Ahed Tamimi was indicted by the Israeli military prosecutor on Monday, on five counts of assaulting security forces and throwing stones.
The five counts, as reported by Haaretz, include: “Threatening a soldier, attacking a soldier under aggravated circumstances, interfering with a soldier carrying out his duties, incitement, and throwing objects at individuals or property”.
My focus here is going to be on the not-so-obvious insertion in that list: “incitement”. While this may seem the least ‘physical’, I believe this is what, for Israeli Hasbara, will be the most important issue regarding Ahed Tamimi. Let me explain.
Those other issues listed would not easily be seen in the rest of the world as grave issues really – not ones that would justify long incarceration, certainly not for life, as Education Minister Bennett had suggested. While in Israel, throwing a stone can entail 20 years in prison, the rest of the world would find it hard to accept such harsh punishment (certainly for life!), and Israel’s PR would suffer.
“Interfering with a soldier carrying out his duties”? What, seriously? His duties of occupying her village, her house, shooting her cousin in the face? No, that wouldn’t stick. This is way too far from the UN General Assembly Resolution 3246 of 1974, which “Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle”. That resolution also legitimizes indirectly the throwing of stones, which, as Haaretz journalist Amira Hass writes, is “the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule”.
That principle also renders Ahed’s slap to the soldier to be a relatively benign form of resistance, as much as it may offend Israelis and endanger their sense of superiority. Was Ahed’s slap under “aggravated circumstances”? Surely the prosecution didn’t have in mind the aggravated circumstance that Ahed was in, with her cousin put in coma by a bullet to the face, on top of a long history of maiming, killing and torturing of several family relatives. No, all that means nothing – Ahed Tamimi was just a very naughty girl.
No, all that wouldn’t stick. But you know what would catch on? Terror. If it could somehow be construed that Ahed Tamimi is an aspiring terrorist, or that her words and actions led to terrorism, that would catch a lot of people both in Israel and elsewhere. Because clichés like “war on terror” are emotionally determinative for many people. And that’s why Ahed needs to be made a terrorist.
Just like with Marwan Barghouti. When Marwan Barghouti was captured by Israel in 2002 upon the direct orders of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said:
“Have you lost your mind? What’s the story with Barghouti? If it’s part of your struggle against terrorism, it’s meaningless. But if it’s part of a grand plan to make him a future national leader of the Palestinians, then it’s a brilliant scheme, because what’s really missing in his résumé is direct affiliation with terrorism. He will fight for the leadership from inside prison, not having to prove a thing. The myth will grow constantly by itself.”
These words, with all their inherent mockery, could just as well be applied to Ahed Tamimi. Pretty much the same has already been said about Ahed, as for example by Uri Avnery in his piece titled “Joan of Arc in a West Bank Village” (Haaretz), subtitled “The Israeli army wants to punish Ahed Tamimi ‘so all should see and fear.’ Instead, Palestinian teenagers see the photos and think: I want to be like her.” Avnery:
“She’s 16, from a family of peasants in an isolated village. The foreign occupation outraged her, and she set out to fight it. Her actions excited her oppressed people, whose spirits rose from the depths of despair to renewed hope. She was captured by her occupiers, who imprisoned and prosecuted her. You’re probably thinking I mean 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who slapped the face of an Israel Defense Forces officer. But actually, I’m referring to Joan of Arc, known as “the maid of Orléans”, Avnery writes.
So how will Ahed, who has resisted her oppressor with her bare hands, and allegedly even with a stone – be made a terrorist? Through ‘incitement’. That’s the item we need to look at.
Let’s see how Haaretz cites the military prosecution on this count, quoting Ahed Tamimi from a live Facebook feed, with the prosecution’s translation:
“I hope everyone will participate in the protests, because that is the only solution to reach a result. Our strength is in our rocks and I hope that the entire world will unite to liberate Palestine because Trump announced a decision and they will need to bear responsibility for every response that will come from us – whether it is a stabbing attack, or a suicide bombing or throwing rocks, everyone needs to do something and unite in order for our message to reach those who want to liberate Palestine”.
Now, I have spent many hours yesterday trying to obtain the original live Facebook feed which is being quoted from*. As well, I have asked a few Arabic speaking friends to help with the translation of that cited passage**. I have cross checked the individual versions, and have reached a conclusion regarding the imprecision of the Israeli prosecution translation. Bear with me, this needs careful and slow analysis:
Putting aside what I would consider semantic differences in translation, the critical divergence appears in what the military prosecution translates as “stabbing attack, or a suicide bombing or throwing rocks”.
