REFUSAL IN OCCUPIED NABI SALEH

Author: Lara Fielding

Sub-editor: Jacey Quah

Countless defiant acts of Indigenous resistance and survivance live in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh, in occupied Palestine. In 2017, international attention was stirred when Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi physically confronted two Israeli soldiers. Ahed, herself sixteen, was responding to the shooting of her fifteen-year-old cousin Mohammad Tamimi in the head at close range. Images of her staunch political protest were circulated around the world.[1]

Zionist state-settler collusion has meant for the violent ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians from their Indigenous land. Zionist expansionism imitates settler-colonial projects globally. The mass media, within and beyond Israel, retains complicity by constructing historical distortions, delegitimising Palestinian right to resistance, return, land and life. Despite decades of propaganda, pro-Palestine rallies are currently happening in every segment of the world.[2] The increasing links between Palestinians and Indigenous communities globally points to the collective nature of decolonisation. Gerald Vizenor defines survivance as ‘a sense of narrative resistance to absence… nihility and victimry… an active sense of presence over historical absence… a continuation of stories.’ To be in solidarity with the people of Palestine, historians must independently amplify self-determined histories, platforming voices on the ground.

It’s All in the Land

At the core of the settler-colonial project is the expulsion of Indigenous people from their land. So-called Israel, since the beginning of the Zionist movement, does not recognise the rights of Indigenous Palestinians to their land. Palestinian academics Amara and Hawari write that the Zionist project is not exceptional, as it follows the European pattern of invasion and domination. The early Zionists claimed European superiority like other settler colonial movements. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish describes the settler-colonial logic of power and erasure as an attempted ‘war of elimination,’ not dissimilar to Wolfe’s logic of elimination. This identifies the project of settler colonialism as ongoing, also known as al-Nakba al-mustimirrah [the continuous Nakba].

Zionists claim autochthony based on biblical narratives, in an attempt to erase Palestinian Indigeneity. In writing the history of Zionist settler-colonial expansion, historians must challenge the way in which the occupation is narrated as ancient and inevitable. Zionist racism is ‘inherent in the very ideology of Zionism.’ Settlers overtly acknowledge Zionism as a colonial endeavour. The Uganda Proposal at the Zionist Congress on 26 August, 1903, details colonial powers weighing up Jewish re-settlement in Australia, East Africa, or Texas.

Ahed Tamimi’s Slap: Indigenous Resistance and Survivance

‘At any time I can expect a soldier coming towards me to shoot me and kill me. This feeling affects us permanently.’

– Ahed Tamimi

The infrastructures of control and surveillance surrounding Nabi Saleh, as throughout the West Bank, are extensive. The town, with less than 200 residents, is where the Tamimi’s have resided for generations. There is a large illegal settlement on Indigenous Palestinian land, as well as a military outpost at the town’s entrance, restricting mobility. The town is governed by Israeli military law, meaning that occupation soldiers can enter any home, close any road, and arrest or shoot any person. The village is also flanked by the expansion of huge Israeli settlements, supported by their own militias of armed settlers.

In 2017, the example set by sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi confronting occupation soldiers’ violence outside of her home demonstrates Indigenous resistance and survivance. According to Vizenor, survivance involves continued presence, as demonstrated by marches for freedom that have occurred in Nabi Saleh every Friday for several years. It is defiant political protest in the everyday, yet visibility without protection can be a trap. Bassem Tamimi, father of Ahed, asserts that:

‘[Israel] doesn’t want to see Palestinians present on Palestinian land. Therefore, it is the same [harsh] reaction, whether Palestinians use armed resistance or non-violent popular resistance, because Israel’s policy is based on the false claim that Palestine was “A land without a people, for a people without a land.”’

There is a great absurdity in a colonial state declaring Indigenous resistance as a crime, when it is against an illegal military occupation. Ahed Tamimi was arrested by raid on six charges, including stone-throwing, a crime with a maximum sentence of twenty years. This drew international attention to the brutal military occupation in so-called Israel, in particular the treatment of children, with over 700 moving through Israeli military courts each year.  Bassem describes the lack of respect the Israeli army has for childhood, highlighting that Palestinians lose their childhood by experiencing water shortages, gas bombs, harassment, incarceration, dispossession of their land and psychological complications.

Acts of refusal by Indigenous people may be hard to find in historical records, due to state censorship or strategic illegibility. It is the responsibility of the historian to amplify Indigenous voices like Ahed Tamimi’s, documenting them in full.

Writing History: Decades of Propaganda

The role of the mass media in distorting history, and thus delegitimising Ahed Tamimi and the wider Palestinian claim to land, is immense. First, international media omitted the details of Mohammed Tamimi’s injuries by the soldiers, instead framing Ahed Tamimi as a violent initiator. By continuously linking the legitimate Palestinian struggle with terrorism, Israel distorts the image of Palestinians in the international community, legitimising the use of state violence on colonised bodies. Further, the Israeli media attempts to dismiss Ahed’s militancy as robotic training, or as an un-informed childishness. CNN posited her as a ‘dedicated trouble-maker.’ Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd asserts that it takes systemic and manipulative media complicity for Israel to be continuously presented as a victim. Notably, it is the only power in the Middle East with nuclear weaponry, constantly killing its civilians and repeatedly acting on its genocidal intentions.

