Ahed Tamimi was released Sunday morning after serving eight months as a political prisoner. On the face of it, her exaggerated sentence is the direct outcome of her temerity in resisting the invasion of her home by soldiers. But after I had the privilege of representing Tamimi in all of her hearings in military court, it’s clear to me that there is no connection between the slap she gave a soldier and the sentence imposed on her.
The eight months in prison, like the well-publicized nighttime arrest and the aggressive interrogations of this minor, are just more failed attempts to break the spirit of a girl who opposes the oppressive regime, and to stop other Palestinians from acting as any person under occupation would want to act.
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Right after the slap resounded throughout the world, the occupation’s enforcement system went into action to extract a price from a 16-year-old girl for her resistance. Israeli society could not stand the “blow to national honor” that was this resistance, and Knesset members and ministers called for a heavy price and they set the army on the Tamimis’ house to arrest her in the middle of the night.
The army spokesman’s camera documented the handcuffed girl surrounded by masked combat soldiers and quickly and proudly published the videos, as if this was the return of the Entebbe hostages and not the arrest of a girl in a village half an hour from the capital.
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The attempts to break Tamimi’s spirit continued after her arrest as well. Police and military intelligence used aggressive measures, questionably legal, in interrogating her, such as the threat of imprisonment of relatives and harassment by one of her interrogators. In the face of these violent men, seeking to terrorize anyone who dares resist the occupation, this courageous girl stood up and did not give in for a moment.
The authorities in Israel could not ignore the fact that Tamimi was seen as an international heroine and received widespread support. In the face of the posters published around the world and the flood of diplomats and reporters who came to support her or cover the hearings, someone apparently remembered that shame, which was lost here long ago, still exists, and a decision was made to hold the hearings behind closed doors. This, it was said, was “for the good of the minor,” although Ahed, her family and the defense opposed a trial behind closed doors.
But anyone who thought they could break Tamimi’s spirit with violence, threats and an inflated prison sentence found out that all of this only strengthened her. Where the authorities tried to conceal the occupation and its ramifications, Ahed managed to shine a light on its injustices.
Upon her release, Tamimi was to visit the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is to be demolished. The solidarity she will show with the inhabitants of the village will focus people’s attention on their cruel expulsion, an expulsion that constitutes another example of the Israeli government’s attempt to block any possibility of Palestinian territorial contiguity in the West Bank, and thus bring us closer to institutionalized apartheid between the Jordan and the sea.
The government ministers already know in their heart of hearts that they made a mistake when they pressed for Ahed’s arrest. Armed combat soldiers, unbridled investigators and a biased military justice system did not defeat her.
Now, after this Palestinian girl has managed to illustrate the injustice of the occupation with her arrest and imprisonment, the Israeli opposition must act. We must reiterate from every platform the lesson we have learned from Ahed’s life: No amount of American aircraft or German submarines, arrested Palestinian minors or uprooted families will stop the demand by millions of Palestinians for independence, freedom and a life of dignity.
If we do not take this to heart now and if we do not awaken the Israeli public from the moral stupor in which it has been sleeping for 51 years now, we will continue to decline into a reality of cruel apartheid, which sends our children to the territories to oppress women who resist the occupation regime with their bare hands.
Gaby Lasky is an attorney and human rights activists, who represented Tamimi.