Abby Zimet: Holding A Mirror Up To A Shameful Occupation
Ahed Tamimi, the fierce 16-year-old Palestinian girl arrested last month for daring to confront an Israeli soldier who’d allegedly shot her cousin in the head, has been indicted on 12 vengeful charges, from assault to incitement. Her arrest stemmed from a December protest in her village of Nabi Salah, which for years has stubbornly protested the Occupation and its rapidly growing illegal settlements. During last month’s action, an IDF soldier shot a rubber bullet into the head of Muhammad Tamimi, Ahed’s 14-year-old cousin. When two armed soldiers, including the shooter, then returned to Ahed’s home demanding entry, she’d had enough. Video captured Ahed furiously trying to slap and kick the soldiers as she screamed for them to get out; her mother, meanwhile, scrambled to get between them.
There’s no video of the shooting itself – thugs firing state-sanctioned bullets into peacefully protesting teenagers’ heads is business as usual for the putative most moral army in the world – but “provocations” like a slender, fearless 16-year-old girl wildly kicking said thugs in the shins was deemed newsworthy, and the video spread. A few nights later, under cover of darkness, the IDF returned and arrested her; since then, she has been shuffled between several prisons and police stations. When not in court, she has been held in isolation cells under 24-hour surveillance and faced attempted interrogations with neither a parent or lawyer present. Ceding to military wishes, a judge has three times extended her detention, citing the “risk” she poses to Israel.
This week, she was finally indicted on 12 egregious charges, including five counts of assaulting a soldier, one count of throwing stones, and incitement. Her cousin Nour, who also confronted the soldiers, was charged with aggravated assault and interfering with a soldier’s duty. Her mother Nariman was charged with incitement for live-streaming the encounter. Given Israel’s 99.2% conviction rate for Palestinian youth, Ahed could serve years behind bars. Still, for Israelis incensed by the sight of a slight Palestinian girl standing up to her oppressors, it’s not enough. One right-wing pol called for her family to “spend the rest of their lives in prison”; a journalist urged Israel to “exact a price…in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.”
Her crime, of course, is not her clumsy child’s slap and kick. It is her, and her family’s and village’s, defiant fury, their years-long resistance, their refusal to “submit to the Israeli demand that Palestinians acquiesce to their own occupation…They should cooperate with their own oppression. They should move quietly through the checkpoints, open their bags, not look their occupiers in the eye, and not challenge (the) theft of their lands (and) freedoms.” While this was Ahed’s first arrest, she has spent her life under the shadow of Israeli prisons, detentions and violence. Her father Bassem, declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has spent years incarcerated, as have her cousins and brother. Her uncle was killed by a tear gas canister, her mother was shot and severely injured, and has been repeatedly arrested. A few years ago, Ahed was filmed biting and spitting at an IDF soldier trying to arrest her brother. Then, too, Israelis were outraged by her emasculation of the Israeli military: “The army’s pride was lying on the road, and a Palestinian girl threw it there.”
Still, current official response to Ahed’s case has been largely muted in an Israel increasingly in denial, as it has in the West and in an Arab world grown numb to ongoing violence against Palestinians. Coverage of her plight has been left to grassroots activists, social media and progressive press, from hashtags,updates, “Free Ahed Tamimi”posters in London, a few admiring editorials – Ha’aretz calls her “the Girl Who Refuses To Be Israel’s Compliant Palestinian” – and one searing post from U.K. activist George Galloway asking, “Where are the Arabs? Ahed Tamimi is your daughter and in the hands of foreign men…Just as well Rosa Parks wasn’t a Palestinian.”
For Ahed’s father, the world’s indifference to Palestinian suffering is nothing new. In a moving article, he calls her arrest “an inevitable tragedy waiting to happen,” laments her “tears of struggle,” and praises her as “a freedom fighter” who with others of her generation will lead the fight against Israel. Then he quotes his daughter – who, if there had been no occupation, would have liked to be a soccer player – telling an audience how she views herself. “I don’t want to be perceived as a victim, and I won’t give their actions the power to define who I am and what I’ll be,” she said. “We don’t want you to support us because of some photogenic tears, but because we chose the struggle and our struggle is just. This is the only way that we’ll be able to stop crying one day.”