For 50 Days, Israel Kept This Palestinian Village Under Siege

For almost two months the IDF closed off all the entrances to the village of Deir Nizam, other than one, where soldiers were posted day and night. During this period the army also raided homes and the local school

The school in Deir Nizam. Soldiers pushed the teachers aside. “Stop throwing stones and we won’t come in,” one soldier said.

Mohammed Yihyeh Tamimi leans on a wall of the small room he uses to store the scrap he occasionally buys and sells. He’s disabled and can barely get around, having been injured in 1987 in a work accident in the town of Azor, southeast of Tel Aviv. Yazur, he calls it, of course – its Arabic name. To get to his home, which is above the storeroom, he climbs the stairs oddly, tilting his body to one side and dragging his half-paralyzed legs, one after the other. Upstairs, in his small apartment, he tells his story. Two of his sons are in prison, and his youngest, who’s 16, was also in detention for a day during these past two accursed months, while his village was under siege by the Israeli army.

Tamimi has eight children, all of whom live in this cramped dwelling. It’s impossible to remain indifferent to Tamimi’s poverty, his heartrending disability and his besieged village. He never received compensation for his disability, the result of a work accident in Israel. His village was under siege during in December and much of January. He hasn’t seen his son Ramez since the 17-year-old was taken into custody by the Israel Defense Forces in a raid on the teenager’s school last month; he has no idea what condition his son is in. Another son, Rajeb, 19, has been in prison for a year – for throwing stones, Tamimi says. Otherwise, all is well for this West Bank Job.

The village of Deir Nizam is situated in the Ramallah District, opposite the settlement of Halamish and the outlaw outposts that occupy part of the village’s land. On Monday, when we arrived, soldiers and police officers could be seen at a distance checking every vehicle entering the village – the soldiers, perhaps, to see if they were carrying any suicide bombers. The police were probably asking if people were wearing seat belts, harassing them. Following a few stone-throwing incidents on the highway, the army had decided to impose collective punishment on all of Deir Nizam’s residents. It was like reverting to the period of the intifada, to the era of closures and barriers.

In early December the two roads leading to the village were rendered impassable by means of yellow iron gates – confining the residents like penned animals – and the main entrance became an army checkpoint that was manned 24/7. Every vehicle was scoured, all the passengers were checked. Teachers were late getting to school, friends and relatives stopped visiting so as to avoid humiliation and unpleasantness, people didn’t get to work on time, the sick were late for their appointments in clinics. A nightmare began on December 1 and continued for 50 consecutive days.

Barriers used by the Israel Defense Forces to seal off the village of Deir Nizam. After 50 days, has the danger passed? Has the village served its full term of punishment?
Barriers used by the Israel Defense Forces to seal off the village of Deir Nizam. After 50 days, has the danger passed? Has the village served its full term of punishment?

The siege was especially painful because Deir Nizam is an isolated locale. Opposite it, on the other side of the main road, Route 465, is Nabi Saleh, which is better known because of its residents’ unrelenting struggle and years-long demonstrations against the occupation. In Deir Nizam, there are no demonstrations and there is no struggle, other than the struggle to survive. The stark appearance there attests that it’s not an easy struggle. Over the past two decades about 300 of its 1,500 citizens moved to Ramallah, no longer able to bear the ordeals of life under occupation in their village.

The local school – with a coed student body of 220 and a staff of 24, teaching kindergarten through 12th grade – is located in the center of Deir Nizam, and has two wings. On January 18, Israeli troops burst into the building. That morning, the school’s new principal, Bader Shreita, who lives in a neighboring village, was detained at the entrance to Deir Nizam, and classes also started late because of bad weather. Two jeeps pulled up in front of the school and soldiers forced their way in, without requesting permission or explaining anything to the dumbfounded teachers and students.

The mathematics teacher, Shahar Tamimi, 32, arrived at work at 8:45 that morning. The two army vehicles barreled in a few minutes later, and eight armed soldiers entered the schoolyard. Tamimi and another teacher stood in their path, trying to stop the extraordinary incursion – this is a school, after all – that was taking place without prior coordination. The soldiers pushed them aside and strode toward the classrooms. “Stop throwing stones and we won’t come in,” one of the soldiers said.

The teachers had shut the gate to the new wing of the school; the soldiers entered via the old wing. They were apparently looking for older children and entered the classroom of the 11th grade. Tamimi, the math teacher, is convinced they were not looking for specific students.

Mohammed Tamimi, at this home this week.
Mohammed Tamimi, at this home this week.

Tamimi followed the soldiers, there were three or four, into the classroom. He says that they grabbed two students and began pummeling them. A teacher and a cleaning woman shouted at them and tried to stop them physically. It was useless. The soldiers left the classroom within about three minutes, after overturning chairs and desks. One of them aimed his rifle at Tamimi, he tells us.

