Conversation with Manal Tamimi

An interview by Alok

Manal Tamimi is a renowned female Palestinian activist who is part of the popular resistance committee of Nabu Saleh, a  village in west bank which has been carrying out non-violent protest against its illegal occupation every week for last 6 years. She and her family are a key part of the growing  Palestinian struggle  which brings together Palestinians and Israeli activists  on a weekly basis.

We speak to her about the origin  and status of the current conflict, her thoughts on the future as well as about the effect occupation is having on lives of Palestinians, especially those who live right next to the illegal settlements.

  1. Can you tell us briefly about your village and the effect occupation has had on it?

 I am from Nabi Saleh. It’s a small village 20 KM north of Ramallah and has almost 600 residents. Most of us are Tamimis, one big family. In 1976, Israel  illegally built a settllement called Halamisch just outside the village gate and it has slowly been expanding ever since. By now two-thirds of the village land has been taken over by this settlement. In 2009, after the settlement began capturing a spring that was used by the entire village for drinking water, we decided it was enough and started non-violent resistance movement by protesting against this illegal settlement and against occupation every friday. So come friday, we march towards the occupied land.

Under Israeli law gathering of more then 10 people in Occupied areas is considered illegal. So basically any protest, including a non-violent one is illegal. Because it is deemed illegal, Israel army

use excessive force at protests. They use tear gas, stun grenades during every protest and even use live ammunition. They even use the dum dum bullets (bullets which expand once they hit the body and cause maximum tissue damage, and which are  banned under international as well Israel millitary law).  In addition to such brutalities, the Israeli army intimidates the villagers at other times. They often carry out night raids, arrest our children in the middle of the night by accusing them of stone throwing. They even fire tear gas  canisters at our homes to cause injury and damage.

For last 3 days, and this has been done in the past, the military has closed the village gates  to stop us from protesting.  It’s now declared a closed military zone and so we cant leave the village for anything. Under occupation Israel has transformed our habitats into an open air prison.

  1. Has the use of live ammunition always been a common practice for Israel army?

In Nabi Saleh and other places in west bank where non-violent movements are going on, they used to use live ammunition roughly once a month. However after the Gaza war last year, they  use it every week. When we march towards the occupied land and we march peacefully, they say we are attacking the settlers and so to defend  settlers they use ammunition.  In addition to these attacks by Israeli army, we routinely have to face   attacks by extremist settlers who regularly attack people working in the fields, our children, and try to attack our homes even in the night.  These attacks have increased significantly in last two months or so. And after all this the world calls us terrorists.

  1. What in your opinion is the reason for the current conflict which began on 1st October? According to mainstream media reports like the BBC, New-york times the trigger was stabbings carried out by some Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Of course as we have seen over and over again, every time there is a conflict, the easiest thing to do is to blame the Palestinians. In fact this is what makes us especially mad.  After Oslo agreement and especially the second intifada, Palestine has no economy to speak of. We live on fundings/aids and basically charity of others, like the European union and America. So anytime any one in Palestine tries to take an initiative to even challenge the occupation, immediately our funding is cut off.  So there is absolute economic depression. There are months when people go on without their salaries being paid. But this is not the only thing.

I live 20 minutes drive from Ramallah. But every 1 KM, there is a check point, a settlement, a separation wall. And every settlement,  check point means long delays, humiliations, checks. It takes me an average of 3 and a half to four hours to make the journey to Ramallah. Moreover you must have heard about the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, this Mosque means so much to all the Palestinians. The zionist settlers go there  to visit on a daily basis, and our entry is restricted! Why should the settlers have a right to invade our mosque for their visits and we are stopped from going there. When we talk about the stabbings which have begun since october 1st, you should note that 90 to 95 percent of the accused are less then 20 years old. That is, they were born after  or around the time of Oslo agreement. Hence they have experienced nothing except oppression, de-development and a feeling of absolute helplessness. In fact it isn’t even correct to say that things started suddenly on October first. The popular resistance has always been going on as people’s discontent and anger have been rising. However in Hebron, Hadil al hashloumon, an 18 year old college going girl was shot dead by an IDF soldier, claiming she had pulled a knife on a solider while trying to cross a check point. Of course now there is a documentary evidence and eye-witnesses who say she never pulled out any knife and was murdered in cold blood by soldiers first shooting in both her legs and several rounds in her body as she was lying down. This made people extremely angry.

