17-year-old Ahed Tamimi and her mother Nariman from the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, have been released this morning from Israeli prison, after serving 8-month prison sentences. The cause for the punishment was Ahed having slapped an Israeli soldier occupying her home backyard, shortly after her cousin Mohammed was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers. The slap was filmed, and it went viral. Nariman was imprisoned for livestreaming the incident on Facebook.
The Israeli response was hysterical. Education Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that Ahed spend the rest of her life in prison, and ‘centrist’, ‘liberal’ journalist Ben Caspit suggested that “we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”. Lawmaker Oren Hazan (Likud) said that if it were him, he would “put Ahed in hospital” by kicking her in the face, and author of the IDF ‘ethics-code’ Asa Kasher backed her continued imprisonment because she could, God forbid, slap again.
So now, Ahed is back home. It is doubtful that any Palestinian child prisoner has received as much international attention as Ahed. She has, in no uncertain terms, become an icon and a hero of the young spirit of Palestinian resistance, one that does not bow to the master, and in fact slaps him in the face.
Yet the positive attention afforded to Ahed, also has that diametrically opposite side, wherein she has become a target for incitement by Israeli ultranationalists, including nearby settlers:
Earlier this year, Nabi Saleh residents woke up to Hebrew graffiti splashed around the village, some of which read “Death to Ahed Tamimi” and “There’s no place in this world for Ahed Tamimi.” In another incident, settlers from the adjacent Jewish settlement Halamish (which occupies Nabi Saleh lands) demonstrated on a road that divides the village and the settlement, carrying makeshift coffins and chanting “Death to Ahed Tamimi.”
Following her release, Ahed’s father Bassem said he was worried about the safety of his daughter, noting that she had been threatened by right-wing Israeli politicians and settlers.
The oppression of Nabi Saleh has been going on for years, especially since they decided to protest the confiscation of their lands, including a village spring, for the benefit of the illegal Halamish settlement. The village has held regular Friday protests since 2009, resulting in several deaths and hundreds of injuries. The imprisonment of Ahed and Nariman only seemed to worsen the crackdown, which has resulted in the death of Ahed’s cousin, 21-year-old Izz-al Din Tamimi last month, and the arrest of many others. At this point, 15 Nabi Saleh residents are still in Israeli custody, four of whom are minors.
Incitement and ‘fake news’ allegations from highest levels
Ahed’s cousin Mohammed who was shot in the face just prior to her famous slap, was also arrested twice in the period. The first time was shortly after his operation in which he had a large part of his skull removed and was in very sensitive condition. At an interrogation, Mohammed was forced to ‘confess’ that he had merely “fallen off a bike”, and that this, and not the bullet that was lodged in his brain (with massive documentation of the latter), was the cause of his injury. Following this ‘confession’, Major General Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), claimed on a Facebook post that the whole bullet-story was “fake news”, and that “A culture of lies and incitement continues for young people and adults in the Tamimi family”.
Mordechai is the highest direct authority of the Israeli occupation, and he wrote this on the COGAT official Arabic Facebook page. “Fake news” allegations were also championed by centrist Israeli lawmaker Michael Oren, who tried to strengthen his allegation that the Tamimi’s were a “fake family”, by posting a dual, mirror-photo of the Tamimis (the one where you just photoshop one to mirror the other). Ahed’s little brother had a cast on his arm. “A boy of 12 takes a photo with a cast on the right arm, the next day with a cast on left arm. You tell me if it’s not funded and directed? The Tamimi family is part of the ‘Pallywood’ industry, which sends children to confront IDF soldiers in order to cause PR damage to Israel, for money”, Oren wrote. It was obvious for anyone with a few brain cells, that the photo was an identical mirror image. When comments about glaring idiocy started filling the thread, Oren took down the photo, but preserved the text.
Ahed as a symbol of a greater paradigm
Ahed is a symbol of young heroism and resistance. Israel’s goal is to minimize the symbolism, but it is shooting itself in the foot every time it tries to avert attention from Ahed. Yesterday, the artists who had painted a portrait-mural of Ahed on the separation wall in Bethlehem, were arrested by Israeli Border Police. There is a video of the arrest. Such incidents only make Israel look more ridiculous. It’s almost like in the famous Monty Python film, Life of Brian, where Brian paints ‘Romans go home’ in faulty Latin on the wall – Roman soldiers catch him in the act, force him to correct his grammar, and to write it a hundred times more. This is what is happening with Ahed. Israel’s obsession with controlling a grassroots, anti-colonialist resistance, is only focusing on the ‘grammar’ of the resistance, and seeks to avoid the greater writing on the wall.
Thus, we must focus not only on Ahed, but on the greater paradigm that she represents. There are nearly 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons (which is in contravention of international law). Nearly 300 of them are children. Nearly 450 are on Administrative Detention, held without charge (including 3 Palestinian Legislative Council members) – see Addameer statistics here.
Ahed and Nariman Tamimi may now be free from prison, but they are in no way free from Israel’s colonialist occupation. This is a continuing matter. Ahed’s freedom is incomplete without the greater freedom. And as Nelson Mandela had put it, “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” That’s why this is not just about Ahed, and not even just about Palestinians. It’s about the future of us all.