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Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International has called for the release of activist Bassem Tamimi, whom they define as a prisoner of conscience. The 45 year-old father of four from Nabi Saleh was arrested October 24 during a protest action at a branch of Rami Levy, a Jewish-owned supermarket chain that has several branches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The chain stocks settlement goods, but refuses to stock Palestinian produce or products.

Bassem Tamimi arrested at the Rami Levy supermarket protest (credit: ActiveStils)

Last year, Haaretz reported that the supermarket had instituted a policy of separating male Arab grocery baggers from female Jewish cashiers after two such employees became romantically involved.

The protest, which was staged as a sit-in, was broken up by riot police.

Tamimi’s main activism, however, is centered on his home village of Nabi Saleh, population 530. Since 2009 the village has been holding weekly demonstrations to protest the confiscation of their land by the neighboring settlement of Halamish. In 2009 the settlement, which was already built entirely on Nabi Saleh-owned land, confiscated a spring that the Palestinian villagers relied on as a main source of water for agricultural purposes. The settlers of Halamish physically prevented the Palestinians from accessing the spring; to protest, the villagers assemble and march toward the spring every Friday after noon prayers, waving flags and banners as they chant slogans. They are usually stopped before they advance 200 meters by soldiers who enter their village in armored vehicles, leap out of the back and fire volleys of tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at close range. At that point, the young village men usually scatter and throw stones at the soldiers who have entered their village.

This past Friday, while Bassem Tamimi was still in Ofer Military Prison and denied bail following the Rami Levy protest, his 16-year-old son Wa’ed was arrested at the weekly village demonstration. He is now detained in a different section of the same prison, but his father is not allowed to see him.

Nabi Saleh children try to prevent soldiers from taking Wa’ed Tamimi, who is inside the vehicle. The blonde girl with the ponytail is his sister (credit: ActiveStills)

Last year Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was killed (murdered) when a soldier shot him directly in the face, at near point-blank range, with a tear gas canister. On another occasion a European woman who was present at a Friday demonstration was shot in the neck by a rubber bullet.

My own experiences at Nabi Saleh contributed considerably to what I sometimes refer only somewhat facetiously as my “radicalization.” The first time I attended a Friday demonstration I stood on the roof of a village home, together with three teenage girls, and watched as a soldier lifted his weapon, aimed it and deliberately fired a tear gas canister directly at us. It landed on the roof, narrowly missing the arm of one of the girls. We fled, gagging, as the commanding officer stood by and watched.

On other occasions I saw unarmed people kicked, beaten and dragged by soldiers; I saw old women gagging and spitting as the tear gas that blanketed the village seeped in through cracks in the windows and doors; and I saw a woman carrying a baby from her car to her home cower and scream as a soldier shot three tear gas canisters in a row directly over her head.

The people of Nabi Saleh are regularly terrorized by night raids, which usually take place between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.. Armed soldiers enter their homes and force parents to rouse their sleeping children. Sometimes they photograph the children and note down their ID numbers; other times they drag them off to a police station and interrogate them all night, without the presence of a guardian or an attorney. Nariman Tamimi, Bassem’s wife, had to deal with several night raids while her husband was in jail last year and she was home alone with four children.

Bassem Tamimi has been arrested several times and has cumulatively spent years in jail, usually just waiting to be charged and tried — in military courts that have a 98 percent conviction rate.

Tamimi spent most of 2011 in jail after he was charged with organizing battalions of children to throw stones at IDF soldiers. The evidence for this charge was based primarily on testimony from 14-year-old Islam Dar-Ayyoub, a village boy who was arrested in the middle of the night and interrogated at a police station by the Shin Bet. A video of the interrogation shows him weeping and sleep deprived, denied an attorney or the presence of a parent. The judge allowed the testimony, although no-one denied that the child was interrogated under duress, without the presence of a guardian or lawyer.

Bassem Tamimi with his wife, Nariman (credit: ActiveStills)

I should add that I personally saw Bassem Tamimi tackle a teenage Nabi Saleh boy to stop him from throwing a stone in the general direction of a fully armed soldier who was wearing protective riot gear. The idea of him organizing battalions of rock throwing children is absurd.


Amnesty International posted this video about Bassem Tamimi.

The bottom line is that Palestinians living under Israeli jurisdiction are not allowed to protest injustice. If they do, they will be crushed. The crushing proces is happening now to Nabi Saleh. The settlers of Halamish decided they wanted Nabi Saleh’s main source of water, so they took it. And when the villagers tried to protest, the army and the Shin Bet stopped them — with tear gas, bullets, beatings and skunk spray; with night raids, arrests, interrogations and long jail terms on trumped up charges; and, in the case of Mustafa Tamimi, with murder. With any means necessary.

And the few Israelis who protest this massive injustice are marginalized as “radicals” and “extreme leftists.”

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  • COMMENTS

    1. AYLA

      Thank you, Lisa. This is so important, and your voice here is really poignant.

      Reply to Comment
    2. This piece does both Tamimi and the supermarket protest well, and I retract my earlier dobuts (which means nothing). Reports or protests without background can make such seem absurd. I’m still far from certain that this was the best action to perform, especially with the arrest of Tamimi, but I am neither there nor in jeopardy. What seems to be missing from Palestinian protest history is the strategic offering of arrest, to know when to submit major individuals to the State, and a follow up organizational plan after the arrest. Perhaps this lack just reflects Israeli efficiency in suppression.

      This conflict is dislocating rights from all jurisdiction. It is not really the case that they can be enforced in international law. The rights are free floating, waiting for a jurisdiction to assert they exist. That means that social judgement is more important than legal appeal right now. Acts must appeal directly to conscience by their very existence. That is a hard art to perform; and I’d say it is an art.

      To have Tamimi locked up again with another cycle of the detentions and interrogations you describe may not necessarily be an advance. The assumption of jeopardy is a crucial act, measuring both opponent, homeland, and outsider bystanders.

      What does seem clear is that inaction will stoke pent up anger into violence.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      Greg, I do not understand what you wrote. “Strategic offering of arrest”? The situation is that the protests are conducted under microscope of IDF that can arrest anyone anytime in the villages of Area C. For that matter, in all occupied territories, they invade Area A anytime they feel like it.

      You have a poor village against concerted effort of the most high tech military force in the region and perhaps in the world (who else has skunk water?). The villages of Area C are mostly on their own, with rather sporadic actions of solidarity from main Palestinian population centers in Area A. This area is heavily policed by quisling police force trained (and controlled?) by Americans, with frequent arrests of activists. So there are many forces suppressing hapless villages in Area C.

      The goals of villagers are simple. They were wronged and they want their property back. What does IDF want to achieve is opaque. One interpretation is that they methodically plan to remove Palestinians from Area C by making their lives unbearable. But they are kind of slow about it. Perhaps they just enjoy beating up “the enemy”, soldiers, manu propria, commanders, vicariously.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Elihu

      Invading the Rami Levy supermarket (a private commercial establishment) was just stupid. That supermarket – which I frequent- is a model of cooperative enterprise that serves both Jewish and Arab customers and employs both Jews and Arabs. We all shop together, grant each other common courtesy and help each other out. Quite frankly, without the interference of idiotic provocations like this one, we all do just fine, thank you. But the provocateurs seem unable to live with that and apparently need to consistently get in the faces of everyday people, with the intent to provoke senseless violence, discourage cooperation and foster an atmosphere where ordinary people (Jews and Arabs) can’t feel safe shopping and working together. Kindly leave us the hell alone- thank you very much.

      Reply to Comment
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