Snapshot: (Palestinian) Girl, interrupted
Everything is inverted in this sad, wrenching photograph taken by AP's Majdi Mohammed on November 2.
Everything is inverted in this sad, wrenching photograph by AP’s Majdi Mohammed, taken November 2. Inverted, because it is not possible to know whether the small, brazen, bold, desperate fist, held fearlessly and on the brink of mortal threat by the daughter of the Palestinian activist Nariman Tamimi, marks the moment in which a freedom fighter is forged and steeled, or the moment in which this girl is vanquished.
Is this a trigger moment in her life, generating the self-image of a person who stands up for what she believes in, even in the face of an army? Or is it a moment of incalculable self-risk such as should not be foisted on children, and which deprives adults of their role as protectors?
Is it to her benefit to struggle like everyone else, or more than others, her bravery living up to her mother’s standards? Or is it dangerous and reckless, an attempt to twist reality, to approach the soldier and raise a fist at him? To position herself opposite this young, bespectacled soldier, whose face is freckled and blotched with red and not in attack mode, to confront him below his outstretched arm?
The girl has thick, lovely yellow hair; a toy-like truck with a yellow tarpaulin is parked, down the road; and the fallow field is November-yellow. The yellow is almost too yellow. A camera dangles from the neck of a Palestinian next to the truck, watching the event unfold. The girl wears the same top she wore on August 24, when her mother was arrested before her eyes and the soldiers split into two groups, one holding her and her cousin, the others seizing her mother. There were plenty of photographers there that day. As a soldier held her with her arms pulled behind her back, she threw her head spasmodically from side to side and forward and back in urgent despair and with piteous, infantile crying, shouting and begging for her mother; until, finally, another soldier, unnerved by the wailing, which apparently set an inner clock within him ticking, shouted, “Hey, load the mother already” - though more as a way of trying to speed things up than deliberately choosing a verb inappropriate for human beings. After the door of the Jeep in which her mother was “loaded” had closed, the girl broke loose and ran down the road and kept running, and did not stop running.
For more than three years the residents of Nabi Saleh, a West Bank village near Ramallah, have been protesting, with processions and demonstrations, against the takeover of their well and land by the Halamish settlement. For more than three years the army and the military-justice authorities have been occupied in suppressing the protest and punishing the protesters under military law. But in August, when her mother was arrested, the golden-haired girl from the Tamimi family drew media attention when she was photographed by Oren Ziv (Activestills) as soldiers held her. The image, which was posted on the Facebook page “We are all against the extreme left,” spawned ugly responses from those who hate Arabs and who hate people. At first they thought she was not an Arab because of her blonde hair, but even when they thought she was a despicable leftist worthy only of contempt, they could see she was only a little girl. This did not stop them from urging monstrous tortures to liquidate her, and there are no reports to suggest that any of them, including women who wished her similar miseries, were arrested for making threats.
Two months later, the demonstrations are continuing - because they cannot end until there is an agreement and the settlements are evacuated - and a Palestinian photographer now captures her determined back and raised arm. As such, he focuses on the symbolic aspect of her action, which fills the space between her clenched fist and the soldier’s outstretched arm. Because she is not crying here, is not passive, a complexity arises - notably in comparison to the images of masked, stone-throwing youths who appear time and again in photographs taken by Israelis in the territories.
This is a disturbing image, because she is a girl, only a girl. It is an interesting image, morally complex, and also a beautiful one, because her head is lovely and the soldier is intriguing. Above all, it poses an ongoing question: How can it be that such a little girl stands at such close range to a soldier, and can we feel calm about it, even when it is clear that he is not hitting her? Will calm ever be an option?
And then lines leap to mind whose message had always seemed extraordinarily pertinent - lines written by Israel’s unofficial poet laureate, Yehuda Amichai, in memory of his commander in the 1948 War of Independence, who was killed in a Gazan village - but whose message now, in the case of the girl from the Tamimi family, seems to be nullified. Will it ever be possible to read them to her and to the soldier? Do not forget, Amichai wrote (in the translation by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav), “Even a fist was once an open palm with fingers.”