Here, both my contact’s versions (which they had not corroborated) translate what the prosecution refers to as “suicide bombings”, to “martyrdom operations” – taken from Ahed’s words (‘amaliyat istish’hadiya’, phonetically in Arabic). Now before making quick conclusions, let’s consider this carefully.
Imagine the translation was thus more exact, and went like this:
“Whether it is stabbing attacks, Martyrdom operations – or throwing rocks”.
First of all, Ahed was not necessarily suggesting that people engage in such operations, beyond, apparently, the one regarding the throwing of stones. In fact, her first proclamation that “our strength is in our rocks” suggests that. Furthermore, her words could arguably be pointing to the notion that Trump’s unilateral decision in favor of Israel and against Palestinians may itself be a cause for such more radical actions – ones which she would not necessarily advocate herself. So she could arguably be saying that Trump’s decision ‘could result in’ the actions she describes.
Now, does “martyrdom operations” necessarily mean “suicide bombings”, as the prosecution translated it? The Arabic term “Shahid”, meaning “martyr”, is a term that has a Muslim religious meaning as “one who bears witness”, but is also applied in the secular-nationalist sense of one that has died facing off the Israeli occupation. Consider, for example, that Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who lost both his legs from Israeli fire in 2008 and who was killed by a sniper’s bullet to the head near the Gaza fence, is also a Shahid. He was in his wheelchair, with a flag, and by one account also had a slingshot. He was not a suicide bomber. But he was killed alongside several others whilst demonstrating against Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. For Palestinians, even completely non-violent resistance can mean their death – their martyrdom.
Now, what if Ahed’s reference to “martyrdom operations” refers to “stabbing operations” as an extension? The translation is from her speech, so it could be written like this:
“stabbing operations (martyrdom operations), or throwing stones”.
Thus we need to consider “stabbing operations”. Are these always and necessarily acts of terror? By Israel’s legal precedence definitions, they are – regardless of whether the attacked is a soldier or a civilian. This, despite the fact, that according to the Council on Foreign Relations discussion on terrorism, “terrorism is aimed at civilians—not at military targets or combat-ready troops”. (See once again here).
We can see this interpretation in the case of the medic/killer Elor Azarya, when the court referred to the alleged stabber Abdel Fattah Al Sharif as “the terrorist Al Sharif”, consistently. This is despite the fact that eyewitnesses at the scene had claimed that it was not Al-Sharif who was the stabber (a second man, who was also shot dead) but rather a bystander. Others said that even if he was, he would have been attacking a combat-ready, protected and fully armed occupation soldier.
But in Israel all these distinctions are basically rendered meaningless. If the military prosecution against Ahed would translate the words “martyrdom operations” as ”martyrdom operations”, then its message would be weakened. Not only because it would be repeating the heroic notion of “martyrdom” (which Israel seeks to weaken), but also because the term has various meanings. Hence, the prosecution decided to go with an interpretation – not a translation – into “suicide bombings”.
Thus, the prosecution disseminates a code-word, which gets recycled in international media. For Israelis, “suicide bombing” triggers associations of exploding buses full of civilians. They get thrown back to the 2nd Initifada, and the distance from there to calling Ahed Tamimi a terrorist is conceptually small. And for Westerners, “suicide bombings” is associated with 9-11, and so they can be expected to react with revulsion at Ahed’s alleged words.
Finally, lest one thinks this is all really just semantic, consider this:
Israeli-Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour has been detained for over two years, in a case which revolves around her poem “Resist them”, and her usage of the word “Shahid” – “martyr”. That word has been a subject of huge controversy, involving various translators, and a dispute about whether it actually suggests any kind of incitement to terror, or not. The discussion has been ongoing, in court – around that very word. But the Israeli military prosecution is now getting past that discussion by substituting the words “suicide bombing”. Whatever Ahed actually said or meant, the misleading translation immediately gives Israel and the prosecution propaganda points in a supposed ‘war on terror’, and Ahed Tamimi is made a terrorist.
* Thanks to Daniela Conde for providing me the link to Ahed Tamimi’s live Facebook feed of December 15th.
** Thanks to Alis Amali and Khalid S. Barghouti for their translation and consultation.