With the troops when they left were the two students that had been grabbed, Ahmed Salah and Ramez Tamimi, the latter the son of the disabled scrap dealer, and marched them forcibly outside. The cleaning woman, a relative of one of the students, tried to rescue him. Much shouting ensued. Next to one of the jeeps, the soldiers handcuffed the two 17-year-olds; a video shot by an eyewitness shows the moment the soldiers blindfolded the pair – a standard procedure, whose rationale is unclear. They were taken to a nearby military facility and from there to a police station. Salah was released that same day, but more than a week later Ramez remains in custody in Ofer Prison, near Ramallah. His parents don’t know what he is accused of.

Deir Nizam’s council head, Nasser Mizhar, 57, his face exuding fatigue, talks now about what the army and the settlers are wreaking on his village. All his life he had been a building contractor in Israel and now serves as council head. The village’s tribulations began with the establishment of Halamish in 1978, he explains. Some 2,500 dunams (625 acres) of its land was usurped. Because of its proximity to the settlement, construction in the village is permitted only on 200 dunams that are not in Area C (i.e., under full Israeli control). The settlers monitor all the construction activity that goes on and report it to the occupation authorities.

Deir Nizam’s council head, Nasser Mizhar.
Deir Nizam’s council head, Nasser Mizhar.

The situation became even grimmer in 2019, when Zvi’s Farm, a violent, outlaw outpost, was established near Halamish. The Palestinian farmers and shepherds came under attack and have had a hard time accessing their land ever since. The shepherd-settlers seized both pasture land and fields, and graze their sheep and cattle there now. Olive trees have been burned and crops destroyed. The IDF cooperates and provides protection to the farm’s lawbreakers.

On December 1, Mizhar and the rest of Deir Nizam’s residents awoke to discover that overnight their village had been placed under siege, naturally without any prior warning or word of explanation. The western and southern entrances were blocked by the iron gates, and concrete cubes and soldiers’ posts – manned nonstop – had been erected at the main, northern entrance to the town. The troops’ main activity, the council head says, seemed to be abuse and harassment of the residents. Every person seeking to exit or enter to the village, even if they did that within the space of a few minutes, was forced to undergo a thorough check by the soldiers. Once or twice, for unknown reasons, the barrier was closed for an hour or two, preventing anyone from departing or entering.

Iyad Hadad, the field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in the Ramallah area, documented 17 incursions by IDF soldiers into the village during its 50 days of closure. Most of these incidents occurred at night, and included raids on 15 homes and the arrest of 10 local residents, in addition to the two students. Most of the detainees were released after an hour or within a few hours.

The school in Deir Nizam, this week.
The school in Deir Nizam, this week.

“This is collective punishment,” the council head declares. “Because of a suspicion that a few kids threw stones they are punishing the whole village. The social relations of the residents were reduced to a minimum, there is a great deal of suffering. People think a thousand times before they travel to weddings, to funerals or to see family. Pressure have built up here. Some people are even staying with relatives in other places, just to avoid having to go through the barrier.”

Mizhar is certain that all the sanctions imposed upon the village are intended only to satisfy the settlers of Halamish, who have pressured the army to punish the village for the stone throwing. “We are a marginal village,” the council head said sadly. “We don’t have the international solidarity and publicity of Nabi Saleh, we don’t have anything. No one takes an interest in us, no one pays attention to us. All we want is to get to our lands.”

Last week the two yellow iron gates were opened, and the barrier at the main entrance is no longer manned 24/7. Has the danger to Deir Nizam passed? Has the village served its full term of punishment?

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated in reply to a query from Haaretz this week: “The village of Deir Nizam is not under closure and the access roads to it are not blocked. Nevertheless, from time to time, in accordance with updated appraisals of the security situation, a security check is carried out on these roads in order to locate terrorists.

Rami, Mohammed Tamimi's 16-year-old son, this week.
Rami, Mohammed Tamimi’s 16-year-old son, this week.

“In recent months there has been a considerable rise in the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at vehicles on Route 465, adjacent to Deir Nizam, such that a concrete danger has been created vis-a-vis the life of the vehicles’ passengers. As part of the effort to cope with this phenomenon, IDF units are operating in the area of Deir Nizam in accordance with operational security appraisals, in both overt and covert activity.

“Within this framework, on January 18, 2022, IDF soldiers spotted a number of suspects who were throwing stones at Israeli vehicles on Route 465 in a manner that endangered the life of the passengers. During the pursuit to arrest the stone throwers, stones were thrown at the force. The suspects fled into the village school, thus obligating the force to enter and arrest the stone throwers. It should be made clear that only individuals identified as stone throwers were arrested, and this was not a random arrest as the reporter has claimed.”

Following his work accident in Azor, Mohammed Tamimi, who is 51, says he tried to file a compensation claim, but was arrested for entering Israel illegally and was jailed for 17 days. He gave up trying, feeling helpless. On January 6, the army came to his home at 2 A.M. and took Rami, who works with him. Without Rami, a smiling young man who left school in to help his father provide for the family, Mohammed is not even capable of going hunting for scrap aluminum. Rami was released after 24 hours. The handcuffs were very painful, he says, showing us the marks on his wrists.

This article is published in its entirety.

© Copyright JFJFP 2022