Life under occupation in Nabi Saleh

By Jamie

23 March 2012

Footage of Israeli soldiers raiding a house in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh (with English subtitles):

The home being raided belongs to the family of Bassem Tamimi, a prominent non-violent activist currently languishing in Israeli prison. The EU has declared Bassem a 'Human Rights defender', and Amnesty International views him as 'a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his role in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers'. 

This is not the first time Bassem has been detained by Israel. In 1993, he was tortured by the General Security Service (GSS), falling into a coma for six days after being violently shaken during interrogation. All told Bassem has been arrested by the Israeli military 11 times (not including this latest one), spending a total of approximately three years in prison, without ever having been charged with an offense. On this occasion, Bassem was arrested on 24 March 2011 and charged with 'incitement and support of a hostile organization, organizing and participating in unauthorized processions, incitement to throwing objects against a person or property'—that is, incitement to throwing stones. As Amnesty notes, Bassem has in fact 'repeatedly affirmed nonviolent principles' and the protests in Nabi Saleh have been 'largely peaceful', with organisers urging protestors to 'adhere to non-violent methods' (some individual protestors, this notwithstanding, do throw stones). The case against Bassem is based primarily on the testimony of Islam Dar Ayyoub, aged 14 at the time of his arrest, who was taken from his house (he is Bassem's neighbour in Nabi Saleh, and goes to school with Bassem's son, Waed) in the middle of the night, deprived of sleep, refused legal counsel, not informed of his right to silence, threatened, and interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent. He spent two and a half months in prison, before being released to house arrest. While Islam was in prison, his brother Kareem —11 years old—was also arrested, before being released. Mo'atassem Tamimi, 15, also provided 'evidence' incriminating Bassem, also under duress. More generally, as documented in a recent EU-funded study, Palestinian children detained by Israel are subject to 'systematic' ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture.

The woman in the video above is Nariman Tamimi, Bassem's wife and also a prominent non-violent protest organiser in the West Bank. She has been arrested and injured numerous times in the course of the protests. Nariman studies international law, and works with Israel's leading human rights organisation B'Tselem. The Tamimis' home—the one being raided by soldiers in the video—has been threatened with a demolition order. In December 2011, Nariman's cousin Mustafa Tamimi was shot directly with a tear gas canistera common though illegal practice—at a protest in Nabi Saleh. He died the next day.

The Halamish settlement bordering Nabi Saleh was established by the Israeli cabinet in 1977, and since then hundreds of dunams have been declared 'state land' and expropriated to it. Moreover, since 2000, settlers have taken over a further 450 dunams that fall outside Halamish's official boundaries and de facto annexed them. In July 2008 settlers from Halamish began to use a spring located on private Palestinian land, used by local Palestinian villagers, including those from Nabi Saleh. In February 2009 the settlers began building work on it. Palestinian complaints were rejected by Israeli authorities, who in January 2010 informed villagers that the spring was an 'archaeological site' and denied them access to it. The settlers however continued to build on the site and enjoyed 'free access' to the spring. This was the latest in what the UN OCHA describes as a '35-year-long process' of Israeli settlers 'undermining the agricultural livelihoods' of local villagers. It is also part of a broader pattern of water theft across the West Bank:

'Springs remain the single largest source of water for irrigation in the West Bank, and an important  coping mechanism for communities not connected  to a network (or those supplied on an irregular  basis) to meet domestic and livelihood needs. Springs are also an integral part of the West Bank landscape and open spaces, and as such they serve as sites for leisure and family recreation. 

Over the past few years, however, Palestinian access to a growing number of springs has been significantly reduced, and often totally prevented,  by Israeli settlers, mostly by threat and intimidation. In most cases, following the removal of Palestinian presence at a given spring and itssurrounding  areas, Israeli settlers have begun developing the  area into a tourist attraction.'

Weekly protests in Nabi Saleh, against the theft of the spring and other Palestinian land, began in December 2009. Israel reacted by invoking Military Order 101, issued in 1967, which 'prohibits almost completely the holding of demonstrations in the West Bank'. This is the Order under which Bassem was arrested. Since the weekly demonstrations began around 13% of Nabi Saleh's inhabitants have been arrested, many of them children. The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem reports that the Israeli military's response to the Nabi Saleh demonstrations is characterised by 'excessive use of force', 'harm to civilians', and the 'infringement of the right to demonstrate'. Between 2009-2011, one demonstrator was killed while protesting and 185 were wounded, including 26 children. The IDF has classified the entire Nabi Saleh area a military zone, and B'Tselem concludes:

'The security forces’ behavior in dispersing the weekly demonstrations in the village seriously harmed all the residents of the village, who were effectively under curfew every Friday, while being exposed to tear gas that penetrated their homes.

Residents of the area, too, were harmed by the closing of the roads, which forced them to use alternative routes, greatly lengthening their travel time. The security forces made no effort to balance between the residents’ right to demonstrate and the authorities’ obligation to maintain public order; instead, they severely infringed the residents’ rights.'

The persecution of Bassem Tamimi is, then, not an isolated one. Nor is the repression in Nabi Saleh unique. Activists in Bil'in, for example, the site of weekly demonstrations against the wall, have received similar treatment. Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a prominent non-violent activist, was arrested in December 2009 in circumstances similar to the treatment of Bassem Tamimi. Like Bassem, Abdallah was charged with inciting demonstrators to throw stones on the basis of testimony induced from minors who were interrogated without legal representation. As in Nabi Saleh, the Israeli army has used Military Order 101 to effectively prohibit public demonstrations there. Like Bassem, Abdallah has been declared a Human Rights Defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He was convicted in an unfair trial and ended up spending 16 months in prison. The EU's Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern that 'the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahmah is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner'. Bassem Abu Rahmah, also a participant in the Bil'in protests, received an even harsher sentence: on 17 April 2009 a soldier fired a tear-gas grenade directly at his chest, killing him. He was not throwing stones or endangering soldiers in any way. Bassem's sister, Jawaher, died in 2010 after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas at a demonstration; his brother, Ashraf, was shot in the foot while bound and blindfolded at a protest in Nil'in in 2008, and was arrested in Bil'in in 2011. Protesting against Israel's theft of land and resources in the West Bank isn't easy—not if you are Palestinian, at any rate.

More generally, recent years have seen 'a crackdown on those voicing their opposition to the construction of the fence/wall', with dozens of activists known for advocating nonviolence arrested and the offices of organisations involved in nonviolent advocacy against the wall being repeatedly raided by the IDF. See this B'Tselem report for more on that. Bassem Tamimi explains the logic behind Israel's targeting of advocates of nonviolence:

"The army is determined to push us toward violent resistance. They realize that the popular resistance we are waging with Israelis and internationals from the outside, they can’t use their tanks and bombs. And this way of struggling gives us a good reputation. Suicide bombing was a big mistake because it allowed Israel to say we are terrorists and then to use that label to force us from our land. We know they want a land without people — they only want the land and the water — so our destiny is to resist. They give us no other choice."

As senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad explained, "We don't do Gandhi very well".

Palestinian nonviolent resistance continues, but its success - and the safety of its participants - depends on people elsewhere paying attention. 

Iz al-deen Tamimi, 16, injured today at Nabi Saleh demonstration, after being hit with a metal bullet in the face.

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