Then two days ago, as you must have known and perhaps seen video of, a thirteen year old boy, Ahmed Munshara, who was shot in public (he has survived the shooting and is recovering in a hospital),  lying in the street and people shouting abuse at him. This incident whose video went viral made people extremely angry and the  number of stabbings have risen by 80 to 85 percent since that incident. It is also important to note that in many of these cases where Palestinians accused of stabbing have been shot dead, as eye witnesses have said, police planted a weapon next to the body after shooting the accused.

  1. What is your opinion on the Palestine Authority (PA)? Do you think they are collaborating with Israel to preserve their power?

I would not say they are collaborating. They are also occupied just like us. They are controlled by the European union,  the U.S., and certain Arab countries. And as I said earlier, any action of them which supports the resistance will severely restrict the funding and aid that Palestine receives.

However there are a number of things PA could be doing differently. For example, they keep talking about peace through a two state solution. What two states are they talking about? As of today, Israel controls 70 to 80 percent of Historic Palestine. And there really are 4 disconnected states. There is West Bank, there is East Jerusalem, there is Gaza and then there are Palestinians living inside Israel. So what kind of state we are going to get out of a 2 state solution? We will have a state, with no boundary, no ports, no sea no airports, no military! What kind of state would this be?

This is like a giving a child, who is angry a candy to shut him up. Due to occupation, we have lost everything and it is our right to get  equality, freedom,  and a life of dignity.  The two state solution will bring no such thing.

  1. So you prefer one state solution?

Yes, absolutely. There really is one state, one person, one vote. Every citizen is equal. I don’t care what the name of this state would be, I don’t care what colour of flag or what religion even. But it has to be based on ideas of equality and dignity for every citizen.

  1. Do you really think that one state solution is a realistic proposal?

Well it is  going to take immense sacrifices from both sides, but the solution will have to emerge from within. Both the Palestinians and Israelis will have to make compromises. Israelis will have to accept that Zionism is a colonial project and that they are  occupiers.  They will have to take Palestinians as well as Israeli Arabs as equal. At the same time, I have many Palestinian friends who say that they can never accept an Israeli Jew as a neighbour. This outlook will have to change.

I mean before the 1882, Zionist Basel conference Jews, Palestinians and Christians lived together, and till the settler colonial project went into full swing in 1930s there were no problems.

You know, till 2009, if you had asked me if I would have any Israeli Jews in my house as guests, as friends, I would have thought you were pretty stupid. That’s because, the only Israelis I had ever seen were soldiers. So the only thing I knew about Israelis was that they had killed my father when I was 29 days old, that 19 members of my family have been shot dead in my lifetime. That the army arrests our children, attacks our homes and assists the violent settlers in stealing our land. However when we started the non-violent resistance movement in Nabi Saleh in 2009, many Israeli Jews like comrades affiliated to anarchists against the wall, came to join the movement. I saw them getting beaten up just like us, getting arrested, getting shot at and my outlook changed.

There was absolutely no reason for them to join our movement really. They could have enjoyed their time at the beach and enjoyed all the comforts the colonial project could have brought them, but their absolute belief in equality and freedom for Palestine bring them here every week.

I now have many friends who are Israeli Jews, who have food with us several times in a week and who even stay with us sometimes. So yes, it is possible to change. The conflict is not a religious one but a political one. Our fight is against Zionism and not Judaism.  So while I am completely ready to accept Jews as my equal (and I do!) I will never have any association with Zionist settlers. Because I know that the first chance he gets, he will steal my land, he will attack my family and basically do anything to take away everything we have.  We only have to remember the case of Dawabsheh  family in July this year whose entire house  including an eighteen month old child was burnt down by the settlers. Of course there are countless such examples.

Our struggle is against settlers and against a system which creates them and consolidates their racist ideology. Every one’s mentality,  on both sides,   is shaped by occupation. And it is this mentality that will have to change, but such changes will only occur once occupation ends.

  1. How are Jews who are not Zionists viewed in Palestine in your opinion?

I think the best example of such people are Samarian Jews who live in Nablus, West bank. They do not identify with the colonial project and refuse to be Zionists. They live with Arabs and Christians.  They have a chair in Palestine parliament and even have representatives. Even though they are citizens of Israel, they refuse to move there and stay in West bank where they have lived forever. They are a great example of harmony  which continues to exist between Jews and Arabs in Palestine even in such times of intense conflicts.

  1. In such times, when the violence is on the rise, people often find a pretext against one state solution saying that if you let them live together, violence will only increase? What do you say to them?

