From most south-facing windows in Nabi Saleh, you can see the red roofs of Halamish, the Israeli settlement on the hilltop across the valley. It has been there since 1977, founded by members of the messianic nationalist group Gush Emunim, and growing steadily since on land that once belonged to residents of Nabi Saleh and another Palestinian village. Next to Halamish is an Israeli military base, and in the valley between Nabi Saleh and the settlement, across the highway and up a dirt path, a small freshwater spring, which Palestinians had long called Ein al-Kos, bubbles out of a low stone cliff. In the summer of 2008, although the land surrounding the spring has for generations belonged to the family of Bashir Tamimi, who is 57, the youth of Halamish began building the first of a series of low pools that collect its waters. Later they added a bench and an arbor for shade. (Years after, the settlers retroactively applied for a building permit, which Israeli authorities refused to issue, ruling that “the applicants did not prove their rights to the relevant land.” Recently, several of the structures have been removed.) When Palestinians came to tend to their crops in the fields beside it, the settlers, villagers said, threatened and threw stones at them.
It took the people of Nabi Saleh more than a year to get themselves organized. In December 2009 they held their first march, protesting not just the loss of the spring but also the entire complex system of control — of permits, checkpoints, walls, prisons — through which Israel maintains its hold on the region. Nabi Saleh quickly became the most spirited of the dozen or so West Bank villages that hold weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. Since the demonstrations began, more than 100 people in the village have been jailed. Nariman told me that by her count, as of February, clashes with the army have caused 432 injuries, more than half to minors. The momentum has been hard to maintain — the weeks go by, and nothing changes for the better — but still, despite the arrests, the injuries and the deaths, every Friday after the midday prayer, the villagers, joined at times by equal numbers of journalists and Israeli and foreign activists, try to march from the center of town to the spring, a distance of perhaps half a mile. And every Friday, Israeli soldiers stop them with some combination of tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, water-cannon blasts of a noxious liquid known as “skunk” and occasionally live fire.