’I’m not sorry’: Nur Tamimi explains why she slapped an Israeli soldier
By Gideon Levy and Alex Levac | Jan. 12, 2018 | 9:59 AM
A not-unexpected guest arrived at Nur Tamimi’s house last weekend: Mohammed Tamimi, the 15-year-old cousin and neighbor, who was shot in the head. He came over to congratulate Nur on her release on bail from an Israeli prison. She was delighted to see him standing there, despite his serious head wound. Last week, when we visited Mohammed, he hadn’t yet been told that Nur, 21, and their 16-year-old cousin Ahed, had been detained. Nor did he know that it was the bullet fired into his head from short range that had prompted the two cousins to go outside and attack two trespassing soldiers.
Now, at home, surrounded by television cameras, Nur confirms that the assault on the two soldiers was partly motivated by the fact that they invaded Ahed’s yard on December 15 – but the main reason was that they had just then read on Facebook that Mohammed had suffered an apparently mortal wound. He was shot a few dozen meters from Nur’s home. Ahed’s home is also a few steps away – all of the cousins live close to the entrance of the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah.
Ahed and her mother, Nariman, have now been in prison for three weeks, Mohammed is recovering from his wound and Nur is back home after 16 days in detention – an ordeal she would never have had to endure if she weren’t a Palestinian. Nur was involved in the incident with the soldiers, but the video of it shows clearly that she was far less aggressive than Ahed: She barely touched the soldiers.
Monday evening in Nabi Saleh. A personable, bespectacled young woman in skinny pants and a jacket strides in confidently, apologizes for being late and is not taken aback by the battery of cameras awaiting her in her parents’ living room. Since being released she has been interviewed nonstop by the world’s media. She’s less iconic than Ahed, but she’s free.
Nur, who is now awaiting trial, has just come back from Al-Quds University, the school she attends outside Jerusalem – she’s a second-year journalism student – where she had gone to explain her absence from a recent exam. Reason: prior commitments in the Sharon Prison. But she was late getting home, and her parents, Bushra and Naji, were worried. She wasn’t answering her phone.
In fact, people here seemed to be more upset by her lateness than they had been by her arrest. Her parents and siblings have plenty of experience with Israeli lockups. This is the village of civil revolt, Nabi Saleh, and this is the Tamimi family. They’re used to being taken into custody. While we waited for Nur, her father told us about the family.
Naji is 55 and speaks Hebrew quite well, having picked up the language in the 1980s when he worked in Israel polishing floor tiles. You have to spend time with Naji and Bushra – and also Ahed’s parents, Bassem and Nariman – to grasp how degrading, inflammatory and ignorant the Israeli right-wing propaganda is that has labeled these impressive people a “family of murderers.”
Naji works in the Palestinian Authority’s Coordination and Liaison Office, but stresses that has no direct contact with Israelis. A pleasant, sociable individual and a veteran member of Fatah, he’s the father of three daughters and two sons. The text on the newly coined poster above his head in the spacious living room states: “No one will turn off the light [nur, in Arabic]. #FreeNur.”
Naji is an uncle of Nariman and a cousin of Bassem – Ahed’s parents. The two families are very close; the children grew up in these adjacent houses.
Nur had never been arrested, but her father spent five years in Israeli jails. He was brought to trial four times for various offenses, most of them minor or political in nature. Naji’s brother was killed in 1973, in an Israel Air Force attack on Tripoli, in Lebanon, and the dead brother’s son spent more than 20 years in Israeli prisons. Bushra has been arrested three times for short periods. Their son Anan has been arrested four times, including one seven-month stint in prison.
About half a year ago, the regular demonstrations in Nabi Saleh protesting both the taking of land for the building of the settlement of Halamish and the plundering of a local spring plundered by settlers, when the army started to use live fire to disperse them. This is a small village, of 500 or 600 residents who weren’t able to cope with the resulting injuries and, in a few cases, fatalities. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech last month about Jerusalem reignited the protest.
A few days ago, a young villager, Abdel Karim Ayyub, was arrested (for unknown reasons), and has been in the Shin Bet security service’s interrogations facility in Petah Tikva since. The locals are certain that in the wake of his detention, there will be another large-scale army raid and extensive arrests.
On that Friday, December 15, Nur and Ahed were going back and forth between their two houses as usual. They were at Ahed’s house in the afternoon when they heard that Mohammed had been shot. In the yard, an officer and a soldier were, she recounts, acting as if this were their own house. These daily incursions drive the villagers crazy. It’s not just the brazen invasion of privacy, it’s also the fact that sometimes local young people throw stones at the soldiers. Sometimes, the stones hit the houses, and sometimes the soldiers open fire from the yards of the homes. “We aren’t going to accept a situation in which our homes become Israeli army posts,” says Naji.
