Prominent Palestinian protest organizer, Bassem Tamimi, was ordered to stay in jail indefinitely by an Israeli military judge this afternoon at the Ofer military court in the occupied West Bank. His politically motivated trial will open on May 8th despite problematic evidence. Tamimi has helped lead unarmed and largely nonviolent demonstrations against the Occupation in his village of Nabi Saleh for over one year.
The arrest of Bassem Tamimi, a 44 year-old protest organizer from Nabi Saleh and the coordinator of the village’s popular committee, was extended indefinitely today at the Ofer Military Court. Tamimi will remain in detention until the end of legal proceedings in his case. The indictment against Tamimi, filed two weeks ago, is based on questionable and coerced confessions of Palestinian youth from Nabi Saleh and surrounding villages. Tamimi is charged with incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, solicitation to throw stones, disobeying the duty to report to questioning, and a scandalous obstruction of justice charge, for allegedly giving youth advice on how to act under interrogation by the police in the event that they are arrested.
The transcript of Tamimi’s police interrogation further shows the police and Military Prosecution’s political motivation and disregard for suspect’s rights under interrogation. During his questioning, Tamimi was accused by his interrogator of “consulting with lawyers and foreigners to prepare for his interrogation” – no doubt a legal right.
Tamimi’s trial will open on May 8th, when he is expected to plead not guilty to all charges, admit having organized peaceful demonstrations against settlement expansion and argue that it is in fact the Occupation that should be standing trial. The demonstrations in Nabi Saleh regularly feature Israeli and international supporters. Almost all of the demonstrations have been filmed by independent Israeli film makers and activists.
Bassem Tamimi is a veteran Palestinian grassroots activist from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, north of Ramallah. He is married to Nariman Tamimi, with whom he fathers four children – Wa’ed (14), Ahed (10), Mohammed (8) and Salam (5).
As a veteran activist, Tamimi have to date been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times and spent prolonged periods in Israeli jails, roughly three years, though he was never convicted of any offence. He spent roughly three years in administrative detentions, with no charges brought up against him, and on so-called secret evidence and suspicions, unknown even to himself or his lawyer.
In 1993, Tamimi was falsely arrested on suspicion of having murdered an Israeli settler in Beit El – an allegation he was cleared of entirely. During his weeks-long interrogation, he was severely tortured by the Israeli Shin Bet in order to draw a coerced confession from him. During his interrogation, and as a result of the torture he underwent, Tamimi collapsed and had to be evacuated to a hospital, where he laid unconscious for seven days.
As one of the organizers of the Nabi Saleh protests and coordinator of the village’s popular committee, Tamimi has been the target of harsh treatment by the Israeli army. Since demonstrations began in the village, his house has been raided and ransacked numerous times, his wife was arrested twice and two of his sons were injured – Wa’ed, 14, was hospitalized for five days after a rubber-coated bullet penetrated his leg and Mohammed, 8, was injured by a tear-gas projectile that was shot directly at him and hit him in the shoulder. Shortly after demonstrations in the village began, the Israeli Civil Administration served ten demolition orders to structures located in Area C, Tamimi’s house was one of them, despite the fact that it was built in 1965 and expended already in the year 2003.
On the March 24th, 2011, a massive contingent of Israeli Soldiers raided the Tamimi home at around noon, only minutes after he entered the house to prepare for a meeting with a European diplomat. He was arrested and subsequently charged
The main evidence in Tamimi’s case is the testimony of 14 year-old Islam Dar Ayyoub, also from Nabi Saleh, who was arrested from his bed at gunpoint on the night of January 23rd. In his interrogation the morning after his arrest, Islam alleged that Bassem and Naji Tamimi organized groups of youth into “brigades”, each with its own responsibility during the demonstrations: some are allegedly in charge of stone-throwing, some of blocking roads, etc.
During a trial-within-a-trial procedure in Islam’s trial, motioning for his testimony to be ruled inadmissible, it was proven that his interrogation was fundamentally flawed and violated the rights set forth in the Israeli Youth Law in the following:
- Despite being a minor, he was questioned in the morning following his arrest, without being allowed any sleep.
- He was denied legal consul even while his lawyer was present at the police station.
- He was denied his right to have a parent present during his questioning.
- He was not informed of his right to remain silent, and even told that he is “expected to tell the truth” by his interrogators.
- It was acknowledged by the interrogators that only one of the four interrogators was qualified as a youth interrogator.
While the trial-within-a-trial procedure has not yet reached conclusion, the evidence already revealed has brought the military court to revise its remand decision and order Islam’s release to house arrest. The military prosecution appealed this decision, and a ruling by the Military Court of Appeals is expected any day now.
Over the past two months, the army has arrested 24 of Nabi Saleh’s residents on protest related suspicions. Half of those arrested are minors, the youngest of whom merely eleven.
Ever since the beginning of the village’s struggle against settler takeover of their lands, in December of 2009, the army has conducted 71 arrests related to protest in the village. As the entire village numbers just over 500 residents, the number constitutes a gross 10% of its population.
Tamimi’s arrest last night corresponds to the systematic arrest of protest leaders all around the West Bank, as in the case of the villages of Bil’in and Ni’ilin.
Only recently the Military Court of Appeals has aggravated the sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmah from the village of Bilin, sending him to 16 months imprisonment on charges of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. Abu Rahmah was released last week.
The arrest and trial of Abu Rahmah has been widely condemned by the international community, most notably by Britain and EU foreign minister, Catherin Ashton. Harsh criticism of the arrest has also been offered by leading human rights organizations in Israel and around the world, among them B’tselem, ACRI, as well as Human Rights Watch, which declared Abu Rahmah’s trial unfair, and Amnesty International, whichdeclared Abu Rahmah a prisoner of conscience.
A version of this report was first published on the website of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee