A few days ago friends and family members already knew that Ahed and Nariman Tamimi would be brought in a Prison Service vehicle to the Jabara border crossing south of Tul Karm, where they would be released. On Saturday there was a final confirmation of this route. The hour? Who knows? As with all prisoners released from Israeli jails, the crossing they are brought to is usually known in advance (not always), but not the exact hour. Families who can afford to, go in the morning and wait for hours. The longer a prisoner has been in jail, the greater the willingness of families to wait a whole day.
On Sunday morning family and friends went to the Jabara crossing. On the way they heard from Israeli journalists that actually, mother and daughter would be brought to the Rantis crossing. This is a more logical crossing since it’s closer to their village of Nabi Saleh. They immediately changed course. On the way to Rantis they heard that the two would be released at Jabara after all. They did a U-turn and headed north. Then came the final announcement that the release would take place at Rantis. Family members and friends were too emotional to decide whether this was merely Prison Service confusion or an attempt to humiliate them and the two released prisoners right up to the last moment.
At the military checkpoint at Rantis, Nariman and her daughter Ahed were taken out of the Prison Service car in handcuffs, but with their eyes uncovered. The family’s hope that the handcuffs would be taken off so they could walk toward the waiting cars was dashed. They were put on a military jeep, not before their eyes were covered. The road between Rantis and Nabi Saleh is not classified, so why cover their eyes? Family members and friends were too excited to decide whether this was normal IDF procedure – illogical as it may be – or whether the soldiers, too, wanted to humiliate the pair till the end. If that was the objective, it didn’t work.
They and their waiting loved ones did not feel humiliated. Not even when the jeep stopped beside an observation post at the entry to Nabi Saleh and only Ahed came out. When the family and friends saw that Nariman was not emerging from the jeep, they protested and blocked it, and then the mother was also allowed out. Mother and daughter felt no humiliation, not only because they were the heroines of the day and because for eight months they and their courage made local and international headlines almost on a daily basis. They didn’t feel humiliated since they didn’t expect any other kind of conduct from their captors.
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Eight years ago the residents of Nabi Saleh – a village inhabited by one extensive family, Tamimi – decided to wage a campaign to retrieve the natural spring they and the neighboring village of Deir Nidham had been using before the settlement of Halamish took it over. The army and Civil Administration subsequently denied Palestinians and legitimate landowners access to the spring and its surroundings. This state of affairs continues to this day. The residents of Nabi Saleh saw a few cases of partial success of other villages that had protested the route of the separation wall, mainly Budrus, Bil’in and Jayyous. There the protests supported the legal campaign aimed at restoring land to its owners and indeed the original and rapacious route of the wall was altered.
Nabi Saleh also saw some campaigns that failed. The popular campaign, no less covered by the media than others, against the wall’s route in Walaja did not save that village’s lands. These, and the village’s spring, are being turned into Jerusalem’s metropolitan park to which Palestinians, including legitimate landowners, will be denied access.
The residents of Palestinian villages that led the popular struggle over the last 15 years, including Nabi Saleh, had hoped that each individual case would be perceived around the world as a symbol and parable of Israel’s policy to take over more and more land, in stark contrast to its declarations about its willingness to make peace. Villagers hoped that their struggle would yield political fruit that was not just local (restoring some of the expropriated land) but international as well, such as pressure and resolute diplomatic moves. To achieve this they knew that tens of thousands of Palestinians had to join the popular, unarmed struggle, since this was not an issue for individual villages but a national, all-Palestinian one. There were years in which 10 demonstrations took place simultaneously, with hundreds of people arriving at each one despite violent acts of suppression by the army and Border Police. Sometimes they included senior members of the Palestinian Authority, often accused of trying to grab headlines and photo-ops, as well as Israeli and international activists. Most Palestinians voted with their feet and didn’t show up.
The persistence, the risks, the injuries, the nighttime raids by the army, the imprisonment and the deaths by IDF fire usually remained the lot of these villages and the small number of people from other places who joined them. Even in the villages participating in the struggle, such as Nabi Saleh, not everyone could go on carrying the burden of civil resistance. When Ahed Tamimi was arrested, a kind of cult developed around her. In an era in which the traditional leadership (the PLO) was becoming irrelevant, with the paralysis and deterioration of Fatah and a destructive rift between it and Hamas, the Palestinian people need heroes and icons more than ever.
The personal courage shown by Ahed and her mother Nariman has been proven repeatedly over the last nine years, even when it didn’t reach the media. Now, upon their release, they and other courageous heroes who’ve led a popular struggle for 15 years in different villages are hoping and waiting for tens and hundreds of thousands who will follow their example.