A 16-year-old Palestinian is driving Israeli society, the regime in Tel Aviv, and its occupation army mad. In the eyes of the world, she is making them look exactly like the brutal usurpers they are. In short, she is embarrassing them.
The regime’s propaganda machine is working overtime trying to show the world how the Tamimi family members are “no saints”. But, pictures — especially motion pictures — speak louder than words. And these are the images the world saw: A fearless, unarmed, girl directly confronting soldiers armed to the teeth, occupying her land, and humiliating her country and people.
On December 31, Bassam Tamimi, father of Ahed Tamimi, wrote an Op-Ed in the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz. Addressing Israeli society, he said: “Although it is Ahed’s first arrest, she is no stranger to your prisons. My daughter has spent her whole life under the heavy shadow of the Israeli prison — from my lengthy incarcerations throughout her childhood, to the repeated arrests of her mother, brother and friends, to the covert-overt threat implied by your soldiers’ ongoing presence in our lives. So her own arrest was just a matter of time. An inevitable tragedy waiting to happen.”
All have seen the latest viral videos in which Ahed is seen attempting to slap an occupation regime soldier. What is not clear is her state of mind going into that “fight”. On December 15, 2017, hours or minutes before the incident, there were confrontations between the people of her village and the occupation troops near her house. The regime’s soldiers shot her 14-year-old cousin — Mohammad Tamimi — in the head with rubber-coated steel bullets, severely disfiguring his face. He was left in medically-induced coma to remove the bullet from his head.
The frustration and humiliation of spending her entire life under the occupation of the world’s last colonial power, and the immediate trauma of seeing her badly injured relative, explains her actions. Children in Palestine have been born into the Israeli occupation, have lived their entire lives witnessing checkpoints, occupation army raids, home invasions, arrests and killings of loved ones, demolitions of homes. Add to that the ill-treatment from fanatical, armed colonists, who often spit on them, throw garbage in their homes, and burn their trees. Those of us living in free countries often take for granted the small freedoms of daily life. It can be difficult for us to imagine what it feels like to not be able to leave your village or town at a time of your choosing, or not be able to go out for coffee with friends because there is a curfew in place, of not be able to till your land because it has been cut off by a wall built by the occupation forces and is now occupied by a colonist from New York or Eastern Europe.
In 2013, Frank Roni, a former child protection specialist for Unicef in the Occupied Territories, spoke of the “intergenerational trauma” he had observed among those growing up under occupation. “The ongoing conflict, the deterioration of the economy and social environment, the increase in violence — all these impact children heavily. Children form a ghetto mentality and lose hope for the future, which fuels a cycle of despair ... When you live under constant threat or fear of danger, your coping mechanisms deteriorate. Children are nearly always under stress, afraid to go to school, unable to concentrate.”
The occupation regime institutes two legal systems in the West Bank: One for the colonists, who are subject to Israeli civilian law; and one for the Palestinians, who are governed by the regime’s military law. Under this system, thousands of Palestinian children have been arrested and brutalised over the years and prosecuted under military law. Most detentions have been for the simple and symbolic act of throwing stones.
As an 11-year-old, Ahed was catapulted into the media spotlight after another video, of her confronting a bunch of heavily-armed occupation soldiers, asking them to release her brother who had been arrested, went viral. She was feted for her bravery and was even invited to Turkey to receive a medal for bravery, where she met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On August 28, 2015, the world saw the spectacle of a young boy being held by a masked occupation soldier with an automatic rifle. The boy’s head was jammed between rocks as his sister and mother tried to pull the soldier away. The girl was Ahed. Speaking about the incident to the media at that time, her father Bassam, said: “I watched my youngest son being attacked by the Israeli soldier and questioned what I should do. Martin Luther King and Gandhi did not have to undergo such examination. This is not easy. I wanted to hit the soldier with a stone. I wanted to grab his weapon. I thought, if I keep quiet what will my son think of me? So I was there, beating the soldier with my bare hands. Today I am known as Bassam — father of Waed, Ahed, Mohammad, and Salem.”
Like many other children under Israel’s occupation, Ahed has experienced grave personal loss. Her father, mother, and brother have been arrested. Her uncle, Rushdie Tamimi, was brutally murdered by the occupation army. He died two days after being shot by occupation soldiers in November 2012. An investigation by the Israeli regime itself found that the soldiers had fired more than 80 bullets into Rushdie and also prevented villagers from giving medical aid to the man. It is in the context of such horrors that the actions of Ahed Tamimi must be seen.