His daughter holds the same opinion. She and Ahed, distraught at the news of Mohammed’s shooting, went out that day and started to taunt the two soldiers, so they would leave. According to Naji, the incident was quite routine and none of the soldiers got upset over it. He’s also convinced that the soldiers reacted with such restraint because they realized the scene was being filmed.
“This is only a small part of the overall picture,” he explains. “For the soldiers it was also something completely ordinary. They didn’t think they were in danger, either.”
Nur then went home and barely mentioned the incident; both for her and Ahed, it was indeed routine. Before dawn on Tuesday, four days after the incident and two days after the video clip had been posted online and stirred members of the Israeli right to assail the soldiers’ passivity – the army arrested Ahed. This took place in the dead of night and involved a large force; that’s the usual MO for arrests, even of minors such as Ahed. Twenty-four hours later, also at 3:30 A.M., the troops raided Nur’s house. Nariman was arrested when she arrived at the police station that day, for her involvement in the assault on the soldiers.
In the case of Nur, the soldiers burst into the house, went upstairs and demanded to see the IDs of all the sisters. Naji says that, once Ahed had been arrested, the family knew the soldiers would come for Nur, too. No one, including Nur, was afraid; no one tried to resist. About 15 soldiers entered the house, and seven or eight vehicles waited outside. Nur got dressed, was handcuffed and went out into the cold, dark night.
“It’s impossible to stand up to the army,” Naji says now, “and because this was Nur’s first time, we didn’t want violence.” In the jeep, she was blindfolded. She got no sleep for the next 22 hours, between the interrogations and the brusque transfers between detention facilities and interrogation rooms.
Two days later, soldiers again came to the family’s home, to carry out a search. They took nothing. Of this procedure, too, Naji says drily, “We’re used to it.” Meanwhile, in Ahed’s house, all the computers and cellular phones had been confiscated.
Two days after Nur’s arrest, her parents saw her in the military court in Ofer Prison, near Ramallah. She looked resilient, in terms of her state of mind, but physically exhausted, they say.
Ahed is in the minors’ section of Sharon Prison, in the center of the country; Nur was held in the wing for female security prisoners, where Nariman is, too. The three of them sometimes met in the courtyard during exercise periods.
Nur says she was appalled by her first encounter with an Israeli prison. The fates of the other prisoners – the suffering they endure and the physical conditions – are giving her sleepless nights. She now wants to serve as the voice for female Palestinian prisoners. She’s a bit tense and inhibited during our conversation, maybe because of the language (she doesn’t speak Hebrew, and her English is limited), maybe because we’re Israelis. What she found hardest, she tells us, was being deprived of sleep during all the interrogations, which went on for 22 hours straight, during which she wasn’t permitted to close her eyes. The aim of her captors, she says, was to pressure her to confess and to name village activists.
What did you want to achieve in the attack on the soldiers?
“We want to drive them out.”
Were you surprised that they didn’t react?
“There was something strange about their behavior. Something suspicious. They put on an act for the camera.”
Did you deserve to be punished?
“No, and I’m not sorry for what I did. They invaded our home. This is our home, not theirs.”
Would you do it again?
“I will react in the same way if they behave like that – if they invade the house and hurt my family.”
Ahed is strong, her cousin says. She knows she’s become a heroine from the Palestinian television broadcasts she sees in prison. Dozens of songs have already been written about her, says Nur, adding that it’s not because of Ahed that she is so upset now – what appalls Nur most is the lot of the other prisoners, above all the condition of Israa Jaabis, whose car, according to the record of her conviction, caught fire during an attempted terrorist attack in 2015, when she was 31. Jaabis was sentenced to 11 years prison, and suffers terribly from her burns, especially at night, according to Nur.
Other than the mission she has undertaken of speaking out for the prisoners, the arrest did not change her life, Nur says. She was released by the military appeals court last Thursday, pending trial, on four relatively lenient conditions, despite the prosecution’s insistence to the contrary. The judge ordered her to be freed that same day, and the prison authorities complied, but held off until just before midnight, as though in spite. Her father waited for her at the Jabara checkpoint. It was the eve of the huge storm that lashed the country, and the two hurried home.
No celebration awaited them there. Nur is still awaiting trial on assault charges, and last week, in the neighboring village of Deir Nizam, most of whose population is related to the Tamimi family, a 16-year-old boy was killed. During the funeral a friend of the victim was shot in the head and critically wounded.
This is not a time for celebrations.