Ramallah – On the roof of the local municipality building in the West Bank village of Kafr al-Deek, a group of young Palestinian women wrapped in kuffiyehs listen attentively as a village organizer explains to them how Jewish settlements are stealing their land. Fares al-Deek, a local resident and the village’s coordinator for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC), is clearly happy that they have come. He is affably pointing out the encroaching settlements from the rooftop vantage point.
These ladies are not tourists or novices, however, but seasoned veterans of the unarmed resistance movement taking hold in outlying Palestinian villages threatened by Jewish settlements and Israel’s wall in the West Bank. In flash points around the West Bank they have honed their activist skills and earned their stripes choking on tear gas and dodging projectiles and rubber-coated bullets. Today, they have traveled from Ramallah and other Palestinian cities and towns to join the villagers in their struggle, which began just two months ago. In our group of seven people, six are women.
“I think popular resistance is one of the most important strategies we have as Palestinians and I believe we won’t be free until we free ourselves,” says Abir Kopty, an activist from Nazareth.
She continues by saying, “This village is new to the popular struggle and it’s the duty of every Palestinian to join them. It’s not about solidarity because I believe solidarity is a privilege…I am a Palestinian and this is my struggle too.”
Kafr al-Deek, which has had approximately 12,000 dunams (1,200 hectares) of land appropriated by settlements and the military, represents the spread of the popular struggle – a combination of unarmed protest and civil disobedience – to an increasing amount of Palestinian villages. This has been used as an alternative, and in many ways, revived form of resistance. Kafr al-Deek has become one of eight villages currently involved in weekly protests and the number is growing, with others soon planned.
Activists, like these women, have operated as a vehicle for transferring experience and know-how from place to place – armed with skills and technology the villagers often do not possess. They are all energetic, media-savvy, and highly committed to their cause. A clear example of their success in developing global awareness of the struggle has been the village of Nabi Saleh, which they have been largely responsible for turning into an international rallying point. In Nabi Saleh, they are viewed as family, having shed blood and tears together in defense of the village. Now they are attempting to branch out further by joining the nascent movement in villages like Kafr al-Deek.
“We came here today to show these people that there are others protesting and they are not alone, especially because most of us don’t come from the villages but from Ramallah, which is considered isolated from the rest of the West Bank and its problems,” explains Laila Jamil. She is another activist who spends her Fridays joining protests in the villages.
The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, which facilitates coordination between the different villages involved, represents a return to grassroots resistance in Palestine. Their primary model is the First Intifada, which was the quintessential Palestinian example of popular resistance because most of society was involved in the effort.
During the Oslo Accords and later the Second Intifada, the general population ceded control to the Palestinian Authority and various armed militias, respectively. As both negotiations with Israel and armed resistance against it have failed to liberate the people and advance their rights, the Popular Struggle and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) are trying to put resistance back into the hands of people on the ground, both in Palestine and abroad.
“It is great to see popular resistance growing in more villages, especially in ones like this that are surrounded by settlements,” says Lina Tamimi, who wears a t-shirt bearing a picture of the January 25 Revolution in Tahrir Square.
“It is crucial that they stand up for their rights,” she adds.
Women, in particular, are spearheading many of the local initiatives, a resurrection of their role in the First Intifada, when women were very active in grassroots politics. In Kafr al-Deek, however, local women have yet to become involved, something organizers say will soon change.
“By bringing women here we are trying to encourage the local women to join because this is their struggle too and it’s about women’s rights,” says Abir Kopty, adding, “Women should not be left behind.”
Popular resistance remains very localized and organic, with villagers taking leadership upon themselves. When a new village joins the struggle, the initiative and leadership comes from within. Thus, despite activists like Kopty having more direct experience, they only provide a supporting role.
“I respect this, it’s their village. I come to join them, help where I can and learn the lay of the land. Only then can I take a stronger role,” says Kopty.
The lack of experience is clearly evident in Kafr al-Deek two months on. There is little established leadership and the decision-making process still remains relatively unresolved.
As soon as the noon prayer comes to an end, the local residents and activists march together along a road leading out of the village, which soldiers have blocked with military jeeps. Along the way the megaphone changes hands several times. The activists recite an arsenal of clever nationalist chants about freedom and an end to occupation, the villagers seem to know only one, Allahu Akbar, (God is Great). The group of about 150 people arrives at the roadblock to confront the military. Many of the locals seem lost, not knowing what to do. At this point the activists step in and began engaging the soldiers.
In English, Lina Tamimi tells them they are acting no different than the Nazis did to their own people, the Jews. She questions their support for the settlers and tells them that they have stolen 75 percent of the village’s land. She says to them that one day they will all end up in court and be judged for their crimes, a point she emphasizes in Hebrew.
In the end the women leave the direction of the protest for the locals to decide, who eventually disband and return back to where they started. The local youth devolve into stone throwing, a familiar tactic to many of them. When they arrive in the center of the village, Israeli soldiers hiding among the olive groves began launching teargas canisters and firing rubber bullets. Two people are arrested and hauled off in military jeeps.
“It is still new here,” says Kopty, continuing, “They are just figuring it out for themselves until they find what works.”
The activists decide it is time to leave. On the way back to Ramallah, the young women stop in the village of Nabi Saleh to see how the day’s events have unfolded and join their compatriots in the closing hours of the protest. Upon arrival, one of the women opens the car door and the overwhelmingly putrid stink of “skunk spray” launched from Israeli military vehicles immediately fills our nostrils. “Ahh, smells like home,” she says.
* Some of the activists’ names have been changed to protect from Israeli military targeting.
**This article was originally published in Al-Akhbar English