The arrest of Ahed Tamimi, a symbol of resistance to ongoing Israeli occupation, has put systemic maltreatment and detention of Palestinian children in the spotlight argues Huda Ammori
There has been an earthquake of news interest surrounding the recent arrest in an early morning raid of a Palestinian girl, 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, on Tuesday 19th December.
Pictures of Ahed and her young siblings from Nabi Saleh are flashing across news stations and social media worldwide, many showing the children when they were as young as nine years old facing up to the Israeli soldiers during protests against the seizure of Nabi Saleh's land and their only water source by an illegal Israeli settlement nearby. The village has a long history of raids, arrests, curfews and checkpoints imposed by the Israeli army and residents of the village, including members of Ahed’s family, have been regularly shot, injured and killed.
Arrests and detainments of Palestinian children have been one of the features of Israel’s decades-long military occupation of Palestine, with over 483 children detained in Israeli jails so far in 2017. In October 2017, 8 out of 40 Palestinian children arrested were subject to torture. This system of maltreatment of Palestinian children is one of the tools of the Israeli occupation to attempt to dampen the Palestinian’s spirit of resistance and to diminish any dissent by the occupied Palestinians.
Most of these stories pass unnoticed, despite many reports of abuse and condemnation from international human rights groups. The international interest was originally sparked by a video that showed Ahed with her cousin Nour, pushing and slapping two Israeli soldiers, which was shared by both Palestinian and Israeli media outlets. What was missed by many Western reports, and edited from the video, is that not only did an Israeli soldier slap the children first, but also as an occupying army they had entered the courtyard of her home with the intention of raiding it.
The Israeli response was to arrest the children, sending in 30 Israeli soldiers to raid their home at 3am during which their house was ransacked, and electronic equipment was taken. Ahed’s mother was pushed to the ground and her 14 year old brother was pinned down by six soldiers when he held on to his mobile phone.
The layers of context missing from US and UK reports of the incident extend much further than what was immediately happening outside Ahed’s house. Earlier that day, Israeli soldiers had shot Ahed’s cousin, 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi in the head, and after undergoing a complex surgery, he had been placed in a medically-induced coma.
The same day in Gaza, occupation soldiers had just shot and killed another Palestinian Ibrahim Abu Thuraya who had no legs, previously losing them through injuries suffered from an Israel bombing of Gaza in 2008. This is the daily reality of Palestinians living under military occupation routinely dismissed as “periods of quiet” by Western media outlets. The bottom line is, normally these Palestinian lives just don’t count.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s right wing education minister, told Army Radio that Ahed and her female family members should “finish their lives in prison”. Such calls came from across the political spectrum. A prominent centrist Israeli journalist Ben Caspit wrote in his article for Maariv that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.
Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi a Palestinian activist, has been one of the main organisers of the protests against the Israeli army’s land confiscation in his village. He has been imprisoned over 9 times during his lifetime, for a total duration of almost 3 years. As a result, Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience. In a recent statement, Bassem Tamimi articulated his personal experience as a Palestinian living under military occupation:
During my imprisonment, I was paralyzed as a result of torture by your investigators. My wife was detained, my children were wounded, my land was stolen by settlers, and now my house is slated for demolition.
Tamimi continued to describe the discrimination Palestinians faced by the military occupation and Israeli settlers:
The military prosecutor accuses me of inciting the protesters to throw stones at the soldiers. This is not true. What incites protesters to throw stones is the sound of bullets, the Occupation’s bulldozers as they destroy the land, the smell of teargas and the smoke coming from burnt houses. I did not incite anyone to throw stones, but I am not responsible for the security of your soldiers who invade my village and attack my people with all the weapons of death and the equipment of terror.
Despite Israel being the illegal occupying force, here again it is the Palestinians enduring the criminal treatment. Ahed is a child who has grown up under an illegal military occupation, has witnessed constant arrests of family members including losing her father for three years of her young life, and famously tried to stop an Israeli soldier arresting her eleven year old injured brother Mohammed when she was 13.
Ahed’s mother Nariman was arrested when she went to visit Ahed when she was being held by the Police and her detention has also been extended to now. Nariman had previously been shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers at a protest in 2014, which itself was a demonstration marking the second anniversary of the death of her brother, Rushdie, (Ahed’s Uncle) whom an IDF soldier shot in the back and killed in 2012. Nariman has also since developed asthma as a result of inhaling tear gas in her village.
Despite all this, or even, as a result, Ahed’s determination for freedom has remained undeterred. As a freedom fighter, she refuses to endure the constant humiliation and discrimination imposed upon her and her family, simply for being born Palestinian.
Ahed has shocked and inspired members of the international community by her bravery in the face of severe oppression and a brutal military occupation. Now more than ever, it is imperative that people act where our governments have constantly failed, and that we demand justice for the Palestinian people. In 2005, the Palestinian civil society called for the international community to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The BDS movement is a non-violent means of pressuring Israel into complying with international law and the basic principles of human rights and is a movement for every person of conscience to partake in. BDS campaigns in the UK range from boycotting Israeli goods in supermarkets, pressuring our institutions to divest from companies complicit in the occupation and calling on all artists to not perform in apartheid Israel. Lorde, a prominent musician from New Zealand, chose to answer the call from the Palestinian people and recently cancelled her concert in Israel.
Israel’s failure to convince the world that 16 year old Ahed Tamimi is an aggressor, against the defenceless, even “moral” Israeli army, is endemic of their own delusional ideas that thrive on the racism now running rife in Israeli society. This also explains the failure of Israel and its supporters to explain away the detention of children resisting the theft of yet more of their land. The billions invested by Israel’s public relations department still cannot beat the rising international solidarity movement with Palestinians, through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Ahed remains resilient despite the hardships she’s endured. In her words:
Beyond the suffering and daily oppression of the prisoners, the wounded and the killed, we also know the tremendous power that comes from belonging to a resistance movement; the dedication, the love, the small sublime moments that come from the choice to shatter the invisible walls of passivity.
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