Who is Ahed Tamimi? The Palestinian teen jailed for slapping Israeli soldiers

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Moya Crockett
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The 17-year-old is seen as an activist icon by Palestinians – and a menace by the Israeli authorities. 

On 21 March, it was announced that Ahed Tamimi was to be sentenced to eight months in prison. A video of the 17-year-old Palestinian girl slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers outside her home went viral last December, leading to her arrest.

Tamimi’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said that the girl had accepted a plea deal with Israeli military prosecutors and would plead guilty to four charges, including assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers. Lasky added that her client’s sentence included four months already served, and a fine of 5,000 shekels (£1,017).

But who is Ahed Tamimi – and why has she become one of the world’s most high-profile teenage activists? 

She’s a member of a prominent Palestinian activist family 

Nariman and Bassem Tamimi

The Tamimi family is well-known in Palestine and Israel for their resistance to Israeli settlement in the West Bank, the contested Palestinian-majority region now mostly under Israeli control.

Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, is a leading activist who organises weekly demonstrations against Israeli settlement in their home village of Nabi Salih. He has been arrested by the Israeli authorities over a dozen times, once spending three years in detention without trial, and in 2011 was arrested (and later jailed) for “sending people to throw stones, and holding a march without a permit”. That 2011 arrest prompted the European Union to describe him as a “human rights defender”, while Amnesty International said he was a “prisoner of conscience”.

“My daughter is just 16 years old,” Bassem wrote in an op-ed for the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz after Ahed’s arrest. “In another world, in your world, her life would look completely different. In our world, Ahed is a representative of a new generation of our people, of young freedom fighters.”

Nariman Tamimi, Bassem’s wife and Ahed’s mother, is also an activist. She was arrested along with Ahed and her 21-year-old cousin Nur in December, accused of livestreaming the ‘slap’ video. Ahed’s lawyer said on 21 March that Nariman would also seek an eight-month plea bargain. 

Both sides say she attacked the soldiers because she was upset about their violent treatment of a relative

Demonstrators in Paris hold a banner reading ‘Free Ahed Tamimi’ on International Women’s Day 2018

After Ahed’s arrest in December, her family said she was upset about seeing the soldiers on the family’s property because Israeli troops had just seriously wounded a relative of hers. On the same day that Ahed hit the soldiers, her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed had allegedly been shot in the head with a rubber bullet during clashes with Israeli forces in Nabi Salih.

Mohammed was arrested in February, and a senior figure in the Israeli military announced that he told police his skull was damaged when he “fell off his bicycle”. However, residents of Nabi Saleh said that the boy changed his story because he was scared of being detained.

Haaretz obtained Mohammed’s CAT scan and images of the bullet fractures removed from his skull, confirming the Tamimi family’s allegations. At Ahed’s trial, the prosecution acknowledged that Ahed hit the soldiers after hearing that Mohammed had been wounded. 

Palestinians and their supporters see Ahed as a hero… 

A rally held in support of Ahed Tamimi in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 1 February 2018

Some anti-occupation activists have compared Ahed to Malala Yousafzai or referred to her as the West Bank’s Joan of Arc.

“Why is the West praising Malala, but ignoring Ahed?” asked academic Shenila Khoja-Moolji in an op-ed for Al Jazeera in December. She suggested that many people view the “state-sanctioned violence” of Israel as more acceptable than the “hostile actions of non-state actors such as the Taliban or Boko Haram”, and argued that “girls like Ahed who critique settler colonialism and articulate visions of communal care are not the empowered femininity that the West wants to valorise”.

In a letter signed by dozens of American actors, athletes, musicians, academics and political figures including Rosario Dawson, Angela Davis and Jesse Williams, the US human rights groups Dream Defenders drew parallels between Ahed and young people brutalised by authorities around the world.

“Too many of our children quickly learn that they may be imprisoned or killed simply for who they are. From Trayvon Martin to Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Khalif Browder to Ahed Tamimi – racism, state violence and mass incarceration have robbed our people of their childhoods and their futures,” the letter read. 

… But Israel and pro-Israel commentators see Ahed and the Tamimis rather differently 

A photo from 2012 shows an 11-year-old Ahed Tamimi raising her fist to an Israeli soldier

It seems clear that the story of Ahed Tamimi is rather more complicated than a straightforward tale of a plucky innocent taking on a mighty power. Some Jewish writers have accused the Tamimi family of anti-Semitism, and the court indictment against Ahed alleged that she had called for violence against Israelis, saying: “Whether it is a stabbing or suicide bombing or throwing rocks, everything needs to do something and unite in order for our message to reach those who want to liberate Palestine.” (The BBC reports her quote rather differently, saying that she called for peaceful demonstrations but argued that Donald Trump must take responsibility for any violence that occurs, after he made Jerusalem the capital of Israel.)

Many in Israel have argued that the Tamimis used Ahed in staged confrontations designed to provoke the Israeli military and go viral. “In Israel, she is seen either as a naïve youth manipulated by her elders, a serial troublemaker or a threat to Israel’s image and military deterrence,” write Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh for The Independent.

The Guardian reports that there were calls in Israel for Ahed to be given a harsh sentence, as her attack on the soldiers made the army look weak. 

“She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist,” Israeli culture minister Miri Regev has said. “It’s about time they understood that people like her have to be in jail and not be allowed to incite racism and subversion against the state of Israel.”

Whatever your thoughts, her case has sparked fresh debate about the occupation of the West Bank 

Tamimi’s lawyer Gaby Lasky (left) speaks to her as she stands for a military court hearing on January 1

Ahed’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, is an Israeli human rights attorney who has spent most of her career defending Palestinians in Israeli courts. She told +972 magazine that Ahed’s case was important because of the conversations it has started.

“Some in the Israeli public think the soldiers behaved as they should, others say they were humiliated. It was this humiliation that brought about Ahed’s arrest,” she said.

“But even so, everyone now has to deal with the occupation and what it does to the soldiers and to the people who live under occupation. Even without wanting to, Ahed’s case opened a door that has been closed for a long time for most of the public in Israel.”

Images: Getty Images / Rex Features