Through a bullhorn to cut through the hum of holiday shoppers, some forty people rallied in New York City’s Union Square Friday night in support and solidarity for Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old Palestinian girl arrested by Israeli soldiers during a December 19th pre-dawn raid of her family’s home in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.
The “Emergency Rally to End Child Detention” calling to “Free Ahed Tamimi!” was organized by NY4Palestine and c0-sponsored by other grassroots Palestine solidarity organizations including Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the New York and New Jersey chapters of American Muslims for Palestine and Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
The mood was noticeably despondent, with many speakers expressing a sense of helplessness in the face of what is a particularly harsh injustice, even by the standards of the Israeli military.
Tamimi has appeared in photographs and video footage for much of her life — growing up in the gaze of an unsympathetic international media but at the fore of weekly demonstrations held by the residents of Nabi Saleh since a Jewish-only settlement confiscated their land and spring a decade ago. Images of Ahed confronting heavily armed soldiers, her eyes more serious than theirs, have captivated the global Palestine solidarity movement, turning Ahed into a symbol of defiance to the occupation of Palestine.
Tamimi’s father Bassem Tamimi, himself a renowned activist for the Palestinian cause, explained in a Facebook post how upset his daughter had been since she witnessed Israeli soldiers shoot her 14-year-old cousin Muhammed with a rubber coated — supposedly non-lethal — metal bullet at a demonstration the day before her arrest. Muhammed sustained such severe injury he had to be put into a medically induced coma.
Ahed was arrested on charges of allegedly assaulting a soldier and an officer when the day before she rebuffed harassment from soldiers from the front door of her home. When later in the day Nariman, Ahed’s mother and leader of weekly anti-occupation demonstrations, went to be present during her daughter’s interrogation, she herself was arrested.
Israeli law states clearly that a parent is rightfully allowed to accompany a child or minor during interrogation in the occupied West Bank, according to a leading Israeli civil rights organization.
The next day the Israeli military arrested Ahed’s 21-year-old cousin Nour Tamimi; then her father Bassem when he arrived at court for his incarcerated daughter’s and wife’s preliminary hearings.
At the Union Square rally, Al-Awda member Hureda, who declined to provide her last name out of fear of retribution, said that the situation is even more insipid than it appears, as the detention of these well known anti-occupation activists is simply the daily life of Palestinians and Palestinian children in general.
“[Child detention] happens so often that we don’t get to hear about it,” Hureda told Mondoweiss. “And when we do hear about it, we hear about it for maybe two minutes and then…we never hear about it again.”
According to a recent report from Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), the situation is only getting worse, particularly since earlier this month when the U.S. took the unprecedented step of formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
DCIP documented that the number of children detained at one Israeli military prison in the occupied West Bank has doubled in just the past few weeks since that decision.
Mariah Tamimi, one of the family’s New York relatives, called Ahed the best representative for her people, telling Mondoweiss “she inspires me; and I think she inspires the rest of Palestine.”
The Israeli customs agency recently denied Ahed a travel visa ahead of what was supposed to be a global tour to share her experiences and courage with others. And to make matters worse, Mariah continued, “not only did they detain a 16-year-old girl illegally, they took her phones, they took the TVs, they took every electronic that is valuable to them.” With the family already facing heavy legal fees, “it kicks them while they’re down.”
But buoyed by the turnout and show of solidarity, Mariah remained defiant:
“Nobody can silence me. I want justice for Ahed. I want justice for Palestine. I want justice for the Tamimi family because we deserve that. And I will stand for nothing but that.”
Ahed’s detainment has sparked solidarity demonstrations across the globe, including a march in Istanbul, a protest in London and a strong statement of support from South African Parlimentarian Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson.
At the New York rally, a small number of Jewish Defense League members showed up to counter protest, yelling slurs and calls to jail Ahed behind the protection of seven or eight NYPD officers.
At one point, more than twenty officers encircled the entire crowd, but stood by and no arrests were made.