‘I voted Likud my whole life. I was educated to hate and fear Arabs. I thought the occupation was just. But when I discovered that my freedom was assured at the Palestinians’ expense, notably those of Jenin, I couldn’t live with it.’ The words are those of a slight, dark, 29-year-old woman from a poor Sephardic family from conservative Kiriat Gat in the south of Israel. Tali Fahima is by most accounts a lone wolf, someone driven to an activism of support for Palestinian rights outside the framework of the established Israeli peace movement and Left. By going to the West Bank on her own, she broke the code of separation (both written and unwritten) on which Israel depends to run its occupation of Palestinian land. Since August 2004, Tali has been held in conditions of extreme isolation and rigorous interrogation, first under ‘administrative detention’ and now officially charged.
When Ariel Sharon finally implemented his pullout of settlers from Gaza, the world was treated to images of Israeli soldiers running the operation under great emotional distress. Some even shed tears at having to remove fellow Israelis despite the fact that these settlers were breaking both international and Israeli law. The removal of the settlers was carried out with a minimum of violence despite insults and worse from the fundamentalists and their supporters. They were returned to Israel proper where they were given lavish suburban homes and attractive resettlement arrangements.
Not all Israeli dissidents are treated with such forbearance. Ask Tali Fahima, who has been languishing in an Israeli prison for more than a year. Her supposed crime sounds pretty serious: ‘assistance to the enemy at time of war’ with further specifications about support for terrorism and contact with ‘enemy agents’. What Tali actually did in early 2004 was to visit the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, where she worked with Palestinians to set up a library and computer room for children. As part of her work there she had contact with Palestinians, some from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, without which work in the camp would have been impossible.
But she did all of this out in the open, attempting to get as much publicity as possible. When Israeli security forces launched their campaign of ‘selective assassination’ of various Palestinian activists, she very publicly declared herself willing to act as a human shield in their defence. In her own way she has been an embarrassment to Israel – like the much-maligned Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed Israel’s ‘bomb in the basement’ back in the 1980s and served 18 years in prison for his trouble.
The evidence against Fahima is flimsy, but in the context of the War on Terrorism, evidence may not be that important. Tali’s mother is currently spearheading a campaign to bring her daughter’s case out of the murky world of national security and into the light of legal reason.