Israel Secretly Probed Whether Family Members of Palestinian Teen Ahed Tamimi Are Non-related 'Light-skinned' Actors

Deputy minister Michael Oren says the probe never reached a definitive conclusion, but calls the family 'actors,' and 'what's known as Pallywood'

The Tamimi family.
\ Alex Levac

The Tamimi family, whose imprisoned teenage daughter Ahed has become a Palestinian cause celebre, was the subject two years ago of a classified investigation that included checking whether they were "a real family,” Michael Oren, an Israeli deputy minister and former ambassador to the United States, said Tuesday.

The inquiry by a Knesset subcommittee “didn’t reach unequivocal conclusions,” and was prompted by suspicions that the family from the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh was “not genuine, and was specially put together for propaganda" purposes by the Palestinians, a statement issued by Oren’s office said. In wake of the Haaretz report, Arab lawmakers demanded Wednesday that the subcommittee's minutes be made public.

Ahed Tamimi, 16, was arrested last month together with her mother and cousin and charged with assaulting soldiers over an incident in which she and her cousin repeatedly slapped soldiers while her mother filmed it. The video of the incident outraged many Israelis, leading to her arrest, but was also seen as a symbol of hope and resistance by Palestinians. As the teen remains in custody while awaiting trial, her cause has been taken up by international rights groups and pro-Palestinians activists, who have been clamoring for her release.

The statement said that Oren, now the deputy minister responsible for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office, headed the “classified subcommittee” of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that investigated the Tamimis two years ago. The subcommittee heard testimony from the Shin Bet security service, the National Security Council and nongovernmental organizations, and one issue discussed was “the genuineness of the family and whether it was really a real family.”

“The incident with the Tamimi family is simply exploitation of children,” the statement added. The Tamimis have been involved in several high-profile confrontations with Israeli soldiers, including one in 2015 during which they tried to prevent a soldier from detaining a 12-year-old family member

A photo showing Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi entering a military courtroom at Ofer Prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 15, 2018.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The final assessment was that it “apparently is a family, but slowly, [other] children who fit the profile they sought were ‘annexed’ to it,” a spokeswoman for Oren told Haaretz. Nevertheless, she added, “there was no unequivocal conclusion on the matter.”

Oren told Haaretz that he initiated the probe into the Tamimis, adding that the subcommittee also investigated many other aspects of “the Tamimi phenomenon. For instance, there was a boy who ostensibly belonged to the family but has rather disappeared. He would come to demonstrations one day with a cast on his right hand and the next day with a cast on his left or no cast.”

He said the committee looked into whether “members of the family were chosen for their appearance” – blond, blue-eyed and light-skinned. “Also clothing. A real costume. American dress in every respect, not Palestinian, with backward baseball caps. Even Europeans don’t wear backward baseball caps. It was all ready; after a provocation or a brawl the posters would come out," he said. "It was all prepared. It’s what’s known as Pallywood.”

Together with defense officials, the panel “considered the possibility that it was an expanded, augmented, family, with ‘annexed’ members. We didn’t reach a definitive final conclusion as to whether they all really belonged to the Tamimi family,” Oren said.

He said he realizes this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but insisted that “we naturally had to investigate this question, how many of them really belong to the Tamimi family.” He added that he and his staff nicknamed the family “the Brady Bunch,” after the 1970s television show, because “that wasn’t a real family; they were actors.”

A photo showing Ahed Tamimi, left, fighting with other members of her family to free a boy held by an Israeli soldier during clashes in Nabi Saleh on August 28, 2015
AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

Before becoming a deputy minister, Oren chaired the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on foreign affairs, so he could decide what topics the subcommittee discussed. Since the committee's proceedings are classified, Haaretz could not examine the minutes from any session involving the Tamimis. But other subcommittee members said they did not recall any discussion of the Tamimi family, and certainly not one focusing on whether it was a “real” family.

Nevertheless, several MKs also admitted that they often skipped meetings, so Oren could have held the discussion at a session when most of them were not present. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said it does not comment on discussions held by classified subcommittees. Haaretz was unable to locate any defense official who would confirm that the subcommittee discussed the Tamimi family.