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Palestinian village known for protests sees cultural rebirth

March 20th, 2010

   by Hossam Ezzedine
     NILIN, West Bank, March 3, 2010 (AFP) – On Fridays they chant slogans and hurl stones at Israeli soldiers, but on Saturdays the youth of this small Palestinian village head into a newly-restored citadel for music practice.

   A cultural renaissance of sorts is unfolding in Nilin, led by the same local leaders who have put the farming village on the map in the last two years by spearheading weekly protests against Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier.

   “Culture in all of its forms is a kind of resistance,” says protest organiser Salah al-Khawaja.
   “Popular resistance does not only mean daily confrontations with demonstrations and sit-ins. It could mean giving children skills to match their aspirations.”
   It all started with the decision to renovate a 200-year-old Ottoman-era stronghold in the centre of the village that had been abandoned by a prominent Palestinian family during the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel seized the West Bank.
   “We thought about renovating the citadel and making it a place where the young people could do activities, and to teach them things they could use in the future,” says Azmi al-Khawaja, 74, who headed the project.
   “The houses were old and falling apart. They were filled with dust and grass was growing on them,” added Azmi, who is related to Salah.
   The 300,000-dollar project was mostly funded by Sweden’s international development agency, which since 2002 has spent more than 15 million euros (20 million dollars) on renovating some 100 sites across the West Bank.
   Now one of the rooms in the community centre is used for band practice, with musical instruments donated by Palestinians living in the United States.
   Another room is used for computer classes, and a third is for local teachers to meet and discuss ways of improving education.
   Last spring the village held a festival to celebrate prickly pears, the main cash crop in the region, and more recently the citadel has been used in anti-drug campaigns aimed at local youth.
   Salah al-Khawaja argues that all the activities are part of the village’s “popular resistance” to the Israeli occupation which, aside from the weekly stone-throwing, is entirely non-violent.
   “Reading books at an Israeli checkpoint is a type of resistance,” he says. “We feel that many of these young men and women are starting to believe in this.”
   With peace talks at a standstill and the most recent intifada, or violent uprising, having petered out nearly five years ago, the weekly protests are one of the last remaining expressions of the Palestinian struggle in the West Bank.
   The demonstrations are aimed at halting the construction of the separation barrier, which is mostly built inside the occupied territory and cuts off farmers from their land in border communities like Nilin.
   Israel credits the barrier with preventing attacks, while the Palestinians view it as a land grab that carves out major Jewish settlements and threatens the creation of a viable future Palestinian state.
   The protests in Nilin usually turn violent, with teenagers throwing rocks and Israeli troops firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Five Nilin residents have been killed and scores wounded since the gatherings began in 2008.
   On a recent Saturday Loay, 15, who the day before had wrapped a chequered kuffiyeh around his face and used a slingshot to hurl rocks over the wall at Israeli army jeeps, sat hunched over a piano, pecking out chords.
   “I want to learn everything, and to be a famous piano player,” he says, asking that his real name not be used for fear of arrest.
   “Yesterday I took part in the demonstration against the Israeli army, which wants to steal our land. Today I am studying music so that, in the future, I can express my rejection of this occupation with songs.”

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