For Palestinian Women, a Picnic With a Purpose

Palestinian women gather at a spring that was once theirs, to discuss the future of the spring and their community.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The only men who received permission to participate were armed with cameras. That, however, was a mistake. The next time this group of women pays a visit to one of the springs on the West Bank, it will bear in mind that there are enough professional, able women photographers around, and they can document the message: In a place where theft of springs has become part of the system, a picnic becomes part of a fight for freedom.

Two women initiated the idea to start a picnic tradition. Manaal Tamimi, from the al-Nabi Saleh village, and her friend Salwa Duaibus, from Ramallah. "For more than two years we have staged demonstrations in our village, demanding that we be able to return to a spring belonging to our village and to the Deir Nidham village, which has been appropriated by the Halamish settlement," explained Tamimi. "We have been wounded, arrested, and one of our sons was killed [Mustafa Tamimi, who was killed when an Israeli soldier hit his face with a tear gas canister in December 2011], all in an effort to tell the world that this spring, which was part of our childhood and that of our parents, was taken away from us, and that we insist on returning to it. Then the OCHA report was published, and we decided that we could do more."

Manaal Tamimi at the al-Nabi Saleh spring. 4 IDF jeeps greeted her group when they arrived at the spring.Credit: Amira Hass

Tamimi was referring to a report published in March by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The report, based on research conducted by Dror Etkes, former head of the Peace Now settlement-tracking project, revealed the following trend: settlers appropriate water springs on the West Bank (there are 56 that are either under settler control or the target of settler activities ), and Israeli authorities turn a blind eye and basically collaborate with the settlers.

During the past two years, the Civil Administration or various military bodies would occasionally state that there is no ban preventing the Palestinians from coming to the al-Nabi Saleh spring, which has been declared an archaeological site. But as it turned out, each time Palestinians tried to reach it, they were stopped by soldiers. "There was just one exception, which was when a U.S. congressional delegation arrived," Tamimi says.

Ahead of the picnic, the women received authorization from the owners of the land on which the spring is located. No woman concealed information about the picnic, which was scheduled for last Sunday; the army did not have to carry out intense intelligence work to learn about this initiative. In fact, four IDF jeeps were positioned in front of a road that leads to the spring; the jeeps were waiting there when the group of women, and their male media reinforcements, arrived. This time, the soldiers did not block entry to the shady corner, where the spring is located. There was singing and drumming; there was food and the women rested their feet in the cool spring water. The soldiers roamed about; a bus full of settlers slowed as it passed by, and the soldiers were on alert. As the outing drew to a close, the women spoke about holding similar picnics in the near future. During each outing they will discuss a subject pertinent to their lives. "The goal is to create new means of resistance, and to attract more women to the struggle," Tamimi said. Who knows, perhaps the authorities will soon find a way to fear-monger about these picnics, and will warn ominously about "inciters at leisure outings."

Imagine the fear

For seven years, Combatants for Peace has upheld the tradition of staging an alternative Memorial Day ceremony, which involves friends and relatives of both Palestinian and Israeli casualties. Last Tuesday, a group of hecklers gathered at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa harbor, hoping to harass participants in this alternative ceremony; but the hecklers did not deter the ceremony's 1,800 participants.

Among other speakers, the participants listened to Moira Jilani, from East Jerusalem. "I am here today on behalf of my beloved husband, Ziad Badawi Jilani, who was murdered while on his way home from Friday prayers in Al Aqsa Mosque, June 11, 2010," she said, opening her speech. For an unclear reason, Jilani strayed from his lane while driving home, and his car hit a group of border police, in the Wadi Joz neighborhood. Policemen armed with rifles, pistols and clubs, some of them mounted on horses, are a common sight in civilian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, particularly on Fridays. The second Jilani's car crashed, the border police immediately decided that this was an act of hit-and-run terror. They fired into the air, and at the car. When Jilani did not stop, the border policemen's conclusion that his actions were motivated by terror was strengthened. This is the explanation given by border police commander Shadi Kheir al-Din and border police corporal Mordechai Maxim Vinogradov, in statements to investigators. But Jilani's relatives believe that the barrage of gunfire frightened Jilani, and caused him to continue to drive on.

"It might surprise you, as it did me, that we would have to conduct our own investigation because the alternative was the propaganda that he was a terrorist," stated Moira Jilani, who is an American citizen. The family's own investigation, assisted by attorneys from the Meezaan Center for Human Rights, in Nazareth, established that Vinogradov fired at Jilani's head from close range, when the Palestinian man was lying wounded on the ground. "Why did he have to be killed? Why didn't it suffice to arrest and interrogate him," the widow asks today, in anguish. After the state prosecution ordered that the case be closed, the family petitioned the High Court, demanding that the killers stand trial.

Rami Elhanan, the bereaved father of Smadar, who was killed in a 1997 suicide bomber terror attack, proposed that Jilani speak at this ceremony. Jilani and Elhanan met through the Bereaved Families Circle, which gives Jilani, as she puts it, "a platform to share my grief with others." Moira Jilani told Haaretz that the ceremony featured a short play about soldiers in Lebanon, and the fear they face during a battle. In a strange way, she said, the sense of fear which the actors excelled at conveying helped her imagine the dread her unarmed husband must have endured, in the final moments of his life.



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