Opinion

Ahed Tamimi, the Teenage Girl Who Refuses to Be Israel’s Compliant Palestinian

While Donald Trump’s tweets blow up the last illusions of a two-state future that Israel rejected long ago, a 16 year-old has the courage the Palestinian leadership lacks: To declare that action, not negotiations, will bring us freedom

Sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi stands for a hearing in the military court at Ofer military prison in the West Bank village of Betunia on January 1, 2018.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Ahed Tamimi has been indicted. The teen, who was picked up in a night raid on her town more than three weeks ago, has been held in prison ever since.

The charges levied against her – incitement and slapping a heavily armed soldier – do not match the severity with which she has been treated: Shackled, isolated from her family and with politicians and journalists calling for her eternal detention, or, even worse, that she be "dealt with in the dark." 

The Free Ahed Tamimi poster on a bus shelter in London, December 2017.
Screengrab from @proteststencil

Based on Israel’s 99.2 percent conviction rate for Palestinian youth, Ahed will likely be convicted and will likely serve time in prison. But while her official charges are assault, Ahed’s real crime is more basic: Shaming Israel’s occupation and refusing to bow down to Israeli dictats.

Ahed has spent her entire life not only living under Israeli military rule, but under the guise of Oslo and the false promises of negotiations.

She has never seen a day without Israeli checkpoints blocking her movement, without Israeli settlers stealing her land and without seeing the army trample upon her village – often in the dead of night – to kill, maim and injure her loved ones

But, alongside these daily acts of aggression, she has, in her short lifetime, had to endure talk of a "peace process" and of "negotiations" towards a "two-state solution" - but never "freedom".

For Ahed was born after the false promises of Oslo, and after the diplomatic community turned its attention away from holding Israel accountable for its now 50 years of colonization and military rule to, instead, press for "both sides" to come together.

In short, while the world is living in the fantasy world of negotiations and recognition, Ahed is living in the brutal reality of occupation – where the settlers of nearby Halamish have superior rights to her, even though they live illegally in the West Bank, and she is considered a "security threat" for daring to challenge this reality.

And to be clear, it is this "shaming" of Israel that has prompted the charges against her. Her arrest would not have happened but for her act's ridiculing of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who stated that the army’s "humanism can’t come at the expense of its deference and power not only the girl but also her parents and those around them will not escape from what they deserve." He, like the Israeli army, does not want to appear emasculated by a young teen, a female no less.

A female Palestinian protester covers her face during clashes with Israeli troops following protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.
Nasser Nasser/AP

Her arrest would not have happened if she were an Israeli settler who, like other settlers, has slapped soldiers or broke a Palestinian child’s teeth, only to be released immediately.

Her arrest would not have happened but for the Tamimi family refusing to stay silent and allow their oppression to continue without denying the world the ability to say: We didn’t know.

For what Israel seeks is a compliant Palestinian – one who remains silent in the face of oppression and who simply accepts her fate without daring to stand up to her oppressor.

The Tamimis are shining a spotlight on the occupation and Israel is afraid that the world will see its ugly secret: That it has no intention of ever letting Palestinians live in freedom.

A Palestinian protester waves a national flag during clashes on the Israeli border with Gaza, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Khalil Hamra/AP

Each new settlement announced is proof positive. While Benjamin Netanyahu speaks of negotiations, he continues to steal Palestinian land. The Tamimis do not speak of negotiations; they speak of action.

What Israel seems to be woefully oblivious of is that there are thousands of Aheds out there – who know that it is not normal to live besieged or behind walls or checkpoints; who know that apartheid will eventually fall.

People around the world have always risen against oppression. It is delusional to believe that Palestinians will be any different than any other people – for when denied our freedom, we will continue to resist.

Perhaps the reason that Israel sees the Tamimis as such a threat is because they represent what the current Palestinian leadership is not: defiant, active and unwilling to remain silent. Even in the face of Donald Trump’s threats to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Ahed did not ask to be a hero – and, indeed, she should not be asked to be one. She is a teen who should be enjoying her childhood. She wants to talk about how much she enjoys soccer, who wants to live her life like any other teen around the world. She should not have to confront soldiers who shoot her family members, who deny her freedom and who terrorize her nightly.

And for demanding her freedom, for speaking truth to power, the entire weight of the security establishment comes crashing down on a 16 year-old for doing one thing: Holding a mirror to Israel, and asking it if it likes what it sees.

Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst and activist, and a former adviser to Mahmoud Abbas and the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Twitter: @dianabuttu