When I met Bassem Tamimi at his home in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh this January, his eyes were bloodshot and sunken, signs of the innumerable sleepless nights he had spent waiting for Israeli soldiers to take him to prison. As soon as two children were seized from the village in the middle of the night and subjected to harsh interrogations that yielded an unbelievable array of “confessions,” the 44-year-old Tamimi’s arrest became inevitable. On 25 March, the army finally came, dragging him away to Ofer military prison, a Guantanamo-like West Bank facility where he had previously been held for a 12-month term for the vaguely defined crime of “incitement.” His trial before a military court that convicts more than 99 percent of Palestinians brought before it is scheduled to begin on 8 May.
Like nearly all of his neighbors, Tamimi has spent extended time in Israeli detention facilities and endured brutal treatment there. In 1993, he was arrested on suspicion of having murdered an Israeli settler in Beit El. Tamimi was severely tortured for weeks by the Israeli Shin Bet in order to extract a confession from him. 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. In the end, he was cleared of all charges.
With his wife, Nariman, and his brother, Naji, Tamimi has been at the center of Nabi Saleh’s popular resistance against the occupation since its inception in 2009. The village’s unarmed struggle has brought hundreds of Israelis and international activists to participate each Friday in boisterous and theatrical demonstrations that invariably encounter harsh Israeli violence, including the use of live ammunition against children. While other villages involved in the popular struggle have seen their ranks winnowed out by a harsh regime of repression and imprisonment, Nabi Saleh’s protests continue unabated, irking the army and frustrating the settlers of Halamish, who intend to expand their illegal colony further onto Nabi Saleh’s land.
Tamimi and I spoke amid the din of a stream of visitors parading in and out of his living room, from international activists living in the village to local children to a group of adolescent boys from the nearby town of Qurawa, who told me they came to spend time with Tamimi and his family “because this is what the Palestinian struggle is about.” Tamimi is a high school teacher in Ramallah and his professorial nature is immediately apparent. As soon as I arrived at his front door for what I thought would be a casual visit, he sat me down for an hour-long lesson on the history, attitudes and strategy that inform the brand of popular struggle he and his neighbors had devised during weekly meetings at the village cultural center.
Our discussion stretched from the origins of Nabi Saleh’s resistance in 1967 to the Oslo Accords, when the village was sectioned into two administrative areas (Areas B and C), leaving all residents of the Israeli-controlled portion (Area C) vulnerable to home demolition and arbitrary arrests. Tamimi insisted to me that Nabi Saleh’s residents are not only campaigning to halt the expropriation of their land, they seek to spread the unarmed revolt across all of occupied Palestine. “The reason the army wants to break our model [of resistance] is because we are offering the basis for the third intifada,” Tamimi said.