Rushdi Tamimi died on November 17, 2012 after being shot by the Israeli Defense Forces in Nabi Saleh.
Even if Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was not from one of the most recognized families in the popular resistance movement in the West Bank, his funeral today still would have attracted thousands to the heart of Ramallah’s al-Manara circle. Tamimi was a Palestinian Authority (PA) police officer and his untimely death from injuries sustained in Nabi Saleh, a mere 10-minute drive from the hospital near where his procession began, was the second of four killings by Israeli fire over the past week in the mounting protests against the Operation Pillar of Cloud in Gaza.
Around noon, dressed in blue and gray fatigues, PA officers lined the flatbed of a pickup truck where Tamimi’s body lay. Following, twenty other policemen walked hand to shoulder, forming a ring around the deceased’s family. To activists working in the occupied Palestinian territories, their faces were familiar. Nariman Tamimi, Rushdi’s sister was nearly carried by the support of other female relatives. In front, Bilal Tamimi, the village videographer and journalist, chronicled the funeral as the latest chapter of his family’s hardships. “It’s ok, this is our destiny,” he said softly, only momentarily moving the shield of the camera from his face. In a crowd of 2,000, nearly everyone I spoke with had met Rushdi, even if briefly on the proverbial rite of passage demonstrations in Nabi Saleh.
The family of Rushdi Tamimi, Nabi Saleh funeral procession.
Last year the Tamimis lost another young relative to Israeli fire when a tear gas canister was shot at close range into the head of Mustafa Tamimi. Like his cousin’s death, Rushdi’s was a tragedy to not just his family, but to the people of the West Bank for whom he has quickly become a symbol of the refusal to succumb to political malaise.
“The psychology of defeat is starting to change,” said one Palestinian activist from Ramallah who walked somberly between the men and women’s processions in Nabi Saleh. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to bring about the promise of statehood, and Gaza embattled, West Bank Palestinians are beginning to shed the discourse of two-states and reflect on new options.
“His [Abbas] project is going to fail and not because of him, but because of Israeli policy,” said the activist. Popular resistance is one option for a new political direction– but in contrast to the frequency that it is discussed in American Palestine solidarity circles, on the ground here only a fraction of the population is mobilized. Yet since Operation Pillar of Cloud began six days ago, protests and clashes have rocked the West Bank—even in areas that have remained quiet since the Second Intifada.
“What’s happening is that the cities are re-engaging to some degree,” said the same Ramallah activist, who wished to be unidentified in this report. A day earlier, he along with dozens of other Palestinians blocked a settler road outside of Ramallah near the outpost of Beit El. During the action, he and the others cut the fencing of Israel’s separation barrier, the kind of action that has not occurred with any regularity since srael’s last military strike on Gaza in 2009. He noted that although in previous years there has been weekly Friday protests in villages like Budrus, Bil’in and Nilin, “there was no significant actual change.” Indeed even in cases like Bil’in where the demonstrations focused on village land expropriated for the route of Israel’s separation wall, the protests and a victory in the courts have yet to produce any meaningful halt of the trappings of occupation. Now, said the activist, “There is a feeling of a new political horizon.”
While we were en route to the burial site from Ramallah, clouds of smoke choked the checkpoints, including a pop-up “flying checkpoint,” at a roadblock just outside of Nabi Saleh. And at Atara checkpoint, next to the sleepy stone village of Birzeit, 20 soldiers patrolled the intersection. Later, when we reached Nabi Saleh, Israeli rocket alert sirens sounded at nearby Halamish, a settlement built on the village’s agricultural lands. But unlike the sirens that have rung on live news coverage from Southern Israel over the past week, there was no grad rocket in range. Rather, the Israeli authorities sounded the alarm to alert the settlers of our arrival.
Youth overlooks olive orchard in Nabi Saleh as the Israeli military fires tear gas after the funeral of Rushi Tamimi.
After the procession, friends, family and a cadre of Ramallah-based journalists marched through the village of Nabi Saleh, reaching the family burial ground. Rushdi’s plot overlooks a hill that includes a view of Halamish. From the front of the village, a large olive orchard meets a road wide enough for two cars to pass. And just on the other side of the road the duplexes of Halamish hang like shoeboxes in a closet; one on top of the other, all the same size, all in a row.
Back at the burial plot Rushdi’s body was laid to rest by a group of 30 men from his village. They carried him across a cul-de-sac at the edge of the town from the mosque to the cemetery. Some of the graves were overgrown with patches of grass, but others had elaborate headstones that span the length of a casket, with careful Arabic inscriptions. Rushdi came to rest on golden-colored earth. Then a layer of water and dirt covered his body.
Palestinian youth run from Israeli “skunk water,” sprayed after Rushdi Tamimi’s funeral, Nabi Saleh.
Within 15 minutes Rushdi’s grave was ground level. Back towards the main road in the village, most of the crowd gathered to listen to speeches from representatives of different Palestinian political parties. “Gaza is our family,” said Mahmoud Ialaloul from the central committee of Fatah. His remarks were followed by speech from a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). As the speeches concluded the shebab (youth) congregated toward the main entrance of the village where within minutes they were met by the Israeli military. Tear gas was fired. Five minutes later live rounds and rubber-coated bullets punctured the air near the youths’ heads. The shebab slung rocks in homemade slingshots, jeering when their stones got close to the military. Then they retreated towards the back of the village where the army followed in a truck that sprayed “skunk water,” a liquid dispersant that reeks like fecal matter. The clashes continued for hours.
Three hours after arriving in Nabi Saleh, I got a ride back to Ramallah and the protests were still on going at the checkpoint and roadblock. The sun had already started to set and it was dark before I was back at al-Manara square. Two hours later, there would be another demonstration in Ramallah, followed again by a march scheduled for the next morning to protest Hillary Clinton’s trip to negotiate a ceasefire. Although poised to begin in the next 24 hours, it is unlikely that the discontent in the West Bank will also conclude.
All photographs are by the author.