Sitting down to write this blog I don’t know quite where to begin. I have several other blogs I’m waiting to post, which are all being held up for various reasons, but which I will be able to post very soon, inshallah.
I’ve made a few visits to the village of Ni’lin recently, to report on the women’s demonstration against the Separation Wall there and to interview Salam Kanaan, the girl who made this video. Ni’lin is a small municipality with a population of around 5000 people, and since the construction of the wall began there earlier this year, Ni’lin has been the site of intensive popular protest organised by the Ni’lin Popular Committee Against the Apartheid Wall. The village lost 69% of its land (40,000 dunums) to Israel in 1948, and since the occupation began in 1967, 44% of the remaining land has been lost to Israeli settlements and their infrastructure, which surrounds the village, housing more than 40,000 settlers. When plans to extend the West Bank ‘security barrier’ into Ni’lin threatened to take 25% (2,500 dunums) of what was left, villagers decided they had had enough. Since May this year, demonstrations have been held almost daily, and frequently met with brutal suppression from the IDF in the form of detentions, curfews, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Israel now plans to close of the entrance to Ni’lin, constructing in its place an army-secured underground tunnel which will be the only way in and out of the village, taking another 200 dunums of land. Slowly, the story of Ni’lin is trickling out to the international media, and Salam’s video is just one example.
Part of the rationale behind reporting on human rights abuses is that the knowledge that the world is watching will deter perpetrators from committing these abuses. In 1785, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham developed the idea of the Panopticon as the ideal mechanism of social control. Place individuals in a situation where they constantly know that they may or may not be under surveillance, and you will not need to use force to control them; they will internalise that discipline and modify their own behaviour accordingly. The theory was developed as a means to control prisoners, but has been applied to other forms of institution and social situations where surveillance is used as a deterrent. The spread of new communications technology has greatly enhanced people’s ability to record their experiences for the world to see, and for many human rights activists, the camera is more powerful than the gun.
That is, in part, why it was so shocking to receive a phone call on Tuesday evening to say that a child had been shot dead in Ni’lin. The pressure has been rising for months in that small pocket of land, with clashes between demonstrators and soldiers becoming more and more violent. The demonstrators hoped that after Salam’s film was released, the soldiers would be more restrained, aware that the world was watching. This was not to be. Boys continue to throw stones at soldiers and soldiers continue to throw tear gas bombs and shoot rubber-coated bullets. Even a crowd of unarmed women demonstrators were beaten and gassed. More reports surfaced of injuries incurred at demonstrations. The demonstrators hoped these would cause soldiers to exercise caution. The soldiers hoped they would deter demonstrators, but it has become clear that tear gas and rubber bullets are not enough to do that. Then ten year old Ahmed Musa was shot in the head.
In Ni’lin, it seems, the modern panopticon of the international news media is not working.
It’s events like this that make us wonder just what it will take to stop the violence. The world watches, the violence continues, the world gets bored and turns away. When a Palestinian child is killed here it’s hardly even news. Countless film crews and photographers attended Ahmed’s funeral today, but when Hamas youth threw stones at on-looking soldiers and hundreds were tear-gassed in response, what good could cameras do? This was just another day on the job. While Ahmed’s body was being buried, film crews hovered at the entrance to the village where soldiers were waiting for the crowds to return from the funeral. One camera man commented to his colleague, “We’ll just get a few shots of the clashes and then we can go home.” For the children of Ni’lin, this is home, and the perceived inevitability of the violence doesn’t make it any less devastating. Ahmed Musa and his peers did not ask for this life. Will they ever know anything else?
Posted By Hannah Wright
Posted Jul 30th, 2008