Reality vs. Propaganda: The An Nabi Saleh Protests

By Kim Bullimore

On 26 March, a piece of Israeli Occupation Forces propaganda masquerading as journalism was published by YNet, an Israeli news website, which publishes in both Hebrew and English. The YNet article, headlined “Secrets of Nabi Saleh protests” purported to offer a “behind-scenes look at [the] most violent protests around” [1]. However, the article by Yair Altman did nothing of the sort. Instead it gave carte blanche coverage, with little questioning, to the preposterous and often ridiculous assertions by Israeli Occupation officials against the recently arrested non-violent Palestinian leaders from An Nabi Saleh’s Popular Committee against the Occupation.

According to Altman, An Nabi Saleh village leader, Naji Tamimi, who was arrested on 6 March when the Israeli military raided his home at 1.30 am in the morning, was a “pied piper” who “organised [an] army of boys”. Quoting an unnamed Israeli military police official, Altman writes: "Tamimi oversees an army of demonstrators divided in an extremely organized fashion into regiments of 14-17 people”.  According to Altman’s unnamed military police source, Naji Tamimi is “a very charismatic and militant person and is well versed in the rules of the game – what’s allowed and what isn’t. He does nothing by chance. Every action is well planned – not a folksy protest. He excites them and directs them towards confrontations with IDF forces”.  

Altman goes onto state, with absolutely no proof to back up his assertions, that Naji Tamimi directed the demonstrations by phone from “the roof of one of the village’s structures”. Altman also asserts in the article that the shabab (young boys) of the village were under the command of another village leader, Bassem Tamimi, who was arrested on March 24 when dozens of Israeli military stormed his home. 

When I first read Altman’s article, I burst out laughing. I have known both Naji Tamimi and Bassem Tamimi, along with their families, for more than fifteen months. The men described in Altman’s article, along with the actions ascribed to them, bore little resemblance to the men I know or their activities in relation to the non-violent struggle being carried out by their village. Having spent large quantities of time with both men and their families and having attended numerous demonstrations in An Nabi Saleh, very little in Altman’s article rang true. Instead it held the stench of unadulterated Israeli military propaganda. 

I first met Naji Tamimi and Bassem Tamimi, when I attended the first demonstrations in An Nabi Saleh.  In December 2009, An Nabi Saleh – a small village of just 500 people – began holding weekly non-violent demonstrations in opposition to the illegal Israeli colony of Halamish annexing and stealing of more of the village’s land. At the conclusion of the first demonstration I attended in the village, I was invited to visit Naji’s home by his brother-in-law.  At Naji’s home, I was introduced to not only Naji and his family but also to Bassem and his family and other families who were also visiting at the time. In the weeks that followed, I visited the village many times, both on the days of the demonstrations and on days when there were no demonstrations. During my visits to the village, I spent time with Naji and Bassem’s families. We spent our time discussing the impact of Israel’s occupation on the village and the Palestinian people and the non-violent struggle of the village against the attempts to steal more of the village’s land. During these visits, I also played games with the children, learning to bake bread and tried to practice and improve, with the help of my new friends, my limited and badly pronounced Arabic. Over the course of the next year, after I had returned back home, I kept in regular touch with both Naji and Bassem and their families. When I returned to Palestine recently, An Nabi Saleh was the first place I visited in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  

The focus of the dozens of conversations that I had with both men was the importance of the development of a non-violent model of protest. Both Naji and Bassem believed in the power of non-violent struggle and the challenge it provided, in stark contrast, to the brutal colonial violence meted out each week by Israel’s Occupation Forces against their tiny village and its non-violent protests. 

During the many demonstrations that I attended in An Nabi Saleh, myself and other internationals, as well as Israeli activists opposed to their government’s policies, would join with Naji and Bassem and other members of the village to walk unarmed and peacefully from the centre of the village, out onto the main street of An Nabi Saleh in order to make our way peacefully to the village’s land which were being stolen by the Israeli colony of Halamish. As we marched peacefully onto the street, we would be hit almost immediately with a barrage of teargas and rubber bullets fired at the peaceful, non-violent demonstration by the Israeli military.  On numerous occasions, live ammunition was also fired at us, despite the fact that this is in direct violation of Israeli military operating orders which forbid such actions when Israeli citizens are present at the demonstrations. The non-violent demonstrations would start at noon and the violent assault on the village by the Israeli military would continue for the next five or six hours until the Israeli Occupation Forces would finally leave the village at dusk.

As Bassem noted in a recent video interview I did with both him and Naji before their arrests, the Israeli military was determined to break An Nabi Saleh’s model of non-violent resistance to the occupation [2]. The primary aim of the Israeli military, as Bassem noted, was to try and force Palestinians to engage in violent resistance to the occupation by crushing the non-violent resistance by increased Israeli military violence. This way, Israel could justify its continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

A recent article by the Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, similarly noted that the primary concern of the Israeli Occupation Forces, particularly in the wake of the recent Egyptian revolution, has been to contain and crush any possible Palestinian non-violent resistance to Israel’s ongoing occupation. According to the February 18 Jerusalem Post article, the Israeli military were “concerned by the prospect of the Palestinians replicating [non-violent] Egyptian style mass demonstrations with dozens of simultaneous marches and protests in the West Bank [3]. The Jerusalem Post article reported that “the IDF is beginning to build rapid-response forces”, as the Israeli Occupation Forces Central Comment had assessed “that Palestinians could resort to so-called non-violent resistance, on a scale previously unknown in Israel, in the absence of peace negotiations”. The article went on to note that the primary aim of the rapid response teams would be to “quickly manoeuvre throughout the West Bank and arrive at the scene of a demonstration in its early stages in an attempt to contain it”, with this containment possibly “lead[ing] to a high number of casualties”.