I say to them that its pure nonsense. Listen, violence can never be controlled one hundred percent. It depends on too many things. Look at the recent upsurge in violence in United States where gun carrying teenagers go on rampage. However what can be controlled is violence of one group of people against other. What can be controlled is genocide and endless cycle of violence that currently exist in Israel-Palestine society. This will happen once occupation ends in my opinion.

  1. Why is it you think that the illegal settlements often house the most extremist of Zionists? Why is the settler mentality so violent in your opinion?

Well that is  because who else will want to live on someone else’s land really. Once Israel government builds these settlements, only people who want to live there are those who think that this land has always belonged to Jews and that there was no Palestine and all Palestinians are basically just Jordanians who should go back there. These settlers get a lot of encouragement by the government for living in the settlements. They get free housing, of course, but government provides them jobs and if they are unemployed, even free salaries! So the government facilitates everything. It also helps the Zionist project that the most violent of settlers live in these settlements as it aids the silent transfer of Palestinian land.

  1. What do you mean by silent transfer?

By silent transfer I mean the conditions Israeli government creates such that Palestinians will be left with no option but to move, either to main cities in West bank or to Europe or whatever. This is done primarily in two ways. One,  through settler violence. Just outside our village gate are the olive fields  which belong to Palestinians. However the owners can not work in these fields as the settlers attack them with ample aid of  the millitary. You have snipers pointing gun at you when you are harvesting! In such conditions people are too afraid to work in their own fields and just leave them to look for work in the cities. Israeli law (which really is the ottoman law) then states that if the land remains empty for 3 years it gets confiscated by the state. So settlers play a key role in such methods of silent transfer. Another method is house demolition.  I have three sons right now. They are young and so we live together no problems. However once they grow up and get married, the space inside the house is not enough. So the  natural thing to do would be to extend the construction by adding a few rooms. However this is considered illegal under Israeli law and so if we even try to add a new balcony or some extra space in kitchen, our  houses get demolished. Since 1960 we have received 19 demolition orders against this house. So of course in this circumstance, my sons with their families will have no choice but to move to a different location. This is what I mean by silent transfer. In Nabu-Saleh we do not submit to such silent transfers. No matter what they do to us, how many times they destroy our homes or intimidate us, we will not move.

  1. How do you see the current conflict developing?

It is only going to get worse. I think we are in the midst of a dark tunnel and as we move ahead it’s only going to get darker, but it is only through such dark periods that I believe light at the end of the tunnel will emerge. This intifada, the third intifada, will continue and we have to be ready to face the consequences if we are to carry it forward.

  1. Which political parties are involved in this intifada?

None so far.  As I said before, this intifada,  in a sense like the first intifada,  is a result of years of systematic abuse and denial of basic rights of the Palestinian people. Right now it is an uprising without any clear leadership or even goals. Certainly neither Fatah or Hamas have been able to control it. Both the parties do not want this intifada at this point. In fact many, not all of course. of the politicians have been saying that this is not an intifada at all and just some small disturbance which will subside in a month or so.

  1. And you dont agree with that?

I don’t think so and I most certainly hope not. I think now that we have started this uprising, we cant just stop it and go back. We really need to see it through till some goals are achieved. Just this month we have lost too many martyrs and too many families have lost their loved ones. We certainly cannot face these families if this intifada turns out be just a temporary violent conflict. We need to persist and but also be ready to face the consequences because the longer the intifada goes on, the more hardships we will face. Let us not forget that the first intifada which lasted for four years led us to the Oslo agreement. Of course the agreement itself was a farce but the very fact that Israel even came to the negotiating table  was a result of the intifada.

  1. But don’t you think that having a political leadership, especially Hamas of PFLP (popular front for liberation of Palestine) will be good for the intifada as it will provide a clear political leadership and directions for the struggle?

I don’t agree with that. And the reason is the failure of the second Intifada. The intifada was really led by Hamas and to a certain extent Fatah. This intifada was a militarised struggle. For example the Al-Qasam brigade of Hamas was primarily involved in providing armed leadership. However the losses Palestinians suffered far outweighed the gains. We lost too much. The people who lived through this intifada are still saddened by not only what we went through but how little we gained from this struggle. The fact is that Israel have the apaches, sophisticated weapon systems and the whole of U.S. military-industrial complex backing it. We have nothing, except rockets and guns. I think we just cant win such an armed struggle at this point. Neither at this point are we ready for it. Having said this, I agree that the current uprising is without any clear cut goals and appears to be a bit random. However one only hopes that the longer the conflict goes on, the youth will organise themselves and a leadership will emerge. And along with this a clear programme which will direct the intifada further.

