The European Union expressed its concern last Tuesday that Palestinian “human rights defenders continue to be detained for their non violent protests”, specifically mentioning the case of West Bank protest organizer, Bassem Tamimi. The statement was given on behalf of the EU during the 17th session of the UN's Human Rights Council. Click here to see the full statement.
The Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations Office in Geneva officially said on behalf of the EU that "The rights of Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights Defenders protesting peacefully against settlements and the separation barrier are severely curtailed. While the EU welcomed before this Council in March the release of Abdallah Abu Rahma, the EU is concerned that other human rights defenders continue to be detained for their non violent protests. The EU is observing the trial, which opened on 5 June before an Israeli military court, of Bassem Tamimi, an activist of the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh affected by the illegal settlement expansion. The EU is also concerned by reports that journalists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are exposed to severe harassment as this affects negatively the right to freedom of expression. Impunity for such acts is unacceptable."
Tamimi's next hearing will take place on the June 27th at the Ofer Military Court , when testimonies will be heard in this case for the first time.
Mohammed Khatib, coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee said, "As September gets nearer and nearer and attack on the Palestinian popular struggle intensify, the world must make clear to Israel that just like neighboring Arab regimes, it too will not be allowed to crack down on civil resistance. This is an important step, but I am afraid the international community will have to take much stronger steps to assist us in achieving our freedom".
Bassem Tamimi is a 44 year-old father of four from the Nabi Saleh, and the coordinator of the village's popular committee. Tamimi is s held in detention for nearly three months for charges related to the organization of demonstrations in his village.
At the opening of his trial on June 5th, Tamimi pleaded “not guilty” to all charges against him, but proudly owned up to organizing the protest in the village saying in a defiant speech before the court. He said, "I organized these peaceful demonstrations to defend our land and our people." Tamimi also challenged the legitimacy of the very system which trys him, saying that "Despite claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East you are trying me under military laws [...] that are enacted by authorities which I haven't elected and do not represent me." (See here for Tamimi's full statement).
The indictment against Tamimi is based on questionable and coerced confessions of youth from the village. He is charged with' incitement', 'organizing and participating in unauthorized processions',' solicitation to stone-throwing', 'failure to attend legal summons', and a scandalous charge of 'disruption of legal proceedings', for allegedly giving youth advice on how to act during police interrogation in the event that they are arrested.
The transcript of Tamimi's police interrogation further demonstrates the police and Military Prosecution's political motivation and disregard for the suspect's rights. During his questioning, Tamimi was accused by his interrogator of "consulting lawyers and foreigners to prepare for his interrogation", an act that is in no way in breach of the law.
Bassem Tamimi is a veteran Palestinian grassroots activist from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, north of Ramallah. He is married to Nariman Tamimi, with whom he fathers four children - Wa’ed (14), Ahed (10), Mohammed (8) and Salam (5).
As a veteran activist, Tamimi has been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times to date and has spent roughly three years in Israeli jails, though he was never convicted of any offence. He spent roughly three years in administrative detention, with no charges brought against him. Furthermore, his attorney and he were denied access to “secret evidence” brought against him.
In 1993, Tamimi was falsely arrested on suspicion of having murdered an Israeli settler in Beit El - an allegation of which he was cleared entirely. During his weeks-long interrogation, he was severely tortured by the Israeli Shin Bet in order to draw a coerced confession from him. During his interrogation, and as a result of the torture he underwent, Tamimi collapsed and had to be evacuated to a hospital, where he laid unconscious for seven days.
As one of the organizers of the Nabi Saleh protests and coordinator of the village's popular committee, Tamimi has been the target of harsh treatment by the Israeli army. Since demonstrations began in the village, his house has been raided and ransacked numerous times, his wife was twice arrested and two of his sons were injured; Wa'ed, 14, was hospitalized for five days when a rubber-coated bullet penetrated his leg and Mohammed, 8, was injured by a tear-gas projectile that was shot directly at him and hit him in the shoulder. Shortly after demonstrations in the village began, the Israeli Civil Administration served ten demolition orders to structures located in Area C, Tamimi's house was one of them, despite the fact that it was built in 1965.
On the March 24th, 2011, a massive contingent of Israeli Soldiers raided the Tamimi home at around noon, only minutes after he entered the house to prepare for a meeting with a European diplomat. He was arrested and subsequently charged.
The main evidence in Tamimi's case is the testimony of 14 year-old Islam Dar Ayyoub, also from Nabi Saleh, who was taken from his bed at gunpoint on the night of January 23rd. In his interrogation the morning after his arrest, Islam alleged that Bassem and Naji Tamimi organized groups of youth into "brigades", charged with different responsibilities during the demonstrations: some were allegedly in charge of stone-throwing, others of blocking roads, etc.
During a trial-within-a-trial procedure in Islam's trial, motioning for his testimony to be ruled inadmissible, it was proven that his interrogation was fundamentally flawed and violated the rights set forth in the Israeli Youth Law in the following ways:
Despite being a minor, he was questioned in the morning following his arrest, having been denied sleep.
He was denied legal counsel, although his lawyer appeared at the police station requesting to see him.
He was denied his right to have a parent present during his questioning.
He was not informed of his right to remain silent, and was even told by his interrogators that he is "expected to tell the truth".
Only one of four interrogators present was a qualified youth interrogator.
While the trial-within-a-trial procedure has not yet reached conclusion, the evidence already revealed has brought a Military Court of Appeals to revise its remand decision and order Islam's release to house arrest.
Over the past two months, the army has arrested 24 of Nabi Saleh's residents on protest related suspicions. Half of those arrested are minors, the youngest of whom is merely eleven.
Ever since the beginning of the village's struggle against settler takeover of their lands in December of 2009, the army has conducted 71 protest related arrests. As the entire village numbers just over 500 residents, the number constitutes approximately 10% of its population.
Tamimi's arrest corresponds to the systematic arrest of civil protest leaders all around the West Bank, as in the case of the villages Bil'in and Ni'ilin.
Only recently the Military Court of Appeals has aggravated the sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmah from the village of Bilin, sending him to 16 months imprisonment on charges of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. Abu Rahmah was released on March 2011.
The arrest and trial of Abu Rahmah has been widely condemned by the international community, most notably by Britain and EU foreign minister, Catherin Ashton. Harsh criticism of the arrest has also been offered by leading human rights organizations in Israel and around the world, among them B'tselem, ACRI, as well as Human Rights Watch, which declared Abu Rahmah's trial unfair, and Amnesty International, which declared Abu Rahmah a prisoner of conscience.