Manal Tamimi is a well-known Palestinian activist. She lives in Nabi Saleh, a village of about 600 inhabitants in Cisjordania, in a territory occupied by Israel in 1967. In 2009 Israeli colons form a nearby settlement took control of one of the main water sources in the village. When that happened, Tamimi tells us, “two thirds of the lands of the villages had already been confiscated for some reason”.
On December 9, 2009 the inhabitants of Nabi Saleh organised the first of the weekly demonstrations that, to this day, they hold every Friday. “The Israeli response is always brutal”, states Tamimi. In these protests women play a central role. “We participate in the decision making process for the protests, the topics and activities in and outside the village”, the activist explains, complaining about the “wrong idea” that the West has about Muslim women “especially if they wear the hijab”.
Tamimi studied a master on International Law in the Al-Quds University. She is a member of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) an organisation that brings together the Popular Resistance Committees of the West Bank. She has travelled all over the world (Lebanon, Italy, France, Spain and the US) to denounce the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.
She has known repression herself. She has been arrested four times and been inured several times, one of them by a sniper’s bullet. Since last January her sons Osama and Muhammad have been imprisoned and they are facing between one to four years of jail.
Her niece, Ahed Tamimi is also in jail since last December. To tell her story, Manal Tamimi has written, together with other authors the book Ahed Tamimi: A Girl who Fought Back.
How did your life change when you started organizing demonstrations in Nabi Saleh?
All our lives changes in 2009. Obviously living under occupation means that you have to be punished for your Palestinian nationality, whether you resist or not. But when we started to resist it got worse.
The toxic weapons they use against us have taken a toll on our health: we have started to experience kidney problems, muscular pain, strong headaches and skin diseases… the worst part of it is that children have become part of the punishment: 47 minors have been arrested; of them, 11 are under 15. The younger is Suhaib who is 13 and has been jailed for three months already.
One of these minors is your niece Ahed Tamimi. Her case is known all over the world; what has been the impact of this for her situation?
It has had both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, her case has made Palestinian prisoners visible, especially minors. It has raised an interest for the situation of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Yet, on the other hand, Ahed’s case has been presented as the action of a state against a single girl. That is why now they need to criminalise her and justify the need for her punishment. But they did not succeed.
Which impact does the arrest of hundreds of Palestinian minors every year have for families and communities?
It’s the worst nightmare that any parent can live: see how they punish or imprison their children. Mainly because Israel never honours International and Humanitarian Law. Personally I am ready to be punished for my activism but the arrest of my two children in January was the worst experience in my life. I have been in jail four times and I have been injured many more, but none of this was even 2% of what I experience when Osama and Muhammad were arrested.
It made me question whether what I am doing is worth but I realised that without resistance we cannot build a better future for our children. This experience will make them stronger to face all the difficulties in their lives.
After so many years of struggle your compromise is unshaken.
I resist because I won’t die in silence, I won’t die before I die. Occupation is trying to kill us while we are alive, kill our spirits. I have learnt that the world won’t hear us if we keep silent, nobody will fight for my rights and give me back what I had if I do not fight and resist.
For a mother, the impact of living under occupation is very hard because you cannot ensure the safety of your children. As a mother, and not as an activist, I always feel a great concern for my children. I always think they might not come back or might be breathing tear gas. This fear and worry paralyze us as mothers, but the most important thing is that this fear does not control us.
thing is that this fear does not control us. The mother is the most important pillar of the family and if she feels weak, the family weakens. The woman is the essential and stronger pillar. We have moments of weakness, but they are only moments. Being a woman and an activist means being watched all the time, but we believe in what we do and one day we will die, so why should we die in silence?
Just for being Palestinian we are already in the spotlight, for our existence you don’t have to commit any crime, so I’d rather die resisting than in bed waiting for something to change.
Your struggle is daily
We demand justice, equality, freedom and freedom of expression. I want to be able to take my children to the sea, which is only 20 minutes from home, without having to pass a checkpoint and go there whenever they want, when we get bored. I can see the sea from the roof, but we haven’t been able to go in 25 years.
We want a future for our children, that our relatives don’t kill us while they go shopping, I don’t want to get up in the morning with the room full of tear gas. We want an end to the occupation and a peaceful country We want the right to return to the Palestinians who had to leave and if they want to return.
What can people and municipalities do to support the Palestinian people?
Everyone should ask him or herself this question: what can I do to stop the genocide against Palestine? How can I change my country’s policy? Because for us it is very important that the perception on Palestinians changes, that we are not seen as terrorists but as people who fight for freedom. That’s why we use social networks, especially to reach young people, we invite groups, students, unions and parliament members from all over the world. These people have the right to vote and, little by little, they can change their countries’ policies.
Boycott, disinvestments and sanctions (BDS) are a very important tool and we have seen its impact in the Israeli economy. However, some organizations have put conditions on us when it comes to giving financial help on the issue of BDS or because some people throw stones at demonstrations (for us it is a symbol of resistance). We strongly urge you to support us unconditionally, because we can live without money but not without dignity or honor! The inequality between the army and us is evident in Friday’s demonstrations.
Also conferences, protests, even if it’s a single person in front of the Israeli or US embassy, these are ways to show that the international community is waking up and won’t be silent on their crimes.