Bassem al-Tamimi (Arabic: باسم التميمي, born c. 1967) is a Palestinian activist and an organizer of protests against Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. He was convicted by an Israeli military court in 2011 for "sending people to throw stones, and holding a march without a permit".
A schoolteacher in Nabi Salih in the West Bank, al-Tamimi organizes weekly demonstrations against Israeli settlement. He has been arrested by the Israeli authorities over a dozen times, at one point spending more than three years in administrative detention without trial. Al-Tamimi advocates grassroots, nonviolent resistance, but has stated his belief that stone-throwing is an important symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. His 2011 arrest drew international attention, with the European Union describing him as a "human rights defender" and Amnesty International designating him a prisoner of conscience. He was arrested again in October 2012 for a demonstration in a supermarket, but released in early 2013.
Al-Tamimi was ten weeks old at the time of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in June 1967 and hid with his mother in a cave during the conflict. He later worked as a schoolteacher in his home village of Nabi Salih in the Ramallah District of the West Bank. As a grassroots activist, he organized weekly demonstrations to protest the seizure of the village's well by the nearby Israeli settlement of Halamish, established in 1977. The protests regularly lead to violent clashes, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and Israeli forces firing on protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Since the end of 2009, 64 people (13% of the village's population) has been arrested.
Prior to his 2011 arrest, al-Tamimi had been arrested by Israeli authorities eleven times, at one point spending more than three years in administrative detention without trial. In 1993, he lost consciousness for eight days after being shaken during an interrogation, and required surgery for removal of a subdural haematoma. His home has also been designated for demolition by Israel's Civil Administration.
Al-Tamimi is an admirer of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and believes that armed conflict against a more powerful Israeli opponent will only bring disaster. Al-Tamimi states that he advocates nonviolent resistance, telling a reporter in 2011, "Our strategic choice of a popular struggle—as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives and future—is a declaration that we do not harm human lives. The very essence of our activity opposes killing." However, he has stated he is not concerned as to whether stone-throwing is a form of violence, but views it instead as a symbol of Palestinian resistance: "We see our stones as our message."
March 2011 arrest and trial
On 24 March 2011 al-Tamimi was detained by Israeli forces following a demonstration. Following his arrest, he was charged with sending youths to throw stones, holding a march without a permit, incitement, and perverting the course of justice. He was subsequently held in a military prison for thirteen months. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, "detained solely for his role in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers," and called for his immediate and unconditional release.
On 27 April 2012 al-Tamimi was released on 12,000 shekels (US$3,193) bail due to a stroke suffered by his mother two weeks previous. An army prosecutor protested the release, stating that al-Tamimi would "most definitely continue to use the status he received because of his arrest to influence young people to throw stones."
Al-Tamimi, during his trial, repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the Israeli military court trying him as well as Israeli regulations regarding public gatherings. The military judge ultimately found him guilty of sending stone-throwers and illegal protesting but cleared him of the two more serious charges. She stated that testimony from a 14-year old witness had been inconsistent and therefore unusable and that she had found misrepresentations by interrogators about the content of the confession of another witness. Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak described al-Tamimi's partial exoneration as a "miracle" given the 99.74 percent conviction rate of the military court. Before his sentencing al-Tamimi stated that "the laws come from an occupying regime whose legitimacy I do not recognise. I don't think even for a single minute that there is going to be justice done." His lawyer denied al-Tamimi's involvement in stone throwing, stating that al-Tamimi believed in passive resistance.
On 29 May, al-Tamimi was sentenced to time served of thirteen months' imprisonment, and an additional two suspended sentences. A military spokeswoman stated that the sentence had been suspended due to "irregularities in the trial" and al-Tamimi's "clean prison record". Under the terms of al-Tamimi's suspended sentences, he would be imprisoned for two months if he participated in an illegal demonstration within two years of the sentencing, and imprisoned for seven months if he participated in "activity against the security forces" within five years. Responding to the suspended sentences, al-Tamimi said, "I feel that my whole life is under the surveillance of the judge."
Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed the EU's concern over the conviction and called on Israel to allow peaceful protests. She also condemned the interrogation of a minor without a lawyer in the investigation as a "violation of his rights." Human Rights Watch stated that the conviction "violates [al-Tamimi's] right to freedom of assembly, while [the court's] conviction of him on a second charge of urging children to throw stones on the basis of a child’s coercively-obtained statement raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial."
October 2012 arrest
On 24 October, al-Tamimi joined 80 other activists, both Palestinian and international, in a protest at a Rami Levy supermarket in the West Bank just north of Jerusalem. The activists carried banners reading "Boycott occupation and its products." Al-Tamimi was arrested during the protest, which the Israeli police called "an illegal demonstration." Amnesty International again described him as a prisoner of conscience, stating "Once again, Bassem Tamimi is being held solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly." He was released in early 2013.
On 2 November, his sixteen-year-old son Wa'ed al-Tamimi was also arrested during one of the weekly demonstrations in Nabi Salih. The charges against him were dismissed by a judge two weeks later.
Al-Tamimi has a wife, Nariman, and four children. In 2012, a photograph of his daughter Ahed shaking her fist at an Israeli soldier became internationally famous, and she received an award in Istanbul, Turkey, meeting that nation's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In 1993, al-Tamimi's sister died while in custody of the Israeli Army; her son alleges that she was struck and pushed down a flight of stairs by an Israeli soldier. In the same year, Bassem's cousin Said Tamimi killed an Israeli settler. In November 2012, al-Tamimi's brother-in-law Rushdie was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.
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