In December 2009, the village of An Nabi Saleh – a small village of just 500 people northwest of Ramallah – began weekly non-violent demonstrations in opposition to the illegal Israeli colony of Halamish annexing and stealing of more of the village’s land. Since An Nabi Saleh began its demonstrations, the Israeli military has brutally sought to repress the non-violent protests, arresting more than 10% of the village, including children.
On 24 March 2011, dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the house of Bassem Tamimi, arresting him and assaulting his wife and young daughter. Nariman Tamimi, a videographer with B’Tselem attempted to document the arrest of her husband and was beaten by soldiers in order to stop her doing so. Bassem’s arrest comes just under three weeks after another member of the An Nabi Saleh Popular Committee, Naji Tamimi, was arrested in the middle of the night on March 6.
I have known both men and their families now for more than fifteen months. I first met them when I attended the first demonstrations in An Nabi Saleh in December 2009. At the end of the first demonstration, I was invited into Naji’s home by his brother-in-law. Upon arriving at the house, myself and the other internationals I was with were warmly welcomed and served tea. Soon we were being invited to stay for dinner. After dinner, Bassem and Nariman, along with their children, arrived. I was introduced to both of them and the rest of the evening was spent talking, drinking tea and coffee, telling jokes and laughing. Over the next few weeks, I visited the village many times, both on the days of the demonstration and on non-demonstrations days to simply visit with my new friends. When I prepared to come home, I cried as I said good bye to them.
Over the next year, I kept in regular touch with both families. When I returned to Palestine recently, the first place I visited in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was An Nabi Saleh. As soon as I walked to my friend’s homes I was welcomed with huge hugs and warm greetings from both families. Over the next few weeks, I again spend days and nights in An Nabi Saleh, sharing the non-violent struggle of my friends.
In January, the Israeli Occupation Forces began to step up even further their repression against the village and started to instigate night raids on the village. Internationals and Israeli activists began to stay in the village on a more regular basis in an attempt to prevent arrest of members of the village and to document what the Israeli Occupation Forces were doing. In one raid, on January 23, the Israeli military kidnapped Islam Tamimi, a 14 year old child, at gun point from his bed at 3am. Islam was psychologically tortured and beaten. His parents and lawyer were prevented from seeing him. In the days that followed, his brothers were also kidnapped from the streets of An Nabi Saleh, including his younger brother, 11 year old Kareem. Kareem was released five hours after he was taken from the streets of An Nabi Saleh but Islam remains in prison today.
The confessions extracted from Islam and Kareem by the Israeli military and the occupation forces through psychological terror, physical intimidation and emotional and verbal abuse are now being used against the Naji and Bassem and other leaders of the non-violent Popular Struggle Committee in An Nabi Saleh.
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. Their only concern was for the well-being of their families. Each time, I spoke with them and their families, I marvelled at their strength and commitment.
Naji has now been in prison almost three weeks. It took the Israeli military 19 days to finally come up with some sort of charge against him and he is now being charged with “incitement” and organising “illegal” demonstrations. 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 similar completely bogus charges will also be laid against him.
The arrest of both Naji and Bassem – both Palestinian “Gandhis” is part of an strategy by the Israeli state and the Israeli occupation forces to crush the Palestinian non-violent resistance and the will of the Palestinian people. However, despite the arrests and the repression, the people of An Nabi Saleh, have vowed to continue their non-violent struggle. This is because they understand that the struggle in which they are engaged in is not just a struggle for a homeland but a struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. And no man or woman or child, no matter how hard pressed by their oppressor, will ever give up the struggle for such basic and inalienable human rights.
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 atwww.livefromoccupiedpalestine.