In the occupied West Bank, the Tamimi family name is synonymous with Palestinian struggle. They are the mainstay of the protest movement in the village of Nabi Saleh, which has been battling against Israeli settlement building, occupation and water theft for decades. Mothers, brothers, uncles, daughters, sons, young and old have all participated in the movement, which, until recently, took to the streets of the village every Friday to demand their rights.
The demonstrations raise awareness about the encroachment of the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, the regular demolitions of Palestinian homes and the siphoning of vital drinking water from Nabi Saleh to the Israeli outpost. Palestinian activists have been brutally attacked by the Israeli military, which is concerned that the village’s defiance will inspire others. One extended family member, Mustafa, was shot on 10 December 2011 by a high-velocity tear gas projectile fired at his head at close range from an Israeli military jeep. He died the next day in hospital.
More recently, in 2015, a photograph of 12-year-old Muhammad Tamimi being assaulted by a fully armed Israeli soldier went viral. The photo shows the boy screaming in agony as two women, an elderly man and a young girl strain to rip the soldier off the boy. The women who intervene are Muhammad’s mother Nariman Tamimi, his sister Ahed Tamimi and aunt Manal Tamimi. Two days before the incident, the 12-year-old boy suffered a broken arm during an Israeli raid in the village and can be seen wearing a cast in the photos.
The violence of the Israeli soldier received widespread condemnation from many around the world, but the Israeli state defended the soldier, claiming that he was the victim of a riotous mob.
This situation is heart achingly familiar to the Tamimis. The Israeli state steals their land, assaults their children and then twists the story so that victim becomes oppressor and oppressor becomes victim. Regardless, the family refuses to allow the violence of the occupation forces to dissuade them.
Bassem Tamimi, the father of Muhammad, is one of the most prominent organisers of the resistance. Bassem has been invited to a speaking tour in Australia by a variety of Palestine solidarity groups and Socialist Alternative. He is a keynote speaker at the annual Marxism conference in Melbourne in April.
The Australian government has demanded he gain approval from Israeli police before his visa will be granted. Bassem holds a Palestinian Authority passport and can travel without agreement from the Israeli authorities. Nevertheless, the Australian government, one of Israel’s key international backers, wants to ensure that Palestinians know their lives are in fact ruled by Israel. Bassem has thus far not been granted his visa.
This denial of a visa is just the latest offence against Bassem. A longstanding activist who participated in the first intifada, he is seasoned in the ways of the Israeli state. He has been arrested more than 10 times and imprisoned frequently. He was held for three years in administrative detention without trial.
While in prison in 1993, he was severely tortured for weeks by the Israeli Shin Bet in order to extract a confession. Tamimi said that during the torture he was dropped from a high ceiling onto a concrete floor and woke up a week later in an Israeli hospital. While in prison, his sister visited him. According to her family, she was struck and pushed down a flight of stairs by an Israeli army interpreter. She was killed. No-one was ever charged over her death.
At that time, Bassem was cleared of all charges. But in 2011, he was put on trial for inciting protesters to throw stones at the Israeli police. In a statement to the court he said:
“International law guarantees the right of occupied people to resist occupation. In practising my right, I have called for and organised peaceful popular demonstrations against the occupation, settler attacks and the theft of more than half of the land of my village … I organised these peaceful demonstrations in order to defend our land and our people … The military prosecutor accuses me of inciting the protesters to throw stones at the soldiers. This is not true.
“What incites protesters to throw stones is the sound of bullets, the occupation’s bulldozers as they destroy the land, the smell of tear gas and the smoke coming from burnt houses. I did not incite anyone to throw stones, but I am not responsible for the security of your soldiers who invade my village and attack my people with all the weapons of death and the equipment of terror.”
He was convicted and imprisoned. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. On his release, Bassem declared his commitment to continuing the struggle until the occupation is ended.
“We know they want a land without people – they only want the land and the water – so our destiny is to resist. They give us no other choice.”
Please sign the petition at change.org to urge the Australian government to grant Bassem’s visa. If the visa is granted, Bassem will speak at Marxism 2017, on Saturday, 15 April at 11:30am. Find out more at marxismconference.org.