Tamimi is a microcosm of the Israeli occupation


Ahed Tamimi, the 17-year-old Palestinian girl who spent eight months in an Israeli prison for slapping an Israeli soldier and who was recently set free, was an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement long before she got out. For Palestinians, she is the perfect face of their struggle: an unarmed teenage girl who confronts Israeli soldiers, poses no real immediate threat to them but simply cannot be broken. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Israeli occupation: A military power of brute force challenged by a largely defenseless people who simply refuse to give up their rights.

Tamimi gained international fame in December last year when a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral. The incident occurred on her family’s property, hours after Israeli soldiers shot her 15-year-old cousin in the face with a rubber bullet.

The Israeli military dropped eight of the charges against Tamimi as part of a plea bargain in which she recognized in court the fact that she slapped the soldier and called for protests. In return, she received the minimum sentence of eight months instead of spending at least three years in prison based on what the military prosecutor was initially seeking.

The fact that a minor was jailed for eight months for slapping a soldier whose troops had just shot her cousin is extreme, but seeing the 99 percent conviction rate in the Israeli military court system and right-wing incitement against Tamimi, the compromise by the Israeli military shows they decided to back down in the face of growing pressure to release the girl.

Tamimi’s story drew rare attention to the plight of Palestinian children held in Israeli military prisons — an overwhelming majority of them over stone-throwing incidents or for participation in protests — and the sham court proceedings, abuse and threat-filled interrogations, and extracted confessions to which they are subject. Over 350 children were being held in Israeli prisons as of May 2018. They too must be set free, for they share similar stories of predawn raids during which soldiers separate children from their families, physically and verbally assault them, blindfold and handcuff them, then drive them to interrogation centers where — almost always without an attorney or parent present — they are subject to further abuse and forced to confess, before being summarily sentenced to months in prison.

Did Israel shoot itself in the foot by arresting Tamimi? Some in Israel believe the focus on and arrest of the teenager was a self-defeating move for the country, as she exited prison even a bigger icon than before. Although the government wanted to make an example of Tamimi to deter others from similar action, it ended up doing quite the opposite. Tamimi’s arrest was supposed to deter Palestinian youth across the region from protesting. What happened was that young people were inspired by Tamimi and protests became larger and more intense.

Israelis claim that what this girl stands for – more anger, more bitterness and more failure – delivers nothing of value to Palestinians. Not so. The activist is being celebrated as a hero around the world for her bravery in confronting Israeli soldiers. Her international recognition has infuriated the Israeli government while she has risen to global prominence. Israeli soldiers were hoping a show of force would remind Palestinians of who is in charge. What they really did was to show what Palestinians are not in charge of - neither their destiny nor their country.

Tamimi’s story is one of steadfastness in and out of prison and a failure by the military to break her or the Palestinian struggle. Her life is a microcosm of what it is like for children and adults to live under military occupation and their attempts to free themselves from such dominance. Her detention ultimately did more damage to Israel’s international image than the video of her slapping the soldier.