israeli army (or something similar) she expressed her frustration to me:
“I really want to do something but I don’t know what. It’s great for media attention because I am French, an international but at the same time I don’t want to have future troubles with my visa.”
Has any of the international media gotten in touch with you?
What was the reaction of your parents back in Lille?
Amicie: “My mother was really shocked. She said I shouldn’t go to any more protests, because my injury could have been worse. The French consulate called me yesterday evening to tell me that some newspapers would be getting in touch with me, so it would be better for me if I told my family beforehand.”
Amicie met Aram at the UN bid for statehood rally in Ramallah back in September (“The two state solution is impossible,” she slipped in.) The two have attended other demonstrations in the city, but this was their first experience in a village involved with the popular struggle.
Says Aram: “I’m so proud to know the people of Nabi Saleh. I can’t find the right words to describe the people; they’re so amazing. I didn’t feel like I was in a stranger’s home. They welcomed us and were so helpful. I felt like I was in my parent’ home. I want to go back and see them again, especially this old woman.”
Amicie: “It’s really impressive to see how the villagers live like that every day. The demonstrations are dangerous but that doesn’t stop the children from participating. The Israeli army’s response yesterday was really aggressive.”
Would you attend another Nabi Saleh protest?
Amicie: [laughs.] “Maybe not this Friday. I’d like to, but I feel frightened after what happened to me.”
Aram: “I’d go to another protest, but not with her. I don’t want to experience the feeling of almost losing her again. That feeling of 10, 12 minutes of not knowing whether she was going to be okay or not…I saw her kuffiyeh, all red from her blood. It’s crazy.”
Amicie: “It’s crazy the Israeli army shoots right at the people. Crazy that they’re still doing that after what happened to Mustafa. In demonstrations in France, the tear gas is normally shot at the ground so it’s not dangerous.”
How do you see the situation in Palestine in five years time?
Amicie: “In Nabi Saleh…I’d see the situation getting worse. I’m sorry, I know you wanted to end this on a positive note, but I’m pessimistic about these kinds of things. I feel like the majority of Palestinians don’t even care anymore [about resisting the occupation.]
Aram: “It’s because people owe the banks a lot of money. Salam Fayyad’s [state-building] policy has changed Palestinian society for worse. Everyone is now into their own selves. We weren’t like this five years ago. After the experience in Nabi Saleh…I feel like Ramallah and Nabi Saleh are two different countries, even though they’re only twenty minutes away from each other!”