Amnesty International focusing on the wrong protesters
Jul 9, 2013 | Or Avi Guy
Amnesty International has it hands full in the Middle East at the best of times, and now it seems that they are busier still; Egypt is experiencing unrest and mass protests which has led to casualties, as well as a surge in sexual harassment of women, and Syria is still enthralled in its brutal civil war with refugees pouring into neighbouring countries.
Even with such urgent and severe crises, Amnesty still finds the time to deal with… the so-called “bullying and judicial harassment” faced by one Palestinian “rights activist”, Nariman Tamimi. Yes, to Amnesty it seems that a Palestinian woman facing trial for entering a closed military zone during the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh is as much of a human rights violation and an injustice as the killing of protesters in Turkey and Egypt.
Every Friday, in Nabi Saleh demonstrations are held by local Palestinians and activists in a similar fashion to the demonstrations held previously in Bil’in. Part of the ritual in these demonstrations is to intentionally provoke Israeli soldiers, and then document their response. For that purpose, dozens of cameramen and photographers are present at each demonstration. The most infamous case of such provocation in Nabi Saleh took place late last year, when a picture of young An’d Tamimi, Nariman’s daughter, confronting a soldier was circulated online and in the global media (see AIJAC’s blog post on the incident).
On June 28 Nariman was arrested, along with another protester, for this kind of provocation, when she entered an area which was closed off by the military. She was released on bail and while she awaits trial she was temporarily forbidden from participating in the Friday demonstrations. This requirement by the court that she will stay in the family home between 9am to 5pm on Friday until her trial date was described as a “partial house arrest”- well, very partial, considering the fact that it is only meant to keep her temporarily from events in which she repeatedly breaks the law and confronts soldiers, at least until her most recent actions are brought to court. It does not seem that to prevent a repeat offender (Nariman was arrested in the past for intentionally clashing with soldiers) from participating in the very activity during which they break the law is such a draconian measure. But in the eyes of Amnesty it is:
“Amnesty International has accused the Israeli authorities of bullying and judicial harassment of Nariman Tamimi, a Palestinian rights activist who was placed under partial house arrest today to prevent her taking part in peaceful protests while she awaits trial next week.
‘This is an unrelenting campaign of harassment, the latest in a litany of human rights violations against Nariman Tamimi, her family, and her fellow villagers. These arbitrary restrictions should be lifted immediately and the charges should be dropped,’ said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director.
‘They have been denied the basic human right to peacefully protest over land illegally seized by Israeli settlers, and the Israeli judiciary has used spurious legal tools to punish them for exercising their basic human right to peaceful protest,’ said Philip Luther.”
But Luther’s description is misleading- no one denied the villagers’ and activists’ right to peacefully protest. The only thing that was denied was the entry of Nariman to a closed military zone. Once she broke the law and confronted the soldiers she was arrested. Not for peacefully protesting. Other protesters who did not try to break into that area were not arrested, and this Friday demonstrations took place as usual. Does Luther think that the “human right to peacefully protest” includes a right to break the law and not face charges and legal consequences?
The Tamimi family is prominent in organising the weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, and in the “resistance” to Israel more broadly. Her husband Bassam is one of the main organisers of the protests, as are Naji and Bilal Tamimi. Amnesty International is making them into non-violent resistance heroes, but this is a political stand by Amnesty. It might be framed in the language of human rights, but when someone breaks the law, is brought to court and the only sanction they face until the trial date is to not participate in the very action in which they broke the law in the first place, the excuse of human rights violation is pretty flimsy. The people at Amnesty International must know that, they deal with the daily casualties of protests elsewhere in the region- when the right to protest is truly being repressed, it does not end with individual arrests, bail money and a court date, while the demonstrations themselves continue as usual.
The Tamimi family story is not simply about a family from Nabi Saleh that peacefully responds to what they perceive as violations of their rights. While Nariman brags about the “non-violent” and “peaceful” nature of the demonstrations, in interviews she has stated that throwing rocks is considered “non-violent” in her eyes. The fact that these stones are often aimed at civilians and have caused death and injuries, does not seem to concern her:
“Nonviolent resistance is mostly verbal; we respond back with words, but if a stone was the response or comeback then that doesn’t mean it is a weapon. It is more of a message than a weapon. […] throwing rocks at the soldiers is more of a retaliatory symbolic message.”
Nariman’s war might be predominantly a propaganda war- staging conflict between Palestinians civilians, including young children, with soldiers to defame the Israeli Defence Forces, and Israel. But it does not stop there. The kind of actions she is supporting can escalate to violent action. This happened in Nariman’s own family – her husband Bassam’s nephew, Nizar Tamimi, served a life sentence after murdering an Israeli settler in the early 1990s. His cousin Ahlam Tamimi, is infamous for her involvement in helping to carry out the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in 2001, as well as other terror attacks, and was sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences. She holds the dubious title of the first female member of Hamas’ “military wing.” Both were released from prison in the Shalit prisoner swap deal, and after meeting in prison, they were engaged at the time of their release. Both are very popular in Nabi Saleh and upon their release celebrations were held in the village. Is glorification of terrorism also a form of “non violent resistance”?
Human rights organisations who criticise Israel for temporarily preventing a woman who is awaiting trial from participating in the same activity during which she broke the law are undermining the cause of human rights and draining the term of any substance (see AIJAC’s previous blog post about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). Any soccer fan that is disruptive during a match would receive similar treatment and could be removed from the stadium until his or her case is heard in court. This is especially the case when considering the regional context. How could anyone take Amnesty’s condemnations about deaths in protests in Turkey, about sexual harassment in Tahrir Square or about the disintegration of Syria into chaos seriously, if they use the same language to describe Nariman Tamimi’s case?