On Monday, the now legendary Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi was interviewed on Democracy Now! by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh.
And what an interview. 34 minutes, and the 17-year-old Ahed, who just got out of jail after 8 months for slapping an Israeli soldier, is as sharp as a knife, mild, succinct, exact, focused, warm but never overly emotional. She has a seriousness and a maturity that can be hard to find in many adults. It is just so inspiring. Israel has good reason to fear her. Not for her slapping soldiers really – but for her clear mind, that cuts through so much of the nonsense that Israel, and indeed Zionism, have managed to inculcate in the world as Hasbara, to complicate things so that they would not be resolved.
Ahed had some things to say about Zionism, very clear things.
AMY GOODMAN: You have made a distinction, Ahed, between Jews and Zionism. Can you explain the difference?
AHED TAMIMI: [translated] There is a huge difference between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a religion. You know, it’s just like Islam. It’s just like Christianity. But Zionism, that’s the occupation. That’s the killing. That’s what closes checkpoints. That’s what detains innocent people. That’s all Zionism that’s causing this conflict with Palestinians.
Let’s just pause there and look at this. I think it’s huge. Notice, Amy Goodman is asking about Jews, Ahed is answering about Judaism – so for Ahed this is clearly a non-personal issue, an ideological one. And she’s clear about what Judaism is – a religion. It’s separate to Zionism, which is indirectly understood as political ideology – the political ideology and policy that drives Israel. And what does that ideology do? It occupies. That phrase, “But Zionism, that’s the occupation” is worth further zooming in on. Because here, Ahed is saying, that this is not just what Israel and its Zionism do, it’s what they ARE. I have been trying to make this point many times in the past, for example in this piece titled “The issue isn’t the ‘occupation’, it’s Zionism” . Ahed is making it more concisely. She’s saying, it’s Zionism that is doing all this, causing all this conflict, and notably, she’s saying that it’s not Jews or Judaism as such that are doing it. It takes some moral fortitude to make that distinction, when you are confronted day in and day out by soldiers of the Nation State of the Jewish People.
‘Liberal-Zionists’ are going to have a hard time with this one. They have been insisting that the 1967 occupation is a thing in and of itself, which just happened at some point, and can ostensibly be reversed without addressing Zionism as such. In fact, they believe that reversing it may be essential to maintaining the Zionist Jewish State with its demographic ‘balance,’ that is, the demographic imbalance created by Israel’s initial mass ethnic cleansing and its preservation, creating the artificial Jewish majority, for the state to ostensibly be ‘Jewish and democratic’.
And yes, Ahed has a view about that bigger paradigm of refugees:
AMY GOODMAN: During the time that you were in prison during this last eight months, there was a major uprising in Gaza, the nonviolent Great March of Return that started March 30th. The Israeli military killed—at this point, I believe it’s more than 140 Palestinians, injuring something like 13,000, 14,000 people there. Can you talk about what your knowledge of what’s happening in Gaza is and what it meant to you in jail and to Palestinians on the West Bank?
AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The Great Return marches were launched from the time of the Nakba and continue until today. And the reality is that the people of Gaza are still continuing these marches. We hope that everyone, even here in the West Bank, and those outside, be part of the return marches, just like the ones in Gaza. It’s not just Gaza that has refugees, but there are Palestinian refugees everywhere, and they should return to their land, to their country.
Simple, right? Well, scores of people have been killed in the past months for protesting that right. As far as Israel is concerned, Ahed is advocating violence, and the ‘destruction of Israel’. So these are strong, resilient and brave words by Ahed. But Ahed is completely calm and natural about this. It’s not because she doesn’t know the price of protest – oh, she knows it all too well. She is simply fearless.
But back to Zionism. Ahed was describing the situation of other Palestinian prisoners, especially children:
[AHED TAMIMI]: There are over 350 children in prison, and three children who are under administrative detention. The conditions children endure in prison are very difficult. Prison isn’t for anyone. And the prison administration puts a lot of pressure on them, so it’s very difficult. I hope for the release of all prisoners, and especially children, as soon as possible.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Now, Ahed, following criticism, widespread criticism, Israel instituted a separate military court for minors, for children, in 2009. What, if anything, has changed since then?
AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Nothing’s changed. There are children who are in Israeli detention for over 10 years, children sentenced to 13 years, children sentenced to 14 years. The court just changed its name to a children’s court. The judge is still a Zionist judge. The court is still a Zionist court. It’s still a racist court. So nothing has really changed.
Pause there: “The judge is still a Zionist judge. The court is still a Zionist court. It’s still a racist court.”
It goes together with “Zionism, that’s the occupation”. The occupation judge is a Zionist judge. The occupation court is a Zionist court. And here comes an especially important one: The court is racist, because it’s Zionist.
That’s an idea that Zionists have especially feared – the claim that Zionism is racism. Israel’s UN Ambassador Haim Herzog famously ripped up the 1975 resolution that equated Zionism with racism.
People can go and argue about it, but Ahed is making it clear, from the moral high-ground of an occupied person who knows the Israeli occupation from when she was born, and who notably makes the critical distinction between Zionism and Judaism. She’s essentially saying, that Zionism is racist, but Judaism isn’t Zionism.
The ‘liberal-Zionist’ firewall against such notions has been to suggest that at some point, it would be operatively possible to sever Israel from its occupation. To call the occupation racist is generally not a big issue for them – they know it’s discriminatory on an ethnic basis, but they just suggest that it’s temporary.
But what if it’s not temporary? Then the occupation is part of Israel. The recently passed Nation-State of the Jewish People law is eroding the validity of the distinction of Israel and occupied territories with its “Eretz Israel” (‘Greater Israel’) notion and with its blatant dismissal of equality even within ‘Israel proper’, so people like Daniel Barenboim are now “ashamed of being Israeli”.
Yet Ahed is proud – proud of being Palestinian. And while she speaks with humility, she speaks with an aura of confidence, that she has nothing to apologize for in resisting the occupation. Even when she goes ballistic and slaps a soldier:
AHED TAMIMI: My goal wasn’t to hit him. I didn’t intend to hit him. He had shot my cousin in the head, and my cousin was going to die because of the injury. The soldier at the front of my house was shooting at children and young men in the street. I’m not the one that went to him. He’s the one that was at the front of my door.
Ahed is right. The soldier was the one occupying her property – literally her home yard. Israelis can go and complain about the humiliation they suffer because of that slap, but when you finally consider the humiliation and the murderous oppression suffered by people like Ahed, then you get that the Israelis are pampered. They complain about a slap, while Palestinians are dying. [N.b. Though grievously injured, Ahed’s cousin did not die of the head wound.]
Ahed Tamimi is now a definite symbol of Palestinian resistance. It’s first and foremost about being proud. And maintaining that pride is no small task, when the intrinsic purpose of those who oppress you is to humiliate you, so that you may be controlled more easily.
Ahed didn’t make the point about Zionism her main focus. It just came in passing really – she is mostly addressing realities on the ground. But I chose to stop on those words, because I think they are essential. Ahed is offering a conceptual way out of this conflict. Separate Judaism from Zionism. Because it’s “Zionism that’s causing this conflict with Palestinians”.
I think all Zionists know that this is true. They just choose to accept it being so. Because after all, if you have the privilege of being the master-race, then unequal conditions are tolerable. But not for Ahed. For Ahed that life is intolerable. And it’s because of Zionism.