Mighty Israel and Its Quest to Quash Palestinian Popular Protest

The military has delegated its best soldiers, investigators and judges to safeguarding Israel against the organizer of Nabi Saleh's popular uprising.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

"Now that Abdullah Abu Rahma has been released from jail, the Israeli soldiers and the honorable military tribunal judges will have time for Bassem Tamimi." Thus Tamimi, the coordinator of Nabi Saleh's Popular Committee, was introduced to guests who came to congratulate Bil'in resident Abu Rahma on his release after serving 16 months on charges of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. Twenty-four hours later, late Thursday morning, Tamimi was arrested.

The truth is, though, that regardless of Abu Rahma's release, the military has delegated its best soldiers, investigators and judges to safeguarding Israel from 44-year-old Tamimi and from the spreading virus of popular uprising.

Bassem Tamimi arguing with soldiers at Nabi Saleh.Credit: Bilal Tamimi

We met several times in the past two weeks - in Ramallah, not in Nabi Saleh. Facing the suppression of that village's weekly demonstrations is a challenge best reserved for the experienced. Huge quantities of tear gas, rubber-coated bullets flying between buildings, gas canisters with (illegally ) extended ranges, beatings, shovings and home invasions - this is what the Israel Defense Forces employs against the small village of 500. Since the demonstrations began in 2009, 155 of the residents have been injured, 40 percent of whom are children. Thirty-five houses have been damaged in the process of dispersing demonstrations, and seven caught fire.

The Civil Administration does not shy from taking action. It has distributed 11 demolition orders for home additions in Area C (about half of the village is in that area, meaning it is under full Israeli administrative and security control ).

In straightforward terms, that is where Israel forbids Palestinians from building and developing. On the other side of the road, also in Area C, the settlement of Halamish is expanding and building houses on land belonging to the villages of Nabi Saleh and Dir Nizam.

Some 13 percent of Nabi Saleh's residents - 63 people - have been arrested and jailed since the end of 2009. All but three were tried for participating in demonstrations against the army. Bassem Tamimi is number 64. Of those imprisoned, 29 were minors. Four were women, including Nariman Tamimi, Bassem's wife.

To complete the picture there are night raids on homes, access to the village is blocked and scores of others have been detained for a few hours at a time.

Tamimi had not been staying at home for almost two weeks - he knew the army wanted to arrest him. As a Fatah member, he had been arrested repeatedly since his youth.

Now he hoped to postpone this predicament. He had spent three years in administrative detention (without a trial ). During an interrogation in 1993, he was shaken and lost consciousness for eight days. Paralyzed, he was taken from the hospital to jail. After 40 days in solitary confinement, he was released.

"I didn't kill so I didn't have anything to admit," he said.

We met for a long talk a few days after the Fogel family members were murdered in the settlement of Itamar. His colleagues in Bil'in's Popular Struggle Committee had published a statement condemning the murder. Tamimi did not think it was right to initiate a condemnation of "something that never has represented us. But if I'm asked, I obviously respond that murdering children is murdering children, whatever their nationality, color, religion or race. It doesn't matter if the child is named Hadas Fogel or Iman Hijju or Abir Aramin. The murder of Hadas Fogel, even without knowing who the murderer is, goes against our humanity. The occupation has occupied our reason and consciousness. Due to the conflict we started to make excuses for acts that are not humane, that harm the Palestinians more than they harm the Israelis.

"Our strategic choice of a popular struggle - as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives and future - is a declaration that we do not harm human lives. The very essence of our activity opposes killing. Therefore there is no need to condemn something that from the start does not represent us and is contrary to our way of thinking.

"The popular uprising is not a reaction. The problem is not expropriated land or a spring the settlers took over - that is merely an expression of the problem, which is foreign rule. If Benjamin Netanyahu genuinely wanted to save lives and end the conflict, he would not declare that houses are being built in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, houses that are actually graves for Palestinians and Israelis.

He would announce that homes are being built to move the settlers to Tel Aviv, within Israel, on 78 percent of our historical land that we have agreed will be the State of Israel, so that we will have a state in the remainder of the territory. As members of Fatah, we supported peace negotiations. But it merely led to more settlements and settlers. During the peace process, we lost more than at any other time.

"We want to offer our people an example and model of popular struggle. From the start of the revolution (the establishment of Fatah ) and the armed struggle, we committed cumulative mistakes that the Israelis exploited against us, even though they were merely reactions to Israeli repression. We don't have a military response to Israel. History has taught us that only popular uprisings were successful, albeit partially: in 1936 and 1987. Through a popular struggle we can prove our moral superiority."

On Thursday, March 24, Tamimi thought that a visit by European diplomats to his village would protect him from arrest.

He left Ramallah and had 10 minutes to spend at home and embrace his children. Just when he asked his wife to "prepare a delicious meal that I miss so much," the IDF with all its resourcefulness sent five jeeps and 15 soldiers. We've got Tamimi.



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