Only the remains of a cream cake on the kitchen table and a few fluttering flags on the roof are testimony to the happy atmosphere in this home. However, the joy over Bassam Tamimi’s release from prison this week was considerably dampened by the grief over the death of his brother-in-law, Rushdi Tamimi. Rushdi, 31, died three months ago when Israel Defense Forces soldiers fired 80 live rounds at him − without any justification, according to a subsequent IDF investigation.
The first thing Bassam did after his release was to visit Rushdi’s grave. Bassam’s cousin, Mustafa Tamimi, was killed over a year ago, also by IDF gunfire. And soldiers did not hesitate to fire tear-gas canisters at his funeral, which I attended.
Bassam’s sister, Bassama, was killed 10 years ago when she went to the military court in Ramallah, where Bassam was being remanded in custody. An army interpreter allegedly pushed her down a staircase; as a result, she broke her neck and died, leaving five young children behind.
Photographs of the three hang in the family’s living room in Nabi Saleh, a determined village that is part of the popular Palestinian uprising. Bassam Tamimi, the leader of the uprising, was released this week after his ninth incarceration in an Israeli prison. The latest spell behind bars came after he participated in a nonviolent demonstration calling for the boycotting of Israeli products, held at the entrance to the Rami Levi supermarket in the Geva Binyamin industrial zone, southeast of Ramallah.
This four-month sentence can be added to the other four years Tamimi has previously spent in Israeli prisons. In a poster that reads “Free Bassam Tamimi,” also hanging on one of the living room walls, there is no date. His wife, Nariman, explains that the absence of a date has enabled the poster to be used all the times he has been arrested. She herself has been arrested four times.
For several years, Bassam, 45, has been trying to complete his requirements for a Master’s degree in economics. The problem is that, whenever he makes a little progress toward finishing the requirements, he is arrested and sent to prison. Now he is determined to get a Ph.D.
His village, in the Ramallah district, began its struggle in 2009, on the anniversary of the first intifada 22 years before. Tamimi and his friends from the village, as well as international and Israeli activists, wanted to return to the days of that first intifada, to protest the expulsion of villagers from Nabi Saleh’s well by settlers from the nearby settlement of Halamish (previously called Neve Tzuf).
Since that time, though, Tamimi has changed his outlook. Whereas previously he supported the two-states-for-two-nations idea, he is now fighting for the concept of a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
This week, the day after his release from prison, Bassam explained his new worldview: “The seizure of the well is only a manifestation of the problem, not the problem itself. The same can be said about the checkpoints, the settlements, the theft of Palestinian lands and the arrests. The real problem is the occupation.
“When the village of Budros succeeded in changing the route of the separation fence, this was a minor victory. The problem is the separation fence, not its route. The problem is not the settlers’ attacks, but rather the settlements themselves. The problem is the occupation, not its various manifestations.
“When a representative of the American consulate visited here a short while after we began our struggle,” he adds, “I told her: ‘Let us say you were Wonder Woman and you could, simply with a toss of your head, make Halamish disappear. Would you solve the problem? Just look around you, at the settlements.’ We believe that our fate is not the occupation but rather the resistance.
“Israel has killed the two-state solution. That is why we must adopt a new strategy, and find a new partner for that strategy in Israeli society. We must kill the occupation and the [sense of] separation in the Israeli consciousness: The separation of people from one another is a question of consciousness. We must never return to this failed pattern of thinking. The future will not change if we continue to think with the same concepts of the past. The solution is a single state. If we believe we have a right to this land and the Israelis believe they are the ones who have a right to this land, we must build a new model. If both of us believe that God gave us this land, we must put history aside and begin to think about the future in different terms.
“I began to be active in the Fatah movement, which means that I supported its ideas,” Bassam says. “For me, as someone who never worked in Israel, the Israeli was the soldier who is shooting, the soldier who is at the checkpoint, or the investigator in prison who caused me to lose consciousness for ten days and to suffer partial paralysis in 1993 after he used considerable physical force while rocking my body during my interrogation. For me, the Israeli was the woman who killed my sister. This was the image of the Israeli in my view, and it made me hate Israelis.
“However, when we began the popular uprising, I met other Israelis, people who believed that I have a right to this land, people who were partners and true cousins. This strengthened my belief that we can learn how to live together. I have no problem in suggesting to Jonathan Pollak [one of the anarchist leaders opposing the separation fence] that he build his house on my roof. But I cannot tolerate the idea that the settlers have settled on my land. My consciousness has changed and it has taken me to the one-state solution, which means the acceptance − not the removal − of the Other. In the past I wanted all of this land without any Israelis. Today, I also accept the Israelis. If we can all change our consciousness, we can create a just country.
“This is hard, I know,” Bassam admits. “Israel wants to kill that idea as well. It wants to build a wall against it, which means that they do not want us. They are returning to the old idea of the desolate land. But we are here and we will continue with our resistance.”
