The Palestinian family who fought off an Israeli soldier from arresting their boy
NABI SALEH, West Bank - Nariman Tamimi says she and her son were watching the protest from afar when she noticed something was not right. The soldiers, who she says would usually block the protest before it could reach the steep hillside of her village, seemed to be encouraging protesters to descend down the slope.
By the time she had figured out why, it was too late. She says dozens of soldiers were hiding behind trees and boulders on the hillside, jumping out to capture unsuspecting protesters.
“We saw that the soldiers had my nephew and a foreign activist they were going to arrest, and everyone ran to help them,” Nariman says.
When the other demonstrators ran to the aid of the two protesters who were being arrested, Nariman’s son, Mohammed Tamimi, 11, stayed behind and continued to watch from a distance. That’s when he was captured alone.
What happened next was caught on camera in a series of photos depicting a young boy being pinned to the ground by an Israeli soldier, as the boy’s mother, aunt and sister struggle to pry the grown man off the child.
The photos and video of the incident spread rapidly across social media, catching the attention of international news outlets.
The Tamimi family, who are well-known Palestinian activists, were shocked at how quickly the photos spread.
Bilal Tamimi, an uncle of the boy who was being detained on camera, filmed the entire attack.
“[One of my videos] has reached over a million views just today,” Bilal tells Middle East Eye from his family home in the small village of Nabi Saleh just outside of Ramallah. “I can’t believe it, none of us can.”
Mohammed’s aunt, Nawal Tamimi, who was captured on film desperately pulling and hitting at the soldier’s face and body – trying with all her might to pull the soldier off her nephew – says she’s just thankful the cameras were there.
“These kinds of incidents aren’t uncommon for Nabi Saleh or for Palestine,” Nawal says. “We are thankful people are seeing these photos and seeing what is happening from the occupation, but worse than this happens all the time. If so many people with cameras weren’t there that day they very well could have just shot us and taken Mohammed, it wouldn’t be abnormal.”
The village of Nabi Saleh has organized a weekly demonstration every Friday –without exception – since 2009, in protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and the confiscation of Nabi Saleh land by the nearby illegal Halamish settlement.
The village is known for the intensity of clashes at its protests and the organization of its popular resistance committee.
Nabi Saleh’s strong resistance movement means Israeli forces frequently carry out overnight home raids, and clashes there are common.
‘No safe place’
All of Nariman’s children, even her youngest son, 9, partake in Nabi Saleh’s demonstrations. She says she doesn’t keep her children home during the protests because even in their home they aren’t safe.
In the photos, the young boy being pinned down is wearing a cast on his arm, an injury his mother says was caused when Israeli forces attacked their home only two day before Friday’s incident.
“You can see in the photos he is wearing a cast,” Nariman says. “The soldiers shot tear gas into the house and broke our windows, one of the metal canisters that flew inside hit his arm and broke his wrist. Mohammed wasn’t protesting on Friday because his wrist had just been broken.”
“So, there is no safe place in Nabi Saleh inside or outside, but the children are less traumatized being out there facing their fears than in here hiding, it makes them feel better, psychologically,” Nariman insists.
‘If you love someone you protect them’
Photographers were the first to reach Mohammed, capturing the initial moments of the incident on Friday, while screaming at the soldier to release the boy and warning the soldier that the child’s arm had been broken.
Mohammed’s sister, Ahed, 14, was the first to physically come to his aid.
“At first I tried to speak with the soldier to get him to let Mohammed go, but he wouldn’t so I just did anything I could to get him off my brother. Anyone would do the same for their brother or for someone that they love, if you love someone you protect them” Ahed explained.
One of the most shared photos in the series of viral images shows Ahed biting the hand of the soldier during the struggle to free Mohammed.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just doing anything to get my brother free,” she says.
Ahed and Mohammed’s mother who can be seen clawing at the soldier’s face and mask shared the same sentiment.
Nariman arrived at the scene right after Ahed. In the video, before she reaches the struggle between her two children and the soldier, she can be heard screaming “My son, my son,” repeatedly.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything but getting that soldier off of my son, no matter what,” Nariman says when asked if she was at any point scared of possible consequences for getting physical with an Israeli soldier. “That soldier’s machine gun was just dangling there next to my son’s head and his hand was around his throat.”
When Nariman saw the photos for the first time she says she went through a whirlwind of emotions.
“I was laughing and I was crying. At first I was laughing when I saw me and my daughter’s faces when she was biting the soldier and I was pulling at him and at the look on that soldier’s face,” She exclaims. “But when I looked and realized the fear on Mohammed’s face I just cried. No mother wants to see their child’s face have that kind of fear.”
While Mohammed looks terrified in the photo, he quickly discounts the notion that the incident might have been the scariest moment of his eleven-year-old life.
“The scariest moment of my life was not on Friday,” Mohammed explains, picking at the frayed cloth on his casted arm. “It was when I was nine. The soldiers came to the village in the middle of the night and there weren’t any journalists to see and we ran from them, but the older kids were faster.”
Like on Friday, Mohammed and had been split off from the group, the rest of his older cousins had made it up a hill, but he and another cousin were still at the bottom, with soldiers closing in, he says.
“The soldiers were going to arrest us, but our cousins started throwing rocks and we got away, but when I got to the rest of the guys they shot my cousin right in front of me. That was the scariest time, not yesterday.”
Nariman is no stranger to intense situations, but she says any mother would do what she did out of instinct, regardless of the risks.
“If you are a mother you will protect your children without thinking. Even if a cat sees something hurting its young she will attack, and that is what I did,” Nariman insists with fervor. “They weren’t just trying to arrest him, the way the soldier’s hand was around my son’s neck he could have killed him.”