LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: Last Sunday, the trial of Bassem Tamimi began. According to the Popular Struggle Committee that coordinates the weekly demonstrations in more than a dozen villages and towns throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, his indictment is based on questionable and coerced confessions of youth from the village. His arrest came only two weeks after that of Naji Tamimi, also a central activist in the village. Last Friday, in Nabi Salih, The Real News spoke with Diana Alzeer, a Palestinian activist from Ramallah. She’s part of the March 15 Youth Movement, whose demand for Palestinian national unity helped create pressure in the recent reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas parties.
DIANA ALZEER: From our own experience, or from what we’ve seen, is that they do arrest key people, or, like, demonstration organizers. Nabi Salih started as a very small local thing that was not supported yet by any activists. Now a lot of activists are joining. And I think the Israeli [incompr.] forces are, like, just frustrated, because they’ve arrested so many people from the village, and they see that every day, every week, the demonstration is actually stronger.
TARACHANSKY: Bassem Tamimi is charged with incitement, organizing and participating in unauthorized processions, solicitation to stone-throwing, and failure to attend legal summons. He’s also charged with disruption of legal proceedings for allegedly giving youth advice on how to act during police interrogations in the event that they are arrested. His wife, Neriman, witnessed the night raid when the army first tried to arrest Bassem.
NERIMAN TAMIMI, ACTIVIST, WIFE OF BESSAM (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I have witnessed two night raids in my life. The first raid was meant to arrest my husband, but they didn’t find him at home. So they broke everything in our house. The second time, they did a raid to arrest Islam and his brother Omar. They are my neighbors. One of them is a 14-year-old boy, and they just took him from the house. They beat him viciously. And when I tried to stop them, they almost killed me with their guns.
TARACHANSKY: During his appearance before the court, Bassem delivered a statement. “Eighteen years ago, my sister was killed in a courtroom such as this by a staff member. In my lifetime, I have been [imprisoned] nine times for an overall of almost three years, though I was never charged or convicted. During my imprisonment, I was paralyzed as a result of torture by your investigators. My wife was detained, my children were wounded, my land was stolen by settlers, and now my house is slated for demolition.” He added, “I organized these peaceful demonstrations in order to defend our land and our people. I do not know if my actions violate your occupation laws. As far as I am concerned, these laws do not apply to me and are devoid of meaning, having been enacted by occupation authorities. I reject them and cannot recognize their validity.”
TAMIMI: My husband was arrested because they claim he organizes illegal protests, and that he was the central activist, and that he organized the youth to throw stones. But anyone who believes in ending the occupation must act.
TARACHANSKY: Nabi Salih is a Palestinian village across the hill from the Israeli settlement of Halamish. Unlike many other villages where weekly protest happen, Nabi Salih is not separated from the settlement by a fence or a wall, leaving many to speculate that the settlers intend on annexing further land. The weekly protests in Nabi Salih are known for being met with some of the most violence response from the army of all the weekly demonstrations.
ALZEER: We the people of Ramallah, when we come to Nabi Salih, we kind of wake up really early, and we leave before–we try to get here before the Israelis actually block the roads by the checkpoints. So we leave around seven o’clock. We get to the town. We try to enter through the main entrances. In case they’re blocked, we hike through the mountains. Sometimes it takes an hour, two hours, depending on how far we park our cars.
TARACHANSKY: Sometimes, like in the case of last Friday, the army expects the activists in the forest surrounding the village, and they must turn back and try another route.
UNIDENTIFIED: Okay. So we’ll try, ’cause basically we’re walking here, but the soldiers are kind of everywhere.
TARACHANSKY: Trying another route means driving to the other side of the village, getting out in the middle of the highway, and hiking quickly up the hills to avoid being spotted by the army.
ALZEER: Finally, we get to the village, we socialize with the villagers, we stay around, talk to the journalists, or do whatever. [incompr.] prayer finishes around 1:15, and that’s when the demonstration actually starts. People gather at the center of Nabi Salih, and they start walking down the main road–or through the hill, but they eventually try to walk to the main road. The main purpose of the walk is try to reach the water well that was confiscated by the Israelis. It used to be the main source of water for the locals of Nabi Salih, and that whole area was confiscated, even the land itself. Ever since I started, we never succeeded to reach the water well, ’cause every time we’d try to get to the main road, they start firing teargas and sound bombs and sometimes rubber bullets at us.
JOSEPH DANA, JOURNALIST, +972 MAGAZINE: It feels like I’m being suffocated and held under water, like, burning water, acidic water, right? Like, if you’re–you can’t breathe, and your eyes are burning. So it’s–.
TARACHANSKY: Some people say it’s worse on a hot day. Why?
DANA: It’s worse on a hot day because water activates the gas, water, like, exacerbates the effects of the teargas. And so when you’re sweating, it makes the experience so much more profound, like if you touch your eyes and stuff like this, which I’d like to do, but I can’t, ’cause it’ll just accentuate what’s going on.
ALZEER: And if we’re very lucky, they will bring the skunk, the skunk truck, which is–it’s a horrible smell. And, yeah, it goes on till sunset.
TARACHANSKY: Sometimes activists faint from being caught in clouds of teargas. This man was treated with oxygen by medics for half an hour before regaining consciousness.
TAMIMI (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): Nabi Salih, ever since the village was established, was like a thorn in the Israeli occupation land. And Nabi Salih has around 16 martyrs, 14 prisoners. Four of them are life-term prisoners; one of them is a female.
TARACHANSKY: Neriman herself was imprisoned. When asked what most of the arrested are charged with, she says:
TAMIMI: Most of them are either going into illegal demonstrations, walking into demonstrations, or throwing stones.
TARACHANSKY: Our interview with Diana Alzeer ended abruptly, when the army shot teargas at the Tamimi house.
TAMIMI: They’re shooting more teargas now. [loud explosion] Shit. Yeah, take the little kid. Oh, teargas is fucking right here. Maybe you should go in?