Every Friday for nearly a decade, the villagers of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank have gathered to walk across a road to a water spring.
The water spring has long been a part of Palestinian life, but the villagers of Nabi Saleh are prevented from accessing it by illegal Israeli settlers, who take more and more land every year.
The gate at the entrance to the village is constantly monitored by Israeli soldiers. They often exercise their powers to turn back Palestinian villagers trying to get to school or work, or a clinic for medical treatment. Like other checkpoints across the West Bank, Nabi Saleh checkpoints include a battery of CCTV cameras.
The infrastructure of occupation appeared around Nabi Saleh to “contain” Palestinian responses to the establishment of the adjacent Halamish settlement in 2009. Land for that settlement was stolen from Palestine. Roads built on that stolen land are for Israeli settlers only.
As the water spring is now for settlers only, every Friday the soldiers prevent the villagers from walking across their own land to access what was their own water.
Sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi is a veteran of the weekly protests, as are many members of her extended family. Her now-famous arrest and detention on December 15 came after soldiers entered her family’s courtyard and refused to leave.
So Ahed slapped one. Less than an hour before this “crime”, her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi had been shot by an Israeli soldier. The rubber-coated bullet left him with severe head injuries and pieces of his skull had to be removed.
On January 17, an Israeli court denied Ahed bail. Since her arrest, 20 members of her extended family have had entry visas revoked and been slapped with travel bans. The Middle East Monitor reported that the bans were issued on the orders of Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, which singled out Ahed’s father Bassem as a particular target.
The extended Tamimi family has been hit hard by these restrictions, but such collective punishment is not unique to the Tamimi family or their village. Palestinians across the West Bank are routinely denied permits to work and travel. Such measures help ensure Palestinians under occupation remain impoverished.
The Israeli military harassment of Nabi Saleh’s residents is constant. Israeli soldiers can enter any residence they like at any time and confiscate property. Villagers are often woken in the middle of the night to have their houses turned upside down, possessions confiscated and family members arrested.
Mobile phones and computers are often confiscated in the name of “security”. This is in retaliation for their use by residents to record the actions of Israeli soldiers, based on the allegation that sharing such recordings amounts to an “incitement” to protest. (The Bilal Tamimi YouTube account, for instance, features videos from Nabi Saleh on Israeli army abuses and community resistance.)
The shocking circumstances surrounding Ahed’s arrest have received little, if any, coverage in the Western media. The Western media is happy to promote selected heroic young women, who serve a pre-existing narrative — such as the undeniably heroic Malala Yousuafzai.
Yet Ahed is also courageously standing up for her community. Because she is Palestinian, opposing Israeli occupation supported by Western powers, the media refrains from giving her the attention and respect she deserves.
Malala’s father drew praise in the West for his support of his daughter’s activism and courage in the face of violent oppressors. Ahed’s father Bassem Tamimi has also strongly supported his daughter, writing a powerful December 31 Haaretz article headlined, “My daughter, these are tears of struggle”. His treatment in the West is very different.
Last April, months before Ahed’s arrest, Bassem was prevented at the last minute from travelling to speak in Australia at several events. Among the reasons cited for the visa refusal was concern that members of the public might “react adversely” to Tamimi’s views of Middle Eastern politics, and the government had a responsibility to prevent “discord” in the community.
Many of Nabi Saleh’s about 600 residents have lived their entire lives under military occupation. The hope of the older generation for the young is that their push back against Israel’s occupation will not involve the same stale politicians and groups they see as having failed them.
It is a mistake to imagine young Palestinians are “forced” to take part in protests. Palestinian children and youths have to deal with the same checkpoints as their parents, often suffer breathing difficulties from tear gas thrown by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian parents are often powerless to help their children when soldiers raid their houses, or when tear gas canisters and rubber bullets are fired at them on demonstrations.
The older generation at Nabi Saleh are veterans of the first and second intifadas (Palestinian uprisings that broke out in 1987 and 2000). Bassem’s pride in his daughter following in his footsteps to resist Israeli occupation is matched by his grief that she has to stand against occupation at all.
In his Haaretz piece, Bassem wrote: “Ahed is one of many young women who in the coming years will lead the resistance to Israeli rule. She is not interested in the spotlight currently being aimed at her due to her arrest, but in genuine change.
“She is not the product of one of the old parties or movements, and in her actions she is sending a message: In order to survive, we must candidly face our weaknesses and vanquish our fears.
“In this situation, the greatest duty of me and my generation is to support her and to make way; to restrain ourselves and not to try to corrupt and imprison this young generation in the old culture and ideologies in which we grew up.
“Ahed, no parent in the world yearns to see his daughter spending her days in a detention cell. However, Ahed, no one could be prouder than I am of you. You and your generation are courageous enough, at last, to win.”
In the aftermath of Ahed’s arrest, the entire village of Nabi Saleh was declared a “closed military zone” by the Israeli Defence force — again on the orders of Lieberman. All entrances and exits were barred to anyone wishing to enter or leave the village.
This is a brutal example of collective punishment. The declaration of such zones is a regular feature of life under occupation. Locking down an entire village is as much about preventing observers from reaching the village to record abuses carried out by the occupying force as it is about stopping villagers from protesting about those abuses.
There are calls for an international day of protest in support of all Palestinian political prisoners on the day of Ahed’s 17th birthday on January 31. International solidarity is sorely needed — the Israeli military court she is facing has a better than 99% conviction rate against Palestinian prisoners, so Ahed potentially faces a long prison sentence.