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Middle East

Ni'ilin: the West Bank focus of unarmed demonstrations and civil disobedience

Mariam Moussa appeared almost catatonic in her grief yesterday, seated immobilised on a sofa, her eyes fixed on the "martyr" poster she was clutching of her ten year old son, killed by an Israeli bullet the previous evening. "Since she heard the news she didn't say anything and she didn't eat or drink anything" said Isma Amireh, 36, a family friend.

Outside, young men joining the procession, some with green Hamas and yellow Fatah flags, marching past the family's white two storey house to the adjacent cemetery chanted: "Mother of the martyr, ululate, all the young here are your children" In the centre of this village in the hills west of Ramallah, freshly painted red graffiti on the wall proclaimed "The death of the martyr Ahmed Moussa will increase our struggle against occupation."

But in the upstairs room crowded with tearful women mourners where the pregnant Mrs Moussa sat silently staring at the photograph of her third son, and flanked by two of the boy's aunts, there was little of this political defiance. One aunt, giving her name only as Umm Mala, wearily deflected questions about her nephew, a keen footballer and excellent Arabic student, according to one of his teachers "What will help us with all this talk?" she asked. "He will not come back to us."

Strikingly, however, the mourners were joined not only by leftist independent politicians like Mustafa Barghouti but also by Rafiq Husseini, the right hand man of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. For Ni'ilin has become the West Bank focus of unarmed demonstrations and civil disobedience against the military's separation barrier, which farmers here say is cutting them off from more than 800 acres of West Bank olive groves on which their livelihood depends.

Ahmed Moussa, was killed on Tuesday evening by a what an initial Border Police investigation confirmed was a live M16 bullet fired by the driver of a military jeep which advanced on a group of youths and children, including the dead boy. They had wandered after just such a demonstration among rolls of barbed wire used to build a fence to keep them away from the infrastructure of the barrier itself. As the Israel Defence Forces opened an investigation into the fatal incident. Mr Husseini declared "Our child is equal to an Israeli child. I hope the Israelis realize they are going nowhere by killing children." Endorsing the tactics deployed by Ni'ilin villagers, he added: "This resistance is not armed but peaceful and it will win."

Palestinian medics said later that a 21 year old Palestinian man severely wounded in the head was among nine injured by rubber bullets fired by Israel troops as protesters gathered for the funeral threw stones. Earlier Israeli forces had used stun grenades and tear gas to prevent crowds of mourners getting to close to them.

Mohammed Kanan, 28, a member of the committee organizing the protests said that the shooting of the ten year old was a "revenge" on Ni'ilin because a local woman, Mr Kanan's 17 year old sister, had three weeks ago taken video footage-widely shown on Israeli TV-of a soldier shooting a blindfolded and handcuffed 27 year old protestor Ashraf Abu-Rahma at close range in the foot. The battalion commander at Ni'ilin Lieutenant Colonel Omri Bruberg, whom the soldier accused of ordering him to carry out the shooting, has been suspended for ten days pending an investigation. Mr Kanan's father was arrested the day after the video aired and is still in detention.

Mr Kanan acknowledged that stones had been thrown during protests but added "We call on people to use non-violence but the Israelis provoke people and they are not in our control.That is the problem." He said that "people are divided about this." Some say if the Israelis use violence we should respond. Others say we should not respond. I think we should use only legal means."

He added: "We depend on this land for our livelihoods. And it is all our land. If the wall was on the 1967 border [between Israel and Palestinian territory] we would not make any protest."

Said Amireh, 16, who had been among the group near the barrler, said that when the boys had seen the jeep - which had been "hiding" - move towards them they had worked their way back through fencing and started to run to safety. "But the younger ones weren't able to keep with us. I looked back and saw the driver of the jeep get out and fire three bullets and a young boy was lying on the ground. One young man went to fetch the body and shook it to see if there was life and part of his skull just went on the ground."

One witnesss Mohammed Hamdan, a 27 year old bakery worker said that the dead boy had been standing by an olive tree. While he said there had been stone throwing before the incident, another of the youths who escaped, Hamad Attallah, 18, said there was no chance for anybody to throw stones during the fatal incident. "We were just trying to get away." He added: "We have a right to be on our land. They don't have the right to shoot him on our own land."

Said Amireh added: "Why didn't they shoot rubber bullets? Why did they shoot live bullets? That is the question."