Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International has called for the release of activist Bassem Tamimi, whom they define as a prisoner of conscience. The 45 year-old father of four from Nabi Saleh was arrested October 24 during a protest action at a branch of Rami Levy, a Jewish-owned supermarket chain that has several branches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The chain stocks settlement goods, but refuses to stock Palestinian produce or products.

Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience
Bassem Tamimi arrested at the Rami Levy supermarket protest (credit: ActiveStils)

Last year, Haaretz reported that the supermarket had instituted a policy of separating male Arab grocery baggers from female Jewish cashiers after two such employees became romantically involved.

The protest, which was staged as a sit-in, was broken up by riot police.

Tamimi’s main activism, however, is centered on his home village of Nabi Saleh, population 530. Since 2009 the village has been holding weekly demonstrations to protest the confiscation of their land by the neighboring settlement of Halamish. In 2009 the settlement, which was already built entirely on Nabi Saleh-owned land, confiscated a spring that the Palestinian villagers relied on as a main source of water for agricultural purposes. The settlers of Halamish physically prevented the Palestinians from accessing the spring; to protest, the villagers assemble and march toward the spring every Friday after noon prayers, waving flags and banners as they chant slogans. They are usually stopped before they advance 200 meters by soldiers who enter their village in armored vehicles, leap out of the back and fire volleys of tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at close range. At that point, the young village men usually scatter and throw stones at the soldiers who have entered their village.

This past Friday, while Bassem Tamimi was still in Ofer Military Prison and denied bail following the Rami Levy protest, his 16-year-old son Wa’ed was arrested at the weekly village demonstration. He is now detained in a different section of the same prison, but his father is not allowed to see him.

Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience
Nabi Saleh children try to prevent soldiers from taking Wa’ed Tamimi, who is inside the vehicle. The blonde girl with the ponytail is his sister (credit: ActiveStills)

Last year Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was killed (murdered) when a soldier shot him directly in the face, at near point-blank range, with a tear gas canister. On another occasion a European woman who was present at a Friday demonstration was shot in the neck by a rubber bullet.

My own experiences at Nabi Saleh contributed considerably to what I sometimes refer only somewhat facetiously as my “radicalization.” The first time I attended a Friday demonstration I stood on the roof of a village home, together with three teenage girls, and watched as a soldier lifted his weapon, aimed it and deliberately fired a tear gas canister directly at us. It landed on the roof, narrowly missing the arm of one of the girls. We fled, gagging, as the commanding officer stood by and watched.

On other occasions I saw unarmed people kicked, beaten and dragged by soldiers; I saw old women gagging and spitting as the tear gas that blanketed the village seeped in through cracks in the windows and doors; and I saw a woman carrying a baby from her car to her home cower and scream as a soldier shot three tear gas canisters in a row directly over her head.

The people of Nabi Saleh are regularly terrorized by night raids, which usually take place between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.. Armed soldiers enter their homes and force parents to rouse their sleeping children. Sometimes they photograph the children and note down their ID numbers; other times they drag them off to a police station and interrogate them all night, without the presence of a guardian or an attorney. Nariman Tamimi, Bassem’s wife, had to deal with several night raids while her husband was in jail last year and she was home alone with four children.

Bassem Tamimi has been arrested several times and has cumulatively spent years in jail, usually just waiting to be charged and tried — in military courts that have a 98 percent conviction rate.

Tamimi spent most of 2011 in jail after he was charged with organizing battalions of children to throw stones at IDF soldiers. The evidence for this charge was based primarily on testimony from 14-year-old Islam Dar-Ayyoub, a village boy who was arrested in the middle of the night and interrogated at a police station by the Shin Bet. A video of the interrogation shows him weeping and sleep deprived, denied an attorney or the presence of a parent. The judge allowed the testimony, although no-one denied that the child was interrogated under duress, without the presence of a guardian or lawyer.

Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience
Bassem Tamimi with his wife, Nariman (credit: ActiveStills)

I should add that I personally saw Bassem Tamimi tackle a teenage Nabi Saleh boy to stop him from throwing a stone in the general direction of a fully armed soldier who was wearing protective riot gear. The idea of him organizing battalions of rock throwing children is absurd.

Amnesty International posted this video about Bassem Tamimi.

The bottom line is that Palestinians living under Israeli jurisdiction are not allowed to protest injustice. If they do, they will be crushed. The crushing proces is happening now to Nabi Saleh. The settlers of Halamish decided they wanted Nabi Saleh’s main source of water, so they took it. And when the villagers tried to protest, the army and the Shin Bet stopped them — with tear gas, bullets, beatings and skunk spray; with night raids, arrests, interrogations and long jail terms on trumped up charges; and, in the case of Mustafa Tamimi, with murder. With any means necessary.

And the few Israelis who protest this massive injustice are marginalized as “radicals” and “extreme leftists.”