The archive is always a battleground. Settler-colonialism seizes memory to erase forms of Indigenous legitimacy, destroying the evidence that Indigenous nations existed prior. According to the Arab League, since 1948, 80,000 Palestinian books and manuscripts have been stolen by Israel. In battling for the archive, Palestinian historians and allies are also battling to retain Indigenous claim to humanity. Yet, a ‘forced logistics of proof replicates another violence,’ trapping people explaining their right to live.

The academy is inherently colonial. Historians carry our own interests and traumas into our work. Thus, the historian must do their due diligence to provide relevant critiques to colonial histories so often unchallenged. They must remain heavily critical of the sources treated as authoritative.

History education is used as a tool to maintain white supremacy, capitalism, and the fantasy of a benign settler-colonial project. Yet, it may also be used as an important tool of social justice. Despite the attempts by Israeli media to accelerate the colonial project and break the spirit of youth-led resistance, making an example of Ahed Tamimi backfired. Remaining proud and defiant in her resistance, Ahed shows the world a face of heroism against violence, torture, humiliation and death, one that Israel has long attempted to bury.

Transnational Activism for Palestine

Indigeneity demystifies the Zionist project as unique to Palestine, instead placing it in the global context of settler colonialism. Historians must recognise intertwining threads of oppression, enabling Palestinians to act in solidarity with other Indigenous peoples. Ahed Tamimi asserts that the Palestinian cause is a humanitarian one. It is the duty of historians to refuse Israel as legitimate, even if taught to accept it as reparations.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Māori professor, argues that history is important for understanding the present, and reclaiming history is a ‘critical and essential aspect of decolonisation.’ As history is used to legitimise colonial law and policy, settler-colonial apparatuses conjoin in producing the dispossession and disposability of lives all over the world. In the face of an increasingly neoliberal Western academy, and the stagnation of academic incrementalism, historians must ask what is left out, and what has disappeared. Gary Foley, a Gumbaynggirr historian, urges that ‘You’ve got to educate yourself about the whole history of the Indigenous resistance, because it will strengthen you.’

Indigenous activists and leaders may seek out transnational solidarity with people fighting for survivance in other places. Materially, with activists travelling to the sites of struggle offering support, or conceptually, wherein a shared struggle and common identities may be found. By including Palestine in Indigenous activism that it is sometimes left out of, historians expand anti-colonial processes from the Americas, to Palestine, and to Australia.

Frantz Fanon writes: ‘A colonised people is not alone… frontiers remain open to new ideas and echoes from the world outside.’ The Zionist settler-colonial project relies on the re-writing of history to serve a heavily-guarded ethnostate. Palestinian activist Zaina Alsous calls for self-determined Indigenous resistance across the Palestinian diaspora, ‘crafting forms of representation that invite an echo of universality— an echo of closeness.’

Conclusion

Story continually reminds us that being tied to land also means being tied to a history of Indigenous resistance. The history of aggressive Zionist apartheid is a history of settler-colonial rationalising myths that legitimise the politics of disposability, domination and extraction. The Tamimi family has been persecuted in Nabi Saleh for generations.[3] Yet, as demonstrated in the case of refusal by Ahed Tamimi, everyday actions of political protest can enter the historical record, despite media obfuscation. Indigenous survivance persists, foremost on the land, and in everyday lives, then through self-determined historical storytelling.

Ahed Tamimi, gesturing to her necklace made of bullet debris, asserts: ‘we make beautiful things out of them, like jewellery. We create life from death. They come to kill us with it, but we convert it into things which we enjoy and benefit from.’ In the context of the ongoing catastrophe in Sheikh Jarrah, and in Gaza, it is critical to remember how history is a weapon. In collective memory, survival may be archived for possible futures.[4] All Indigenous liberation is tied together.


[1] Figure 1 and 2

[2] As of 13 May 2021

[3] Figure 3

[4] As of 13 May 2021

Figures

Figure 1. Anadolu Agency, Untitled, unknown date (around 2012), photo of Ahed Tamimi. Getty Images, sourced from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/slap-heard-round-world-ahed-tamimi-becomes-symbol-palestinian-resistance-n854501.
Figure 2. Haim Schwarczenberg, Untitled, unknown date, photo of Ahed Tamimi. Sourced from https://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/04/06/ahed-tamimi/.
Figure 3. Bullet-point list outlining information from the video “Abby Martin with Ahed Tamimi, a Spirit That Can’t Be Jailed.” February 28, 2018. Video, 19:55. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bca4FxNiuzQ.

Featured image credit

Anadolu Agency, Untitled, unknown date (around 2012), photo of Ahed Tamimi, courtesy of Getty Images sourced from NBC News.

Bibliography

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