Hundreds of Young U.S. Jews Send Birthday Wishes to Jailed Palestinian Teen Ahed Tamimi Ahead of Trial

Two anti-occupation groups deliver letters of solidarity to father Bassem, days before his daughter faces five counts in Israeli military court of assaulting security forces and incitement

A man displaying a cake with the picture of Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi, who is detained by Israel, during a symbolic 17th birthday party for her in the West Bank city of Hebron, January 30, 2018.
Reuters/Mussa Qawasma

Hundreds of young American Jews used Ahed Tamimi’s 17th birthday on Wednesday to express support for the Palestinian teen ahead of her trial in an Israeli military court next week.

Around a dozen activists delivered 700 letters of solidarity by U.S. Jews to her father Bassem, at his home in Nabi Saleh, the West Bank Thursday. On Wednesday, Tamimi’s birthday, about 100 young U.S. Jews, including high school students, protested her detention at Israeli consulates across the U.S. East Coast.

Ahed Tamimi became a Palestinian hero following her arrest when a video showing her striking an Israel Defense Forces soldier outside her family’s home went viral in December.

The confrontation between Tamimi and two soldiers took place after what Israel says was a stone-throwing assault on its troops, during which Tamimi's cousin was shot by Israeli fire.

She is scheduled to stand trial in an Israeli military court in the West Bank Tuesday on 12 charges including assault for slapping and kicking a soldier.

Tamimi was also charged over statements she made in the video appearing to support stabbings, rock throwing and "martydom operations," an apparent reference to suicide bombings.

Members of IfNotNow during a Free Ahed protest in Boston, January 31, 2018.
Emily Glick/IfNotNow

Dubbed #NoBirthdayBehindBars, the campaign and visit were organized by the anti-occupation groups IfNotNow and All That’s Left.

Young Jewish demonstrators in New York, Boston and Washington joined global protests on January 31 marking Tamimi’s birthday and condemning Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian minors. Hundreds of U.S. Jews also wrote Tamimi birthday messages lauding what they perceive to be Tamimi's courage to oppose Israeli control of the West Bank.

One note read, “Dear Ahed, my name is Shula and I am 17. We’re [the] same age and we live in different worlds. Your courage inspires me to stand up for what I believe in. Your actions are not done in vain.”

IfNotNow is a left-wing organization of young American Jews who bill themselves as a counterweight to what they see is their community's support for Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, while All That’s Left is an anti-occupation collective in Israel.

Last month, Military Judge Maj. Haim Baliti rejected Tamimi’s request to be released from detention while awaiting trial, noting that freedom of expression does not permit violence and that Tamimi’s defense is wrong to equate her actions with social activism.

The formal charges against Tamimi are aggravated assault of a soldier, threatening a soldier, obstructing a soldier, incitement and throwing objects at a person or property. 

IfNotNow members protesting in Washington in support of jailed Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi, January 31, 2018.
Ethan Miller/IfNotNow

Her mother, Nariman, is also being detained after being charged with filming incidents and incitement on social media.

Tamimi, whose father is a prominent Palestinian activist, made news two years ago when she was pictured biting a soldier who tried to arrest her younger brother. In 2012 she was presented with an award in Turkey and met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after images of Tamimi confronting an Israeli soldier went viral.

At the Tamimi home, where food and coffee were extended freely to a near-constant stream of visitors, the group of predominately American-Jewish activists told Ahed’s father about protests across the United States bearing her name, and gifted him a booklet containing the 700 birthday notes.

Discussion of politics and the specifics of Tamimi's case were generally avoided during the meeting. 

The visit's purpose, All That's Left member Erez Bleicher stressed, was "strictly to come here and say that the incarceration of Ahed Tamimi and members of her family is unjust, and to support the family in a difficult time."

Bassem, a prominent activist himself, noted how Jewish and Israeli activist groups plant olive trees to "make themselves feel good, but it’s freedom, not trees," that he needs. On receiving visits from Jews and Israelis, he says "it's normal. I don’t need to investigate into the actions of others, like some Israeli politicians,” referencing former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s probe into the legitimacy of the Tamimi family

Julie Weinberg-Connors, a member of All That’s Left visiting Nabi Saleh, suggested that Ahed Tamimi’s story is particularly relatable and inspiring for young American Jews.

“A lot of times, we discount and discredit young people based on their age. But as we can see, children and young people like Ahed who take themselves seriously and stand up for their community can do incredible things. Even children who don’t get to be children,” she said.

Bassem Tamimi speaking in front of a poster showing his daughter Ahed at his home in Nabi Saleh, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 5, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

IfNotNow founding member Simone Zimmerman told Bassem Tamimi, “Ahed’s story has really moved a lot of people. Of course she’s a symbol, but she’s also just a person who deserves to have the future that she wants to have.”

Another All That’s Left member, Micah Friedman, said, “It’s particularly important for me as a Jew to communicate to Ahed – as a young person whose life’s been shaped by occupation in the name of the Jewish people – that there are Jews throughout the world and living here who don’t believe that the justice system she’s currently dealing with is just.”