  1. What is the general opinion of the public regarding involvement of political parties?

If you just take a walk on a market street in West bank and ask any young person who is supporting the intifada, what he or she thinks of involvement of Hamas or Fatah or PFLP. Overwhelmingly their answer will be an emphatic rejection. They do not want this intifada to be hijacked by the politicians. People don’t have faith in them anymore. These politicians have lost touch with ground realities in Palestine. They are busy doing their Europe tours, blowing the trumpet of two state solution. Their participation in the protests here is seen only when some media shows up, so that they can say that how they are supporting the struggle. Even Hamas after the last year’s Gaza war is in some sort of intermittent agreement with Israel leadership and they don’t want to sabotage that. So even though they publicly say that they are supporting the struggle, at this point their involvement is minimal in my opinion.

  1. What has been the reaction of Israel to the stabbings?

Well the reaction is  based on a paradigm that  we are very familiar with right now. That of, disproportionate response. The Israeli Knesset has passed a new law which can jail a stone thrower for  up to 20 years (Before this law was passed, stone throwers were jailed for a maximum of two years which itself was a ridiculous punishment). There are other laws being discussed in the parliament related to stabbing incidents.

  1. Families of the people who have been killed for stabbing will be ordered to vacate their houses within 72 hours and these houses will be demolished. The law itself once passed will take revenge from the families of those who participate in stabbing.
  2. The bodies of teenagers who are shot for stabbing (or stabbing suspicion as we see these days) will not be returned to families and will be disposed of in what is known as a number grave. No names are written on the graves but only some number.

In addition they have already started isolating Israeli neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem from the Arab neighbourhoods. This is really stupid because the Israeli prime-minister has always claimed that Jerusalem being Israel’s mythical capital is one unified city. Now they themselves divide it.

What is remarkable is that with all the facade of security how weak they actually are. One of the teenagers went from Hebron to Damascus gate which is centre of Jerusalem completely illegally and stabbed people. He wasn’t associated to any millitant  organization. A single individual driven by a variety of factors finds it so easy to penetrate their security shield, and all they do is go on the same path again: new laws, more oppression, more annexation of land and more hardships for Palestinians. They do not understand that when we have lost everything, we are not afraid. If they think fear can stop us even now, it is laughable.

  1. These laws if passed seem exceptionally harsh?

Yes they are, but what the Israeli government does not realise is that there is an absolute absence of hope or aspiration in our lives, and so whether after our death our bodies are returned to families or not is a least concern to us really. You know before every Friday protest in Nabi-Saleh we,   all  the participants, gather together half an hour before to tell each other a silent good bye, because we never know what could happen to us during any of these protests.  We lost Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdie Tamimi in less then a year in 2011/2012 during these protests.

  1. Has the uprising also spread to Gaza? It must be different there since Hamas is in power and retains a massive amount of popular support.

Well yes, you are right.  The case  of Gaza is a bit different.  However three days back, even though Hamas had passed an order to people of Gaza to not march towards Israel, thousands of people marched, they crossed check points and even reached  three KM inside Israel territory where they were disbursed by shooting. However this shows that when there is a conflict, people of Palestine unite. Israel and the Palestine governments might try to keep people of West Bank and Gaza separate for their own gains but every single time there is a conflict, like Gaza war last year or this intifada, the people of Palestine defy authorities and unite.

In fact as you may know, people of Gaza are in fact more religious in general then us here in West Bank. And so the restricted entry of Al-Aqsa mosque to Palestinians and its open access to settlers has angered them immensely.

  1. Do you follow struggle in other parts of the world, for example in Kashmir?

Of  course.  And I completely identify with it. I don’t get so much time to study the conflict in detail all the time, but I try to keep track as much as I can. Whether it’s Kashmir,  or  struggle of blacks in United states, I stand in solidarity with all of them . We are all fighting against occupation in one form or another, and not just occupation and humiliation but false propaganda . So I understand  and feel the suffering and pain of Kashmiris and African Americans very well. In fact it is only by building solidarity across such movements that we can assist each other.

  1. Any last thoughts that you will like to share?

The last thoughts are the thoughts that we always carry with us. That we will continue to resist, continue to fight. As long as our children are killed, our houses are raided in the night, our lands are taken away illegally, as long as there is the annexation wall, as long as I can not go to Jerusalem and as long as our mosques are invaded by Zionist settlers,  our resistance will go on.