“We need to wake up and change our strategy, to unite our struggle,” says Bassem Tamimi, a veteran Palestinian activist and father of Ahed Tamimi, as he sits in his Nabi Saleh home in the occupied West Bank. Tamimi, who was born in 1967 and has only ever known military occupation, was jailed during the First Intifada and has been among the leaders of the village’s popular protests over the past decade. Now, however, he has given up on the two-state solution. “It’s no longer an option,” he says.
The Tamimi family, and their village, made global headlines in late 2017 when Ahed slapped an Israeli soldier who had entered her family courtyard during a Friday demonstration. Earlier that day, a soldier had shot a 15-year-old relative in the head. A few days later, soldiers arrested Ahed, then 16, from her home in the middle of the night. Her mother, Nariman, was arrested shortly after her daughter for filming the slapping incident. Both spent eight months in prison.
“Why did Ahed slap that soldier?” Tamimi asks rhetorically, in a meeting with journalists from Israel. “Because I didn’t. That’s the reality: We need new ideas, and we cannot expect different results if we continue on the same path. We need to be focused on a goal and change our methods accordingly, not the other way round.
“We don’t want to live in an illusion,” Tamimi continues. “The peace process began in Madrid in 1992, but the ‘Deal of the Century’ finished that process off. But the current situation is better than what they’re proposing [in Trump’s plan], which offers no right of return and no territorial contiguity — just population transfer, and total control for Israel.”
‘Changing the mentality of occupation is harder than changing the situation on the ground’
Nabi Saleh was one of four West Bank villages to have its entrance sealed off by the Israeli army last week, following a settler protest over stone-throwing in the area. Last Tuesday, traffic backed up outside the village as soldiers and Border Police officers expanded the collective punishment, checking vehicles entering as well as those leaving. The day after, residents simply began driving around the closed gate, despite the presence of Israeli troops.
Nabi Saleh, which lies north of Ramallah in the northern West Bank, is home to a few hundred people. In 2009, residents began staging weekly demonstrations against the occupation and against the takeover of their spring by settlers from neighboring Halamish. The protests continued for two years before being suspended, by which time Israeli forces suppressing the demonstrations had killed four young Palestinians — three from Nabi Saleh, and one from a nearby village.
Dozens of residents — including women and children — have been injured, arrested and imprisoned over the years. Numerous Israeli activists participated in the protests, despite the military’s efforts to block their access to the village. Demonstrations have renewed in the wake of Trump’s plan; already, one youth has been wounded by live ammunition.
“Ahed once asked me why we’re fighting for a two-state solution,” Tamimi says. “I’ve sat in jail for this idea, I’ve lost my sister and 22 other people from our village in the struggle for two states. We put our faith in international law and the international community, but we’ve lost. How can I convince my daughter to continue down this road?”
Tamimi, a longtime Fatah member, now believes that a one-state solution is the only way. “My children can’t go to the beach, which is 25 miles from here. So I’m now talking about one state. We need to change our thinking, to accept the idea that we need to live together.” The idea is gaining ground among Palestinians, he says, citing a recent survey by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, according to which 37 percent of Palestinians support a single state.
Nonetheless, he continues, “Israeli society is going to the right. Changing the mentality of occupation is harder than changing the situation on the ground.”
Tamimi recalls a talk he and his daughter gave in the United States, before his visa was canceled, in which she thanked the audience for their tears but noted “we have enough of them from the tear gas.” Palestinians weren’t after their pity, she said, because “we’re fighting for our freedom.” Tamimi, with evident pride, adds that the Palestinian Authority “talk about needs, not rights. But the refugee who lives in a Manhattan villa has as much right to return [to Palestine] as someone in a Lebanese refugee camp.”
Tamimi, like many Palestinians in the occupied territories, considers the PA Israel’s subcontractor in the West Bank. “The PA has become the handmaiden of the occupation,” he says, adding that this is the precise reason Israel created the PA — in order to redirect Palestinian anger and sow internal strife.
This is, he says, the reason that Palestinians in the West Bank chose not to launch mass protests against Trump’s plan. “People stayed home not because they’re scared of the occupation, but because they don’t trust the Palestinian leadership,” he says. “But change will come.”
‘There is one settlement, and it’s Israel’
Tamimi wholeheartedly believes in returning to the tactics of the First Intifada. “It changed perceptions, because everyone could participate. In a popular protest everyone can, and needs to, play a part.
“Armed struggle might be easier, but it doesn’t instill faith in people to see a guy holding a weapon,” he says.
Tamimi himself has had a long career resisting the occupation. In 1993, he was tortured during an interrogation and spent several days in a coma. His sister, Basma, was killed the same year while on her way to his remand extension hearing at the military court in Ramallah; an army interpreter pushed her in a stairwell, she fell, and broke her neck and died.
In 2011, Tamimi was arrested and jailed for 11 months for his role in organizing protests in Nabi Saleh. In October the following year, he was arrested again during a protest outside a grocery store in an Israeli industrial zone south of Ramallah, and released in early 2013. And in early 2018, following the arrests of Ahed and Nariman, Tamimi’s son, Waleed, was also arrested and jailed for a year for protesting.
“There is one settlement, and it’s Israel,” Tamimi says when asked about settlement expansion in the West Bank. “Whether there are more or fewer settlements, whether there are checkpoints or not, are just details in the reality created by the occupier. We need to change the mentality around ruling over another people. The problem is not just that we cannot build houses on our own land. That’s part of it, but we want freedom, respect and rights.”
‘When power is the central value, everything starts to collapse’
“We should have struggled for all of Palestine,” Tamimi says. “Our mistake in the Oslo Accords is that we gave up on 78 percent of historic Palestine in exchange for nothing.”
The failure to establish a Palestinian state since the 1990s is, he says, down to Oslo. “Oslo’s main aim was to show that there is ‘Israel’ and there’s the ‘occupation.’ It changed the perception of Israel, but created a schism among Palestinians.”
When asked about the role of the Israeli left in the struggle against the occupation, Tamimi responds cynically. “There’s a left? Everyone in Israel is moving to the right, like in the rest of the world. It will keep rising until everything falls apart. When power is the central value, everything starts to collapse.”
For Tamimi, Palestinians need to formulate a strategy before inviting support from outside. “Palestinians need a plan first and foremost,” he says. “When we have a plan for a nonviolent struggle, then we’ll invite you [to join us]. That is a Palestinian problem, not a Jewish one. And you need to retake your religion that has been conquered by Zionism.”
Returning to the subject of Ahed’s slap, Tamimi says her act “changed people’s thinking around the world.” The gap between his and his daughter’s generation, he continues, is driven by “freedom of information. They know more than I do about human rights and international law.
“But that’s also a problem, because when you concentrate on universal values of freedom, justice, and democracy, it pushes you away from national belonging, and away from collective rights to individual ones.”
Nonetheless, Tamimi still believes in fighting for his children’s generation. To illustrate, he shares an anecdote about his son Salam. “One day, while I was in prison, he started crying and saying he didn’t want to be called Salam [‘peace’ in Arabic]. When we asked why, he said he’d heard people saying bad things about peace, and he thought they were talking about him.
“So you see, I have to fight in order to convince him to believe in peace.”
A version of this post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.