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January 8, 2018
Ahed Tamimi’s arrest sheds a disturbing light on Israel
Sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi may not be what Israelis had in mind when, over many
years, they criticised Palestinians for not producing a Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson
Eventually, colonised peoples bring to the fore a figure best suited to challenge the
rotten values at the core of the society oppressing them. Ahed is well qualified for the
She was charged last week with assault and incitement after she slapped two heavily
armed Israeli soldiers as they refused to leave the courtyard of her family home in the
West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Her mother, Nariman, is in detention
for filming the incident. The video quickly went viral.
Ahed lashed out shortly after soldiers nearby shot her 15-year-old cousin in the face,
seriously injuring him.
Western commentators have largely denied Ahed the kind of effusive support offered
to democracy protesters in places such as China and Iran. Nevertheless, this
Palestinian schoolgirl – possibly facing a long jail term for defying her oppressors –
has quickly become a social media icon.
While Ahed might have been previously unknown to most Israelis, she is a familiar
face to Palestinians and campaigners around the world.
For years, she and other villagers have held a weekly confrontation with the Israeli
army as it enforces the rule of Jewish settlers over Nabi Saleh. These settlers have
forcibly taken over the village’s lands and ancient spring, a vital water source for a
community that depends on farming.
Distinctive for her irrepressible blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, Ahed has been
filmed regularly since she was a small girl confronting soldiers who tower above her.
Such scenes inspired one veteran Israeli peace activist to anoint her Palestine’s Joan
But few Israelis are so enamoured.
Not only does she defy Israeli stereotypes of a Palestinian, she has struck a blow
against the self-deception of a highly militarised and masculine culture.
She has also given troubling form to the until-now anonymised Palestinian children
Israel accuses of stone-throwing.
Palestinian villages like Nabi Saleh are regularly invaded by soldiers. Children are
dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, as happened to Ahed during her
arrest last month in retaliation for her slaps. Human rights groups document how
children are routinely beaten and tortured in detention.
Many hundreds pass through Israeli jails each year charged with throwing stones.
With conviction rates in Israeli military courts of more than 99 per cent, the guilt and
incarceration of such children is a foregone conclusion.
They may be the lucky ones. Over the past 16 years, Israel’s army has killed on
average 11 children a month.
The video of Ahed, screened repeatedly on Israeli TV, has threatened to upturn Israel’
s self-image as David fighting an Arab Goliath. This explains the toxic outrage and
indignation that has gripped Israel since the video aired.
Predictably, Israeli politicians were incensed. Naftali Bennett, the education minister,
called for Ahed to “end her life in jail”. Culture minister Miri Regev, a former army
spokeswoman, said she felt personally “humiliated” and “crushed” by Ahed.
But more troubling is a media debate that has characterised the soldiers’ failure to
beat Ahed in response to her slaps as a “national shame”.
The revered television host Yaron London expressed astonishment that the soldiers
“refrained from using their weapons” against her, wondering whether they “hesitated
out of cowardice”.
But far more sinister were the threats from Ben Caspit, a leading Israeli analyst. In a
column, he said Ahed’s actions made “every Israeli’s blood boil”. He proposed
subjecting her to retribution “in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”, adding that
his own form of revenge would lead to his certain detention.
That fantasy – of cold-bloodedly violating an incarcerated child – should have
sickened every Israeli. And yet Mr Caspit is still safely ensconced in his job.
But aside from exposing the sickness of a society addicted to dehumanising and
oppressing Palestinians, including children, Ahed’s case raises the troubling question
of what kind of resistance Israelis think Palestinians are permitted.
International law, at least, is clear. The United Nations has stated that people under
occupation are allowed to use “all available means”, including armed struggle, to
But Ahed, the villagers of Nabi Saleh and many Palestinians like them have preferred
to adopt a different strategy – a confrontational, militant civil disobedience. Their
resistance defies the occupier’s assumption that it is entitled to lord it over
Their approach contrasts strongly with the constant compromises and so-called
“security cooperation” accepted by the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
According to Israeli commentator Gideon Levy, Ahed’s case demonstrates that Israelis
deny Palestinians the right not only to use rockets, guns, knives or stones, but even
to what he mockingly terms an “uprising of slappings”.
Ahed and Nabi Saleh have shown that popular unarmed resistance – if it is to
discomfort Israel and the world – cannot afford to be passive or polite. It must be
fearless, antagonistic and disruptive.
Most of all, it must hold up a mirror to the oppressor. Ahed has exposed the gun-
wielding bully lurking in the soul of too many Israelis. That is a lesson worthy of
Gandhi or Mandela.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books
include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the
Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in
Human Despair” (Zed Books).