A Palestinian father’s plea to PM: Ask Israel to free our children

A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in Ramallah, the 50-year-old is ready with an emotional plea: “I would like to ask him to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation. I would also like to ask the Israelis to release Palestinian prisoners, especially the 350 children.”

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Ramallah | Updated: February 10, 2018 12:39:04 pm
Inside the room of Ahed Tamimi, 17, who was arrested by Israeli forces for slapping a soldier. (Express Photo/Shubhajit Roy)

It’s a Friday, the most painful morning of every week for Bassem Tamimi. The day of prayer, he says, is when he misses his 17-year-old daughter and his wife the most.

Two months ago, Bassem’s daughter Ahed Tamimi was arrested by Israeli forces for slapping a soldier outside their home in Nabi Saleh village, a 30-minute drive from the heart of Ramallah. Ahed was with her mother Nariman, who was also jailed.

Today, Bassem’s daughter is the face of the Palestinian resistance. Over the last month, campaigns to “free Ahed” have made the rounds of social media across the Arab world. But that’s of little consolation to Bassem, who has been jailed nine times for his activism. “It is not easy for a father… when I go to her room, I start crying. She is in the hands of my enemy. I feel sad, scared, but also proud,” he says, sitting on a plastic chair in a large courtyard outside his house. PM Narendra Modi starts historic Palestine visit today: focus health, infra

Bassem is not giving up, yet. A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in Ramallah, the 50-year-old is ready with an emotional plea: “I would like to ask him to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation. I would also like to ask the Israelis to release Palestinian prisoners, especially the 350 children.”

While there are no official meetings planned during Modi’s visit, Tamimi’s words echo the voice of the streets and homes of Palestine.

Modi is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday morning, as he crosses over to Ramallah in a helicopter from Amman. He will also visit the Yasser Arafat museum, and lay a wreath at the memorial for the Palestinian leader. Strategic edge in West Asia: PM Modi to ink key oil pact today

Inside the Tamimi household, meanwhile, Ahed’s stuffed toys lie on her bed next to a black-and-orange table and book shelf. One of her brothers, 14-year-old Mohammad, is sleeping and another, 11-year-old Salem, is watching a movie on a Huawei smartphone. Her elder brother, Waad, 21, is not at home.

The house is unkempt, although Nariman’s sister, Nawal, often chips in to help. This afternoon, she asks Salem if he needs food, he shakes his head, says no. PM Narendra Modi in Palestine today: Here is his schedule

Salem says he misses his elder sister — the family calls her “Tweety” — but doesn’t want to talk about her. On the study table, next to a yellow stuffed doll, is a photo of Ahed’s other elder brother, Mohammed, being held by an Israeli soldier.

Friday is a holiday in this part of the world and Ahed’s younger cousin, Jana, has come over. Jana is just 11 but writes a blog on Facebook, posting videos about Israeli occupation, and has 2,80,000 followers.

“My dream is to liberate Palestine, and I am really proud of my sister for what she did. We are big football fans, we grew up adoring FC Barcelona and its stars. I love Messi, but Ahed is a fan of Neymar,” she says.

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Like the Tamimis, many in downtown Ramallah yearn for a normal life. On Friday night, the city centre is abuzz, with youngsters driving fancy cars and SUVs, Arabic and Western music blaring from inside.

On the first floor of a building at Al Manara Square, is Ramallah cafe, where men are having coffee and cola, while shuffling cards and watching soccer. Nearby, in another cafe, are the women, having hookah and mocktails. The shawarma stalls and falafel corners are doing brisk business.

“We want to live a normal life, and this is how we try to normalise the occupation. The West Bank is under siege from the Israeli forces, but we try to lead a peaceful life. Our main concerns are the settlements,” says Sunah, a young woman outside a shawarma centre.

Since when have they been living in Nabi Saleh? Bassem pulls out an old family joke to suggest that they have been here “since the time of creation”. “We were sitting under that cherry blossom tree when Eve passed by, and Adam came asking, ‘Have you seen Eve?’,” he says.

Then, turning to point to the Israeli settlements dotting West Bank, Bassem says, “With the settlements and partitions, walls have come up all over.”

Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is a 30-minute drive from Nabi Saleh, a settlement of around 400 people. And away from the famous nativity church, is the wall that divides Israel and Palestine. Next to the eight-metre-high wall — it’s 810 km long — is a newly opened hotel, called the “Walled off hotel”, a pun on the famous Waldorf.

“We tell people that this is the hotel with the world’s worst view because you can see the occupation. The idea is to disturb the comfortable… and highlight the occupation,” says the owner, Wisam Salsa, 43.

Inside the hotel, is a small museum, which captures the Palestinian narrative of the occupation. “We are trying to project the Palestinian narrative of occupation through art, this is like the non-violent resistance,” says Wisam.

In Ramallah, Iyad, a shopkeeper who has completed an MBA, says, “We were shocked last year when your PM went to Israel first… you were supposed to be with the victims and not the criminals.”

In Nabi Saleh, Bassem says, “We don’t want to be heroes, we just want to live in peace.” Inside the house, a wall-hanging covered with flowers carries this inscription: “God bless our home.”

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