The attempts by the Israeli state and its military to crush the non-violent Palestinian resistance is not new. In 2004, I interviewed the leaders of the non-violent struggle in the tiny village of Budrus about the attempts by the Israeli military to crush their non-violent resistance to the building of the Apartheid Wall. At the time, one of the village leaders told me that he had been informed by commanders of Israel’s military that the Israeli Occupation Forces “would do everything in its power to stop the [non-violent] movement, even if it meant people died” [4]. 

Approximately two years ago, unable to stop the non-violent resistance by Palestinian villages against the building of the Apartheid Wall and the Occupation, the Israeli state and its military introduced its current tactic of arresting and jailing leaders of the non-violent struggle. In 2009, Adeeb Abu Rahma and Abdullah Abu Rahma, two of the leaders of the Bil’in non-violent struggle were arrested and jailed. This month, less than 10 days after the release of Abdullah Abu Rahma, after he had spent a year and half in Israel’s prisons for his non-violent activism, Bassem Tamimi was arrested for his non-violent activism.  Just twenty-four hours before his arrest on March 24, Bassem had met with leaders of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, one of whom had quipped “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”

One of the few positive things about Altman’s article about the popular non-violent resistance in An Nabi Saleh is that it clearly outlines the ridiculous charges being levelled against Naji Tamimi by the Israeli Occupation Forces. According to Altman, the charges include “incitement, supporting a hostile organization, taking part in an illegal procession and entering a closed military area …”. Of course, what Altman or the Israeli military fail to mention is the fact that an occupied people do not need the permission of their occupier to hold demonstrations, instead under international law they have the right to resist colonial occupation and repression and to engage in civil disobedience and demonstrations. While international law affords Palestinians the right, as an occupied people, to engage in armed struggle against their occupier, the people of An Nabi Saleh choose to engage in unarmed and non-violent struggle against their oppressors and occupiers. In addition, far from “entering a closed military area”, Naji Tamimi was simply in his own village and the Israeli military came to him and imposed a closed military zone on the streets and fields of his home.

Altman also points out in his piece that the Israeli Occupation Forces had arrested several boys from the village, all under the age of 16 and that their testimony was being used against Naji Tamimi and Bassem Tamimi. However, as Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist who is belatedly quoted in Altman’s article notes, what the Israeli military police fail to mention is that the testimonies were extracted from the children via verbal, emotional and physical abuse.   The testimony being used against both Naji Tamimi and Bassem Tamimi was obtained primarily from 14 year old Islam Tamimi, as well as his younger brother, 11 year old Kareem.

Islam Tamimi was kidnapped from his home at gun point at 3 am on 23 January by the Israeli military. He was kept incommunicado, beaten and verbally abused.  Islam’s parents and lawyer were denied access to him.  In early February, Kareem was kidnapped from the streets of An Nabi Saleh and held for five hours during which the terrified child was verbally, emotionally and physically abused. The behaviour meted out to both boys was typical of the treatment visited on Palestinian child prisoners by the Israeli military.

As a recent  report issued by the UN in January 2011 points out in 2010 Israeli occupation forces regularly arrested children “at checkpoints, off the street or, most commonly, from the family home”. The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, went onto note that “in the case of house arrests, large numbers of Israeli soldiers typically surrounded the family home in the middle of the night. Children were beaten or kicked at the time of arrest and put at the back of a military vehicle where they were subject to further physical and psychological abuse on the way to the interrogation and detention centre. Upon arrest, children and their families were seldom informed of the charges against them”. According to the UN report, “Children were often subject to abuse during interrogation”. The report noted that abuse of children in many cases included the children being given electric shocks and sexually assaulted and it was only after this treatment that the children provided their interrogators with confessions

The UN report noted that “each year, approximately 700 Palestinian children (under 18) from the West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army”. The report went onto highlight the fact that Palestinian children are subject to a dual legal system which operates in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This dual system sees settler children, who are rarely apprehended in any violent acts they may have carried out, prosecuted in the Israeli civil courts, while Palestinian children are brought before a military court system, which impose higher degrees of accountability at lower ages. 

In the weeks before I left Palestine, I spoke with both Naji and Bassem many times.  They knew their arrests were imminent but the remained steadfast and committed to the non-violent popular struggle and the struggle of their village for human rights and dignity. As Naji told me, “we cannot live under the occupation … we want, like all the people in the world, our rights.  We want to build our state and we want a good future for our children”.

Naji has now been in prison for three and half weeks. It took the Israeli military 19 days to finally come up with charges against him. The Israeli military court has also ordered that he will be kept under indefinite remand until the military legal procedures against him are concluded. No news has come through yet on Bassem since his arrest, but in the coming days we can expect to hear that similar preposterous accusations and charges, similar to the ones outlined in Altman’s article against Naji Tamimi, will be laid against him.

Despite the arrests and the repression, the people of An Nabi Saleh are not bowed and they will continue their struggle against the occupation and the stealing of their land. As Bassem told me when I interviewed him before his arrest, “Our duty is to resist the stealing of our life and our land”.

“We are under occupation, the normal thing is to resist against the occupation. The non-normal thing is to be quite and not do anything”. 

– Kim Bullimore is a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service in Palestine (www.iwps.info). Kim writes regularly on the Israel-Palestine conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action (www.directaction.org.au) and has a blog at www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

Notes:

[1] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4047503,00.html
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FnaYdG2MJU
[3] http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?ID=208786&R=R1?
[4] http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/30781

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