Tamimi’s daughter listens to our conversation. Ahed is a beautiful, blonde-haired young girl of 11 who made her worldwide media debut a few weeks ago when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited her to visit Turkey, together with her mother. A large, elegant album with chrome paper pages − a gift from the Turkish government − displays breathtaking photos from the visit of Ahed and her mother, a visit that was given extensive media coverage. On returning from Turkey, Ahed told her father that, when Erdogan suggested she accompany him on a visit to a refugee camp for Syrian refugees, she turned down the offer. She told the Turkish prime minister that her heart already had enough pain.
A unique case
Bassam Tamimi’s latest sentence came after he saw Israeli police officers attempting to arrest his wife Nariman at the Rami Levi demo, and he ran over in order to free her. The judge at his trial, Maj. Meir Vigisser, wrote: “The accused participated in a demonstration that was declared illegal, and fought with Chief Inspector [Benny] Malka in an attempt to free his wife. In his actions, he was guilty of assaulting a police officer. The case we are dealing with here is unique to a great extent … It does not appear that he intended to enter into a confrontation with the police. A few seconds beforehand, he was seen standing alongside his wife and Chief Inspector Malka and appeared to be in a relaxed mood.”
The Ofer military court in the West Bank sentenced him to four months in prison, a fine of NIS 5,000 and a suspended sentence that will be activated if he dares to participate in “any procession for which no permit has been issued, or in any gathering attended by more than 50 persons.” I ask Bassam what he has gained through his struggle? “The occupation,” he responds, “is still here and is present in every aspect of our lives, so it could be said that we have not attained anything tangible. However, on the other hand, our message is being heard throughout the world. Part of our success is the fact that you two came today to hear what I have to say. And the fact that our children now have more courage to talk about their fate. And the fact that we can correct the negative image of Palestinians in a segment of the international community. And the fact that people in Turkey saw Ahed and heard her speak. But our main target is Israeli society, and there we have made very little headway. Israeli society is moving
further to the right and that is the reason why it is hard to believe that we are getting closer to something substantial. Israel is pushing us back to the idea of the armed struggle in order to again spread the lie that we are terrorists. This worries me very much.
“I am also afraid of [Habayit Hayehudi leader] Naftali Bennett’s plan. He wants Israel to annex all of Area C.”
(In accordance with the Oslo II Accords [Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip], signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1995, Judea and Samaria is divided into three sections: A, B and C: Area A, which includes most of the large Palestinian population centers, is mostly under Palestinian Authority (PA) civil and security control; Area B is mostly under PA civil control and Israeli security control; and Area C is mostly under Israeli security and civil control, although the PA has authority in civil matters not related to land.)
‘Everything is interconnected’
“That means apartheid,” Tamimi continues. “This is Israel’s plan: to banish the Palestinians from all of Area C. For instance, my home is located in Area C and a demolition order has been issued against my home. Yes, you are now in Area C and you can feel secure because here Israel is responsible for security. Some of the houses in this village are in Area C. Half of my cousin’s house is located in Area B and the other half is located in Area C. Thirteen demolition orders have been issued against houses in this village. I have a building permit for part of my house from the Jordanian government; it was issued in 1964.
“The Israelis have issued a demolition order for 300 square meters of my house, although my house measures only 200 square meters. Perhaps I can borrow 100 square meters from Halamish. Although perhaps they will not demolish my house, they have managed to scare me so much that I have decided not to add another floor. In other words, four of my children will have to move to Areas A and B. This is the quiet population transfer. This is ‘gentle’ genocide, where no one is killed. The next generation will leave Area C and only the elderly will remain. Perhaps they will be given Israeli identity cards, but that will be apartheid.
“Because it is for the most part Zionist, the Israeli left wants to change the Palestinian consciousness and adapt it to the Israeli left’s consciousness. It is not prepared to accept our right to our consciousness. The Israeli left wants to change us. It wants to make life easier for us under the occupation, but does not really want to put it to an end. After all, ever since the Oslo era, the total area of land that the Israelis have taken from the Palestinians is five times the area of land that they took before Oslo. However, when I see who comes here every Friday in order to demonstrate with us and to support us in our struggle, I believe that we do have a partner for changing the situation.
“The two-state solution is not just. Jewish holy sites are located in the West Bank. My children love to go to the beach, which is located in Israeli territory. I love to stroll in Jaffa and Acre, which are both located in Israel. Most of Israel’s water is in the West Bank. A large portion of Israel’s revenue comes from tourism, and part of the Palestinian economy is entitled to be based on tourism. Everything is interconnected. I do not want to deny anyone these rights. I want a solution for everyone. I know that such a thing has not always worked out in every place, but the world is moving toward the elimination of all borders and toward economic union.”