Violent demonstrations have been held at the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah and the West Bank security fence, every Friday for nearly four years now. The demonstrations which include throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks and setting fire to tires, broke out over a land dispute with settlers from the nearby Neve Tsuf settlement.
And yet it seems that something deeper is involved, and, as stated by the village council chief in December: "We will only stop when the occupation is terminated and the settlers are evicted."
Protests are also held every Friday near the fence in the villages of Bilin and Naalin, but Nabi Saleh is known as the most violent of the three. Two weeks ago Shai District police in cooperation with Binyamin District police arrested Naji Tamimi, a 48-year-old resident of the village over suspicions that he organized the protests and incited to violence. His remand was extended a number of times and he is now being detained at the Ofer prison.
Tamimi is not just another village resident, he serves as the general manager at the department of land and infrastructure in Ramallah which, belongs to the Palestinian Authority coordination and liaison directorate.
Last Sunday, a severe indictment including charges of incitement, supporting a hostile organization, taking part in an illegal procession and entering a closed military area propaganda was served against Hamimi. He refuses to cooperate with his investigators. If convicted, a military court could sentence him to a 14 month prison sentence and thousands of shekels in fines.
The Shai District police believe that Tamimi is a central figure behind the protests and the one who fans the flames of violence. A police official described the semi-military operation run by Tamimi which includes regiments, field commanders and also has a main goal – confronting IDF soldiers.
Violent protests (Photo: AP)
"Tamimi oversees an army of demonstrators divided in an extremely organized fashion into regiments of 14-17 people," he said, adding: "He is a very charismatic and militant person and is well versed in the rules of the game – what's allowed and what isn't. He does nothing by chance. Every action is well planned – not a folksy protest. He excites them and directs them towards confrontations with IDF forces.
"It's all orchestrated and managed by one man."
Other than Tamimi, police also arrested several boys aged 14-16 who were documented throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF forces. Indictments were presented against the entire group and they are being detained until the end of the legal proceedings. Even though they are only boys, the findings revealed during their interrogations shed a light on the 'military' proceedings behind the protests and Tamimi's activities.
The boys told their interrogators of how Tamimi recruited them at a mosque and the local council headquarters, gave them masks to cover their faces and told them how to proceed. "The orders were to go to a protest that was calm to begin with. When the procession reached the village center and people would turn back, that was when we were supposed to start throwing rocks," one of the boys, 14.5 years-old said.
It isn't just boys from Nabi Saleh who take part in the demonstrations. Tamimi also recruited from nearby Palestinian villages. The whole group is divided into eight regiments, each with 25 'soldiers' led by the commander who keeps in contact with Tamimi who usually stands on the roof of one of the village's structures. The group of under 15 year-olds is called "the young ones" who are under the command of Basim Tamimi who was also arrested recently.
"The signal was given to the rioters by phone," the military prosecution detailed in court, "in certain cases the phone rang once and then the caller hung up, and in other cases directions were given via phone call or using megaphone announcements."
Divided into regiments - Nabi Saleh demonstrators (Photo: Reuters)
According to the prosecution, "after the groups confronted IDF forces in the village, Tamimi and others would meet at his house and examine the orders given to the groups. They would also write reports about the events and things they accomplished."
The head of the Shai District police investigation team discussed the various roles that each of the regiments carries out during the demonstrations.
"There were those whose job was to throw rocks from a certain point attempting to distract IDF forces. One regiment burned tires while another blocked IDF jeeps with burning trash cans. Others focused on ambushing the IDF forces patrolling the area during the week. Each weekend a different regiment received vacation time and stayed away from the demonstrations."
Even though it hasn't been proven, it seems that sources connected to the Palestinian Authority are directing the activities and that the funds paid out to the youths is coming from donations from organizations registered abroad. Indeed Ynet has learnt that if a boy is injured during the demonstrations, an aid request is sent to those very same organizations, but the money doesn't go to the injured boy.
Meanwhile, the violent demonstrations at Nabi Saleh continue, most likely via remote control. "Of course someone will be found to take Tamimi's place and lead the demonstrations," the police source said, but, he added "it is clear that Tamimi's arrest has dealt a heavy blow to demonstrators and that is already being felt on the ground."
Left-wing activist Jonathan Pollack said, "It is intriguing that the police forgot to mention that the wild tales described in the article are all based on the testimony of a fourteen year-old boy who was taken from his bed in the dark of night and on gunpoint, beaten by the soldiers and then interrogated the morning after without being allowed sleep. It is even more fascinating that the police forgot to mention that it has already been proved in court that the boy was questioned in absence of his parents, albeit obliged by law, was not informed of his right to remain silent, and was denied legal consul.
"In its vendetta against the Palestinian popular struggle, police have miraculously forgotten to mention that even the military court had ruled that the flaws in the boy's interrogation were so fundamental that he should be release on bail," he said.