“Have you ever been to a demonstration?” a resident of Nabi Saleh asked me, trying to judge my level of experience.
So far I had only attended demonstrations in Canada and Europe, which as I was about to find out, are worlds apart from what a demonstration in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh looks like- mainly, a war zone.
Little did I know, the robust, energetic, young man who had been walking by my side would be shot dead by a sniper in half an hour, his arms hanging lifelessly as his friends ran, carrying him across the rocky terrain, his face having already changed into a yellow tint in a matter of seconds.
The young man was 23-year-old Saba Obaid, the 21st Palestinian to be killed from Israeli live ammunition in 2017.
The demonstration on May 12 began just like every Friday, after the noon prayer at around 1 p.m. Protesters walked down the road from the mosque towards the village’s checkpoint, chanting against the occupation and waving flags of Marwan Barghouti, in support of the Palestinian detainees’ hunger strike taking place across Israeli prisons.
As they walked along the curving road, the Israeli soldiers entered in view, dressed in protective riot gear and already in position, having advanced far from the checkpoint. The soldiers were spread out, blocking the road.
Demonstrators continued to walk towards the soldiers, with two of them pushing a large, steel garbage container and placing it in the middle of the road to be used for shelter.
Almost immediately, Israeli forces began throwing stun grenades and tear gas and shooting with rubber bullets while some young, male protesters threw rocks at them.
The group of protesters soon split into two. One group, which included all of the female protesters, continued walking to meet the soldiers face-to-face, and remained protesting there for the entire time.
The second group, consisting mostly of young men in their teens or early twenties began running further down the road, ducking for cover from the rubber bullets, explosive ordinances and live ammunition being shot at them. Some of them launched rocks from a distance and remained at least 50 metres away from the Israeli forces. Many of them were boys below the age of 13.
Most of the group had retreated so much so that the Israeli forces were no longer in sight. They then climbed on top of the nearest hill and some began throwing rocks while sheltering themselves from behind a demolished house. All of the protesters were unarmed.
One protester’s face was covered in blood after he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet. His cousin remained unfazed about it. This is after all, what a regular Friday looks like in Nabi Saleh.
A second protester was shot in the leg. The group hurriedly rushed each injured protester down the hill towards the private car waiting on the road.
Sniper shots regularly rang out as the protesters ducked for cover. A resident of Nabi Saleh informed me later on that the soldiers were shooting at the group of young men from behind another demolished structure just across the hill from them.
Another group of protesters stayed behind in the clearing, next to the trees, watching the scene unfold. The land between them and the protesters sheltered by the demolished house lay in the line of fire.
For about twenty minutes a pattern of ducking for cover and popping out to throw a rock persisted. A sniper shot loudly rang through the air and the entire group instantly ducked down.
In a few seconds the group realized that Saba Obaid had been shot in the stomach and began yelling at the car to come closer as they carried him across the rocky terrain.
But his face gave it all away- it didn’t look like he would survive. They immediately rushed him to the hospital 15 minutes away.
The demonstration died down shortly afterwards and the protesters retreated to their homes. A resident of Nabi Saleh commented how today’s protest was unusually calm compared to other Friday protests.
“Only three injured this time,” he said. “In the last few weeks we had twenty people injured and way more tear gas and stun grenades.”
However, ten minutes after arriving at my friend’s house, we received a call that Saba Obaid had passed away due to internal bleeding. His funeral was held a few hours later in his hometown of Salfit, with at least 1,000 people in attendance.