Ahed Tamimi marching in Palestine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Ahed Tamimi marching in Palestine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

International Women’s Day is not just about the struggles of the past. It is about the recognition of women fighting now

In years of campaigning for Palestine I can’t remember a campaign as internationally powerful as the one to free Ahed Tamimi.

Her story encapsulates Palestine and the resistance.  Her village, Nabi Saleh, home to 600, is close to Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank. The Tamimi family have lived and farmed there for many generations. 

The nearby settlement of Halamish (over 1000 people) was founded in 1973 and has steadily encroached on Nabi Saleh’s land.  In particular, the water source was taken by the settlers in 2009. The Israelis facilitated this by declaring it an ‘antiquities site’ – one of several ways in which land seizure is ‘legitimated’. These settlements are illegal under International law – disputed only by Israel.  Settlements are heavily subsidised by the Israeli state, and crucially, they are guarded and armed. A military station lies just outside the village, and soldiers on foot or in armoured vehicles frequently come into the village.   There have been countless arrests and several deaths. An estimate suggests that 350 of the villagers have been injured, of which 50 were permanently disable.

Every Friday, the villagers march peacefully across the valley towards the settlement in a symbolic attempt to reclaim the land and the water. They are met by armoured vehicles, tear gas, sound bombs, skunk water (agricultural run-off which stinks) and sometimes live fire. And yes, some people throw stones at the soldiers. 

In December Ahed’s cousin Mohammed was shot in the face by a rubber coated steel bullet at short range. In her words “Then I saw the same soldiers who hit my cousin, this time in front of my house. I could not keep quiet and I responded as I did”.  She gave one of them a good slapping and kicking.  Her mother videoed the incident and it rapidly went viral.   

Within days Ahed, her mother and other women in her family had been arrested.  Arrests are commonly carried out at night. Ahed, who celebrated her 17th birthday in prison is in the notorious Ofer military prison, charged with multiple offences, and facing a long prison sentence and huge fines. Ahed is one of several hundred children held in Israeli prisons.  She has appeared in court with her hands and feet tied, but at the latest one, she smiled and flashed a V for Victory sign to her supporters and family.  The judge ordered a trial in secret on the ludicrous grounds that as a child she should be shielded from publicity. The conviction rate in these courts is almost 100%.

Her father, activist Bassem Tamimi, told Ha’aretz

My daughter has spent her whole life under the heavy shadow of the Israeli prison … her own arrest was just a matter of time. An inevitable tragedy waiting to happen.

In 1993 the Oslo ‘peace process’ started. This has been the 25-year excuse for keeping Palestinian representatives talking (on and off) while Israel expands Settlements and tramples on human rights with impunity. Israel has a special place among regimes that suppress resistance because of its role as representative of US interests in the Middle East. International criticisms of its barbarity are rate and muted.

Ahed was born in 2001, and has known nothing but Occupation, and resistance to it. 

Trump’s outspoken support for Israel has brought things into focus, especially with the announcement of the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. The peace process is dead, and further annexation (as opposed to just military occupation’ of whole swathes of land is under active consideration. The ‘Apartheid’ tag for Israel is beginning to gain currency with the growth of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS)

For many years, Palestinians have been developing new forms of resistance. Popular Resistance Committees are organising independently of the corrupt political parties of the toothless Palestinian Authority. The issues vary between areas, but most frequently involve land, water, house demolitions, forced relocations – especially of Bedouin. The creativity and variety of these actions is astonishing – building a Girls School under cover of darkness and the Jewish Shabbat, intimate knowledge of the byzantine Israeli planning laws, as well as regular weekly demonstrations like those at Nabi Saleh. These groups welcome international visitors – a common story from Palestinians is ‘we don’t want your charity – we want you to tell our story back home’. It’s actually now quite easy to visit the West Bank – once you have seen the Occupation you cannot un-see it.

I have been the guest of many of these Popular Resistance Committees – in the Jordan Valley, in Hebron, and in refugee camps throughout the West Bank, and at Nabi Saleh where we were welcomed by members of Ahed’s family and joined the protest. They are inspirational.

Ahed’s actions opened up a storm internationally and within Israel.  It was repeatedly suggested by commentators that she, and others in her large extended family were fakes, actors paid to provoke soldiers.  The Israeli (and international) media has a particular view of what Muslim women should look like, and Ahed does not fit with that.  Ben Caspit, an Israeli journalist, actually threatened her, and by implication all female resisters, with these words:

In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.’ The Tamimi family has to learn, the hard way, that such systematic provocations come at great cost.

The government’s reaction was little different: The Culture Minister, Miri Regev said:

She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist …. It’s about time they will understand that people like her have to be in jail and not be allowed to incite to racism and subversion against the state of Israel.

The dominant Israeli narrative is that all Palestinians, especially those who resist, are terrorists. So much more so when they are unconventional looking women. 

Testament indeed to the courage of those women who continuously fight back. 

As I write, Netanyahu is meeting Trump for the fifth time in a year. 

Ahed’s trial is due to resume on March 11th.

There are actions to Free Ahed Tamimi all over the world.  Join Palestine Solidarity Campaign and get involved in your branch.