This is the last of our reports from the Nabi Saleh Conference 11-12 November 2016. The last day saw the presentation of portraits of people who had been killed by Israeli Forces, or by settlers. They had been painted by an American organisation, Face to Face, who support people by offering them portraits of lost family members to remember them from a more happy time than when they were taken away. Each family then, bravely, recounted the events that led to the murders of their children, mothers, fathers or brothers.
First however, the local activist Nadji Tamimi told us the story of Nabi Saleh.
Nabi Saleh has faced a fair amount of action in its time. It has always, in fact, been a place of resistance. At least for the last 200 years, the village has fought against occupation: the British occupation, during the Nakba, during the Palestinian revolution in 65, and of course continuously during the Israeli occupation from 67. Nearby settlers used to dump their rubbish around the village causing environmental damage, including during the 1976 uprising, the 2000 uprising, and in 2009 the village started to get more organised to fight occupation: Nadji said, “ the message then, was clear as it is now: we do not want to live under occupation and we will fight until we are free” There is nothing controversial about resisting the occupation, as international law, as well as all religions support this quest.
The families were then presented with the pictures and told their stories; not to ask for sympathy but to share the truth about what happens to the people of this country and to try to prevent these horrors from happening to anyone else.
The story of Mohammed Abu Khdeir
“This case is not personal to us, but it is a story of all of Palestine. The settlers poured gas (petrol) in our son’s mouth and burned him alive. If it was not for the cameras no one would have heard about it, and we would not be able to show what happened, and show his innocence. No one would know. “ The father continued ”The US lawyer who defended said the accused were not of sound mind, although none of the doctors agreed. They got light sentences regardless.” The father wanted the Ministry of Defence to demolish the house of the perpetrators as they would do with any Palestinians for crimes committed but they refused saying this was an” individual action”.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Photo credit: Reuters.
The Dawabsheh family
This horrific event gained world wide attention. A young couple with two children, in the village of Duma were burned alive. Only Ahmed, age 4, survived. Israeli settlers who live in illegal settlements around Duma often attack the village. On this occasion they threw bombs into the family’s bedroom and the house went up in flames. A brother of the family, who is now caring for Ahmed’, recounted Ahmed’s words: “he said he carried his brother but could not continue anymore”. He saw his mother and brother being dragged out by the settlers and burned. However the mother had attempted to rescue the baby but in the end she had carried only an empty blanket. Her brother continued “She saw her son burn inside the house. Ali was completely burned. “
The Israeli settlers have said, after the event: “Our message is to Palestinians to fear the us [settlers] so they leave the country” But, he (maybe brother as it follows formulating about what the settlers are saying) continued, “ We will not do the same that we did in 1948 and 1967: we will not leave, they are the strangers”. We will take back what is our right, even after a long time. But we do not want what happened to us to happen to others from any religion or nationality.” He concluded “To the world: we will end the occupation”.
His father spoke about Mahmoud “This is the story of every Palestinian child. He had dreams, he wanted to be an international football player, like other kids” Mahmoud had gone with cousins to the swimming pool in a neighbouring town. He loved swimming. They had to pass through a infamous racist (?) street (called street 443) which is controlled by Israel. An Israeli officer was waiting for them at a tunnel, along with 2 settlers. Mahmoud was shot and killed. He made the point that the settlers were not working in that area and seems to have come there especially for this reason. He continued “Israel is now doing a dangerous thing: the government is training extremists. Soldiers have training on “how to kill a Arab” and when they do, their government protects them.” No one has found the killer of Mahmoud. But this is not an isolated case “This is the story of the occupation”. There is no point in looking at the details of this case or that – this will only end with the end of the occupation.
Mahmoud’s father with his portrait.
The story of Nadim Nowarra
His father did not want to go over the details of his sons death, but instead alerted the audience to the website “Justice for Nadim” which includes a 5 min film by Mike Peled. He told us the case has been going through the Israeli courts for 2 years and the family have learned how the system works and how the families have to suffer because of this system. To help others navigate through the system, he has started an organisation called “Accountability against the violence of children” He stated, “ we need to hold the killers responsible by pushing these cases as criminal cases, but the system tries to convince families to do civil cases, which costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. “ Nadim’s family is taking his case through the criminal courts but it requires a lot of resources , especially in terms of staff time, to gather the evidence needed. The goal of this new organisation is to support those families and individuals who suffer crimes from the army; through rehabilitation, and to provide lawyers for free. He concluded “Israel claims to have a justice system, because they know there are no resources available to families to gather evidence for these cases. This organisation is fighting by providing this evidence.”
Rushdie and Mustafa Tamimi
Local to Nabi Saleh, the two brothers were killed on the same day at the same demonstration. Their sister recounted this fateful day “Mustafa was killed by a tear gas canister, Rushdie was killed with a live bullet. I was with them. I was lying next to my brother’s foot to see if he was cold or trying to live.” She then heard others screaming for help and she realised that her other brother had been shot. She was holding a camera and despite the horrific situation, she felt she had to take pictures of the incident for evidence against the Israelis. She said “maybe I should have hugged my brother instead” and told us that after this incident she never used her camera again “ it looks sad”, she said. “I will not let the occupation take any more Palestinians or my family; whatever I have to do” and she noted that the occupiers always make out to be the victim, when they are the perpetrators. “We will end the occupation and we will not lose any more souls”, she said determinedly, “no matter what the cost, Palestine will be free”. She emphasised that “We do not want sympathy. We just want to raise our children with dignity and teach them what to do when they face injustice.”
Rushdie’s daughter, who has never met her father, holding his portrait.
Despite the injustice and the horror experienced by these families, the message was not one of hatred or revenge. It was about justice and peace, and the hope that there are no more victims on any side. We are all humans, and we all deserve the same rights.
The conference ended on a high with message of hope from the organiser Bassem Tamimi, who spoke about his Israeli friend Miko Peled who also attended the conference. Then the music started and young and old joined hands for the Debke (a traditional Palestinian dance).
Bassem Tamimi and Miko Peled.
Bassem on Miko: “My friend came from the other side – the occupying side. I would have thought I would never be on the same side as those who have caused so much misery.” He added “that which divides people is not physical, it comes from mentality. To change the future- we have to change the way we think. My brother Miko freed himself from the occupation on his own- he became our partner. He has resisted the occupation with us, he was exposed to gas with us.” Bassem concluded that he does not want more division, but one state for everyone.