'How Was Such a Fool Your U.S. Ambassador?' Tamimi Family Mocks Michael Oren's Secret Probe Into Whether They're Real Palestinians

'If that’s your elite, I’m not sure how you manage to beat us'

The Tamimi family.
\ Alex Levac

The four members of Ahed Tamimi’s family who are not in detention were amused to hear that the Knesset had conducted an investigation into whether the Tamimis are a real family.

“No one ever asked us if we were a real family,” said Bassem Tamimi, the father of Ahed, who was arrested last month with her mother and cousin and charged with assaulting soldiers for slapping them on the grounds of their home while her mother filmed the scene. When he read that a secret Knesset subcommittee had looked into and discussed the issue, he burst out laughing. “I thought – how can this be?” he said. “Is this the level the occupation has reached? The proof of our existence here can be found way, way, way before the State of Israel.”

The Tamimis say they’ve lived in Nabi Saleh for hundreds of years, and had lived in the Hebron area for hundreds of years before that. “During the 1960s a reporter asked my uncle how long we are here. My uncle replied, ‘My family sat under that mulberry tree when Adam came to Eve and saw her eating from the Tree of Knowledge.’ My family is of Christian origin. We came here before Islam,” said Bassem. His ancestors settled in Hebron and became Muslims there, “and came to Nabi Saleh 300 to 400 years ago.”

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Members of the Tamimi family.
Courtesy of the family

Mahmoud, one of Ahed’s younger brothers, raised Deputy Minister Michael Oren’s suspicions over his identity because he appeared at some protests with a cast on his right hand, at others with a cast on his left hand. Mahmoud told Haaretz that he had broken both hands at different times, and seemed somewhat insulted by Oren’s suspicions.

But to the Tamimi family, the real insult was the questioning of the family’s history. Every family member asked about the possibility that they weren’t a “real family” launched into a lecture about the family history, which they say goes back 1,500 years all over the country, of which the last few hundred were in Nabi Saleh. According to Bassem, all the residents of Nabi Saleh are part of the Tamimi family. His wife, a native of Saudi Arabia, is also descended from the family, he says. Several family members, including Bassem, Faraj, Bassem’s second cousin, and Mahmoud, the son of Bassem’s sister who was killed, all say the family was originally Christian but became Muslim some 1,500 years ago.

November 2, 2012: Ahed Tamimi tries to punch an Israeli soldier near Ramallah.
AP

Naji Tamimi is Bassem’s cousin and the father of Nur Tamimi, who was arrested together with Ahed but has since been released, although she has been charged with being involved in slapping of the soldiers. He is an expert in the family’s history. “Our ancestors were here 1,400-1,500 years ago in Hebron. In Hebron the Tamimis were a big family. It then left Hebron to go northward, and around 300 to 350 years ago it was in the Ramallah area. 

“In Nabi Saleh there are 550-600 [people whose family name is Tamimi] and in Ramallah another hundred or so,” Naji said. “Since during the second intifada it was hard to go back and forth every day – it would take more than two hours to get to Ramallah – but they have homes here [in Nabi Saleh]. For the weekends, something like that. Outside Palestine there are almost 500 in Jordan and the United States.”

Ask Naji Tamimi about his family’s history in the village and he begins a detailed lecture about all the battles and protests in the region that family members were part of. He said relatives fought against the emerging State of Israel during the War of Independence and were wounded in the Jerusalem-area battles with the forces of Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini. He said that during the 1970s there were also protests in the area of the village, and that the current “wave of protests” in the region began in 2009.

Many Tamimis indeed have fair skin and hair, but certainly not all of them. Mahmoud, Bassem’s nephew, laughed and said he didn’t want to be photographed because “I’m not blond.” When he finally agreed to identify himself as a Tamimi before the cameras he said, “Maybe I should buy blue contact lenses first.”

He, like the others, thought the idea that the family members are actors was hilarious. When he called other family members to come and be photographed, he said they might have to wait a bit “because we have to get in touch with our agent first.” Morad, another relative, suggested that Michael Oren might have run into family members in New York. “Maybe he bought a melon from them; ask if he met any blond fruit-sellers,” he said.

Attorney Gaby Lasky is representing Ahed, her mother, Nuriman, and Nur in the current legal proceedings and knows the family for many years. “I started working with them years ago. I once represented the father and the mother.” 

She said the report on the Knesset probe made her feel “shame and worry. Worry, because the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is an important Knesset committee, which is supposed to ensure the security of the state and not deal with outlandish conspiracy theories. And shame that an MK, today a deputy minister who is responsible for diplomacy, is revealed to be a kind of racist who can’t accept that a Palestinian who doesn’t wear a galabiya can be real.

If Oren thinks that she [Ahed] isn’t a real person, then maybe we should summon him to court to give testimony. How can you prosecute people who aren’t real? It’s weird.”

All the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee who responded to Haaretz’s inquiry about the discussion of the Tamimi family said they couldn’t recall such a discussion, except for one who said he remembered such a debate “vaguely” and doesn’t recall the security forces confirming a suspicion that the Tamimis weren’t a real family. The security agencies would not comment officially on the issue, with two security sources saying they were not familiar with any such investigation into the Tamimis’ authenticity. One said the idea sounded ridiculous.

That Oren nonetheless raised such suspicions made Bassem Tamimi laugh. “How did such a fool get to be your ambassador to the United States?” he asked. “How does the State of Israel allow such a thing? If that’s your elite, I’m not sure how you manage to beat us. If we were Christians we would say it’s one of the signs that the Armageddon is coming. The fourth strongest army in the world is afraid of a family and a girl. That’s not serious. When your enemy is angry and nervous, it means you’re on the right track.”

Bassem flatly denies the claim that some organization is financing the videos that the family posts – the most recent being the one of Ahed slapping the soldiers with her bare hands. “I would be happy to get money; if there’s money, show it to me. I haven’t seen any,” he said.

Naji Tamimi agrees that the notion is ridiculous. “If we wanted money we would find some other way,” he said. “Someone looking for money doesn’t put his children and relatives in a dangerous situation. I wouldn’t put my children in such a situation for all the money in the world.”