The demonstrations in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh began in December of 2009. The villagers have been protesting against the theft of a local spring by the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, but it has also been a battle against the Occupation in general. The Israeli authorities have responded to the protests in brutal fashion. In addition to three deaths and countless injuries over the years, the treatment of children has been particularly horrifying.
According to Defense for Children International-Palestine, the overall statistics regarding the incarceration of Palestinian children by the occupying forces are staggering:
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.
Nabi Saleh is no exception in this regard. Since the demonstrations began, there have been 220 arrests, of which roughly 100 have been of minors and, perhaps even more disturbing, there have been 15 arrests of children under the age of 15. One of the latter is Mohammed Fadal Tamimi, aged 14, who is currently in prison.
I met Bassem Tamimi, one of the organizers of the demonstrations, at his home late in the afternoon of July 15. We had arranged the appointment to discuss the situation of the children of the village currently held by the Israeli authorities. Mohammed, Ahmed Shakir Yousef Tamimi, 16, and Ahmed Sami Oudi Tamimi,17, were all arrested on April 24, 2017, and have been in prison ever since.
Ahmed Shakir’s mother, whose older son Mahmoud was also arrested during the raid, has not been allowed to see either of her sons other than during the trial. She joined us during the conversation and explained the circumstances of the violent arrest.
“Roughly 15 soldiers entered our home and asked everybody for their identification. They pushed me away when I tried to give Ahmed some clothes. It was very cold,” she said.
Ahmed Sami is awaiting his second trial, but Ahmed Shakir and Mohammed have already been convicted because of the testimony of a soldier, who claimed he had witnessed the two boys throwing stones.
“The soldier can say anything he wants to, and the others will believe it,” Bassem Tamimi said to me grimly.
It is not difficult to understand Tamimi’s lack of faith in the Israeli judicial system. By 2012 he had himself been arrested eleven times by Israeli authorities and had spent three years in administrative detention without ever being charged or tried. In 1993 he was beaten so badly during an interrogation that he lost consciousness for eight days, and following emergency brain surgery, he was placed in solitary confinement for 40 days before being released.
Arrested in 2011, he was held for 13 months before being convicted of organizing illegal protests and urging youths to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. The conviction was based to a large extent on the confession of a minor who had not been permitted access to a lawyer during his interrogation. (An edited video, given to the Associated Press by activists, showed an interrogator shouting at the boy, telling him to admit that Bassem had urged him to throw stones.)
The trial had garnered international attention and had been attended by European diplomats. European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton revealed her concerns about the fairness of the trial and stated that “the EU considers Bassem Tamimi to be a ‘human rights defender’ committed to non-violent protest against the expansion of an Israeli settlement on lands belonging to his West Bank village.”
Ahmed Shakir and Mohammed are scheduled to be released during the next two weeks, subject to the payment of a $834 (3,000 NIS) fine for each of them, but the fate of Ahmed Sami has not yet been determined.
Most of the discussion with Bassem Tamimi was somber, but the interview ended because of a happy occasion, the wedding of a villager that Tamimi and his wife hurried off to attend. What we did not know at the time was that another victim would be added to the list of deaths mere hours later. Israeli forces would enter the village before dawn and shoot Amr Ahmad Khalil, 34, from the adjacent village of Kafr Ein, during a raid conducted to detain him. He was a suspect in a drive-by shooting north of Ramallah.