Women on front line in West Bank
Every Friday Nariman Tamimi and her 11-year-old daughter Ahed gear up for a confrontation with Israeli troops as their village protests over the seizure of lands by settlers.
Earlier this month, this 35-year-old mother of four was arrested by the soldiers and held for hours as villagers from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh held their weekly demonstration, a tradition since the end of 2009.
The villagers are protesting over the seizure in 2001 of around 240 acres (100 hectares) of their land by residents of the nearby Jewish settlement of Halamish.
But with almost all demonstrations in the West Bank defined as “illegal” under Israeli military law, the protesters are routinely stopped by Israeli soldiers.
It was the fourth time in three years that Tamimi had been arrested.
“I am one of the villagers here, I feel I am playing an important part resisting the occupation,” she said, adjusting the traditional keffiyeh headscarf on her daughter’s head. “Women should always be next to men doing this.”
The weekly protests at Nabi Saleh which lies some 10 kilometres (six miles) north of Ramallah, stand out from other demonstrations across the West Bank for the large number of women who take part.
Whether it is blocking roads, waving flags, chanting slogans or even throwing stones and using catapults, the women in Nabi Saleh play a similar role to their male counterparts, to the point that even sometimes they get into physical fights with the soldiers.
In a traditional society dominated by conservative mores, it is an unusual sight.
But these women don’t face any criticism from their menfolk, says Tamimi who has the full support of her husband Bassem, a local activist whose role in the Nabi Saleh protests has earned him time in an Israeli jail — and recognition by the European Union as a human rights defender.
Her children, she says, “do not need any encouragement to take part in those protests, they see the settlement on our lands every day and they also see the oppression of the Israeli army.”
A recent YouTube video showed their young daughter Aher trading blows with a group of soldiers who were trying to arrest her mother.
“No-one is against the women’s participation — they come here every Friday,” her husband told AFP.
“From the day we started protesting, 110 male protesters have been arrested and held for different periods of time,” he says, a figure which equates to more than a fifth of the village’s 500 or so residents.
“It has increased the role of women and children in those protests.”
In a yard near the village mosque, 39-year-old Bushra Tamimi sits smoking a cigarette while waiting for the Friday prayers to end.
“A lot of women attend the protest because we are a small village and we are almost all from the same family,” she says.
“I have five kids and the Friday protests have become an important duty for me. I have to be here every Friday to prepare flags and banners.”
Along with the village women, there are also a handful of international activists and even some Israeli women who come to join the protests, which the villagers say has also increased local female participation.
Sitting next to Bushra is Atheer Bashir, 18, and Nur Naji, 16, who are also waiting for the prayers to end so they can head off to the protest.
“I wake up early every Friday and call my friends to prepare for a day of confrontation with the occupation,” says Bashir.
Rawan Jalal, 19, remembers how eight girls once hurled stones at four Israeli army vehicles which had blocked off access to the village.
“In Nabi Saleh, women play a similar role in facing the occupation if not a bigger role,” she told AFP.
Villager Daif Allah Tamimi says there is nothing unusual about the large number of women joining in the Nabi Saleh demonstrations.
“People in the village are fighting for their land. The land is important to both men and women,” he shrugs.
The presence of other women activists from outside has “encouraged village women to participate more, which helped break the social and cultural taboos that might prevent women from attending such demos,” he said.
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