Show of Force: Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations in a-Nabi Saleh

Summary, September 2011

A-Nabi Saleh is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, north of Ramallah. For for more than eighteen months now, every Friday, its residents have demonstrated against settlers seizing nearby land that belongs to Palestinians. The Friday processions held in the village have become one of the main sites of weekly protest in the West Bank in recent years.

In their handling of the protests in a-Nabi Saleh, Israel’s security forces have infringed the rights of the Palestinian demonstrators in three fundamental ways, as follows:

Security forces disperse a demonstration in a-Nabi Saleh, 21 May 2010. Photo: Oren Ziv, activestills.org
Security forces disperse a demonstration in a-Nabi Saleh, 21 May 2010. Photo: Oren Ziv, activestills.org

Violation of the right to demonstrate

B'Tselem's documentation indicates that Israel does not recognize the right of a-Nabi Saleh’s residents to demonstrate. Israeli security forces prohibit the demonstrators from reaching the site that is the subject of the demonstration – al-Qawas Spring and the land around it – and prevent the procession from exiting the village towards the spring. Also, the army declares the demonstration illegal at the outset, sometimes even before the procession begins. The army also issues an order declaring the entire village a closed military area every Friday, and blocks the roads leading to it. As a result, persons from outside the village are unable to exercise their right to join in the demonstration.


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Excessive use of means for dispersing demonstrations

The security forces’ use of means to disperse the demonstrations is excessive and occurs even when the demonstrators are nonviolent and pose no threat. The forces fire enormous quantities of tear gas inside the built-up area of the village, which is home to hundreds of persons. In one demonstration, at least 150 tear-gas canisters were fired. In another demonstration, security forces hurled tear gas canisters at a procession of children in costumes who were flying kites. At times, the tear gas canisters are fired directly at the demonstrators, endangering their lives. Also, security forces throw stun grenades almost without limitation at children and adults alike, to disperse them, even when they pose no threat whatsoever.

Harm to the civilian population

The army and the Border Police invest a great amount of resources in dispersing these regular demonstrations, in which several dozen people participate. These resources include the deployment of forces at the main intersection of the village, and the vast quantities of means to disperse demonstrations. Handling of the demonstrations in this manner is disproportionate. It intimidates hundreds of villagers and forces them to remain in their houses for many hours, making it impossible for them to lead a normal life. The massive amounts of tear gas fired penetrate the houses close to the main intersection in the village, and the occupants are unable to escape.

Also, the restrictions on movement in the area every Friday create difficulties for residents of all the nearby villages.

In advance of the expected declaration of a Palestinian state on 20 September 2011, Israel's defense establishment is preparing to cope with wide-scale demonstrations in the West Bank. As part of the preparations, the security forces must recognize Palestinians' right to demonstrate, and must allow them to protest against infringement of their rights. The decision to disperse a demonstration must be made only after the relevant authorities have properly balanced the right to demonstrate against other relevant interests, as is done in the case of demonstrations held inside Israel. In any event, means for dispersing demonstrations must not be used in a way that injures persons or punishes all residents of the village.