Ahed Tamimi: A 17-year-old Symbol of Resistance?

In December 2017 a video was circulated online of Palestinian women hitting and kicking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers who were posted outside the women’s houses. The protagonist of this video is 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who is currently detained in custody until her trial on March 11th. If found guilty, Tamimi could face up to 14 years in prison. The media attention on Tamimi has raised serious questions about the persecution of Palestinian minors by Israel.

Ahed Tamimi. Source: Haim Schwarczenberg.

On December 15th a protest began in Tamimi’s village of Nabi Salih in the West Bank. Her 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed, was shot at close range by a rubber bullet, receiving serious facial injuries. His face has been permanently disfigured and will take six months to heal fully. It is reported that Tamimi’s attack on the IDF soldiers happened just an hour after her cousin was shot; angry and upset, she confronted the soldiers who stood outside her home. Haaretz reported that on February 26th Mohammed was arrested and interrogated. This arrest was authorised by a military physician, despite his recent serious injuries.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and Africa, Magdelena Mughrabi, has argued that Tamimi posed no real threat to the IDF soldiers who held weapons and wore protective clothing. She states that the response from the Israeli authorities is “disproportionate” and that they are seeking to make an example Tamimi and her reputation as a symbol of resistance against Israel. On February 13th Tamimi’s trial began behind closed doors, with the judge ordering all journalists and observing diplomats to leave the courtroom. She is being tried as a minor and trials for a minor are usually closed to the public; however her previous trials have been open.

Tamimi has become a symbol of resistance due to her actions against Israeli occupation in the West Bank, where she has lived her whole life. The video from December 2017 is not the first instance in which Tamimi has reached a wider audience with her resistance to Israeli occupation. The Tamimi family and their village of Nabi Salih have often been at the forefront of resisting and protesting Israeli occupation. She was featured in the documentary Radiance of Resistance when she was 14-years-old, with critics deeming her the ‘poster-child for Palestinian plight’.

Unfortunately Ahed Tamimi is just one name in a long list of Palestinian teenagers being mistreated by the Israeli state. The detainment of a minor is not unusual in the Palestine-Israel conflict; according to Defence for Children International (DCI) an average of over 300 Palestinian minors, aged between 12-17, are detained each year.

A #FreeAhedTamimi Rally in New York City. Source: Joe Catron – Flickr.

HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organisation who help protect Palestinians of the occupied territories whose rights are violated due to the policies of Israel, has called for the immediate release of 14-year-old Ghada, who was arrested on January 13th. She had been visiting her aunt in Jerusalem and as she was leaving the city, she was arrested by the Border Police for not having the correct permit. After interrogation she was taken to a hearing on January 15th, and in both of these events her parents were not present nor were legal representatives. On the day of her release she was taken to the Erez crossing into Gaza, an area where she does not live and did not know anyone. After finding her way in the dark Ghada was able to reach the Palestinian side of the crossing and speak to Palestinian Authority officials who were able to contact her family – whom were not informed by the Israeli authorities of Ghada’s release nor her placement at the Erez crossing.

Tamimi’s case is known worldwide, just as the video of her attacking the IDF soldiers made headline news. It is likely that without the viral nature of the video, that Tamimi would not be detained and facing charges. She is seen by many as a symbol of the resistance – but is it fair to put the burden of that title on the shoulders of a child? Both supporters and opponents of her actions are giving her titles and responsibilities beyond her years. At just 17 years old Tamimi is still a child – a child who has only known a life of checkpoints, armed guards, and occupation.

Unfortunately, Tamimi is not a lone child resisting occupation, but one of many. Many stories do not get told, and are often not shown the same attention by foreign press. It is clear that Palestinian children are being treated, and punished, as adults by Israeli forces. These incidents are part of a much wider issue of a generation growing up and becoming adults under occupation. When soldiers, fences, and resistance are normal, those living in occupied areas are denied their chance to be a child. Hopefully, the media attention surrounding Tamimi will bring focus on to the hundreds of unknown Palestinian minors who face persecution and imprisonment each day.

Tamimi’s blue eyes and blonde hair have often been the focus in stories about her actions. Her ‘western’ appearance has been used against her as a means of defaming her character, intentions, and even her identity as a Palestinian. Deputy Minister Michael Oren revealed that a committee was created to look into the credibility of the Tamimi family, going as far as to claim that they were actors hired to make Israel look bad. Stating that their blond hair, light eyes, and fair skin were not Palestinian features and thus they must be hired actors. This is another way of ‘othering’ the Tamimi family and discrediting their fight for their home. The media attention on this case has been vital in raising awareness in the West, however it might negatively affect the case and Tamimi’s future.

Amnesty International have started an email campaign to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for Tamimi’s immediate release; it can be found here. Lastly, this Avaaz petition calls on all world leaders to pressure Israel into releasing Tamimi.

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