On Sunday afternoon Nariman Tamimi repeated her answer for probably the thousandth time, telling yet another journalist that she had done the natural thing when on August 28 she ran to rescue her 12-year-old son Mohammad from the grip of an Israel Defense Forces soldier at the demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. To say she “ran” is an exaggeration, as she was hobbling on crutches.
On November 21 of last year, an IDF soldier shot her, wounding her left shin as she was filming soldiers dispersing the weekly demonstration in the village. That same demonstration marked the second anniversary of the death of her brother, Rushdie, whom an IDF soldier shot in the back and killed. An IDF investigation found that on that day the soldiers had fired about 80 bullets, with no justification, to disperse a protest in the village.
When Nariman heard her son’s screams and began limping towards him as fast as she could between the boulders and the thistles, she was thinking about one thing only: What would happen to his broken arm? Last Wednesday, military jeeps drove into the village. Youngsters threw stones at them in protest, the soldiers fired tear gas and people, among them Mohammad who was shopping at the grocery store, fled the gas. He tripped, breaking his left arm.
Because of Nariman’s difficulty walking she cannot join the weekly demonstrations in which Nabi Saleh inhabitants demand their right to return to their fresh water spring, which the settlers from Halamish took over. She was standing on the hilltop overlooking the spring, the road and the settlement. From there she was watching the demonstration.
About 25 people participated in it, among them several Israelis and solidarity activists from abroad. The soldiers blocked their path halfway there, fired tear gas grenades at them and locked the iron gate at the entrance to the road. They drove in jeeps towards the spring and the soldiers who emerged from the vehicles started climbing the hill and from there continued to fire tear gas at the demonstrators, related Bassem Tamimi, Nariman’s husband.
Youngsters from the village gathered at the top of the hill and threw stones at the soldiers (Nariman was standing some distance away from them and was filming with her mobile phone). “Suddenly,” she recalled, “more than 20 armed and masked soldiers appeared near the youngsters. They were lightly dressed, without flak vests or helmets.”
People assume that the soldiers had secretly stationed themselves in a nearby villa on the hilltop late the night before. “There was chaos, people started dispersing in every direction. And then we saw the soldiers assaulting and beating up an Italian citizen who was filming,” related Bassem.
He and others ran to rescue the Italian (who was under arrest until last Monday). And then they noticed that they were also arresting Nariman’s cousin Mahmoud Tamimi (who is still under arrest). Suddenly they heard the sound of a boy screaming and the voice of their relative, Bilal, shouting at them to come quickly.
Ahed, the 14-year-old daughter of Bassem and Nariman, was the first to reach the source of the screaming. She saw a masked soldier gripping her brother Mohammad and wrapping an arm around his neck.
“I was there and I was watching the soldiers and the youngsters,” related Mohammad. “Suddenly I saw a soldier coming to grab me. I tried to run away but he caught me. He strangled me with one arm, held my head and pushed it down on the boulder. Of course I was afraid.”
Ahed, his sister, says she wasn’t afraid when she ran towards the soldier in order to detach him from her brother. “When things are happening,” she said, “you don’t feel fear.”
After Ahed arrived at the scene, her mother, aunt and father followed. “I saw the soldier strangling my son, shoving him onto the boulder, holding his head and beating it on the boulder. Violence that’s hard to describe,” said Bassem. Together the mother, sister and aunt grabbed the soldier from all sides in order to tear him off the frightened boy. When the armed soldier held out a hand to push Ahed away, she grabbed it and bit it.
Nonetheless, Nariman felt sad for the soldier. “He is a victim of the policy; he himself is a child,” she observed, “but he should ask himself why he is being sent to our home to harm us.”
Bassem, who saw the other soldiers far from their comrade, became afraid that some of the Palestinian youngsters would get closer, the soldier would try to shoot them, someone would get hurt and the youngsters would try to take revenge on the soldier. “I was caught up in the tension between concern for my son and for what was liable to happen,” he said. He shouted to an officer who was standing 70 or 80 meters away to come. “I shouted in Hebrew, in English, in Arabic. If I knew any other language I would have shouted in that too.” The officer came and held the soldier who was sprawled on the ground. When he stood up, the soldier kicked the women and the girl, hit Bassem with his rifle butt and threw a stun grenade.
The parents feared that Mohammad’s broken arm had been hurt again and started to move down towards the center of the village to find transportation to a hospital. “The soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets at us,” related Bassem. “Suddenly Salam [their younger son, seven years old] screamed. It turned out he had been injured in his leg. I carried him and Yonatan [leftwing activist Jonathan Pollak] held Mohammad and Naji [another relative]carried Ahed, who because of the beating from the soldier couldn’t walk. We looked for an ambulance.” At the hospital in Ramallah it turned out that Salam’s toe was broken, but Mohammad’s broken arm had not been further injured. Everyone suffered a bit from bruises.
In the days since then they have hosted masses of journalists and friends. No official of the Palestinian Authority came. Between all the visits Bassem repeatedly read in amazement the reports in Hebrew about “the Palestinian women who attacked a Golani fighter.” His wife Nariman refuted this version of events. “Now, when there are social networks, all the lies won’t help. The videos clearly show who the attacker is. We have the right to defend ourselves from the attacker.”
“I don’t understand,” added Ahed. “A rock is violence and a rifle is not violence?”