The detention of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi raises uncomfortable questions. Ahed was arrested in December, shortly after her mother’s video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral. She remains in jail awaiting whilst propaganda on both sides escalates in dully predictable fashion.
Ahed is not new to controversy. Since she was 11 she has been repeatedly filmed pushing, slapping and biting Israeli soldiers, apparently trying to goad them into unsuitable response. At 13 Turkey gave her a medal, but little was said regarding the Palestinian adults filming her putting herself in harm’s way.
Ahed’s extended family are well known to Israel. Their West Bank village, Nabi Saleh, lies in territory administered by the Israeli army. In 2010 the Israeli settlement of Halamish annexed Nabi Saleh’s spring, and the village began regular protests to demand its return. Israel responded with significant force. In 2011 Mustafa Tamimi, Ahed’s uncle, was killed whilst protesting, shot at close range with a long-range tear gas canister from inside an armoured vehicle. An Aunt, Ahlam Tamimi, is on the FBIs most wanted list since her part in a suicide bombing. Her father has been an Amnesty prisoner of conscience. Just before Ahed’s arrest her young cousin was seriously head-injured by a rubber bullet. Ahed herself has been hit with rubber bullets several times. She seems such a perfect propaganda figure that Israel fought back with telling racism, suggesting her family looked so suspiciously fair and un-Arab that they were faked to look more appealing. Alas for Israel, Ahed is a genuinely oppressed Palestinian child with few other avenues for protest. This didn’t stop Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman saying recently that she and her family should “get what they deserve,” or Israeli journalist Ben Caspit from suggesting Israel should “exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.”
Many Israelis are uneasy, feeling that Ahed’s continued detention for behaving badly is disproportionate. Others point out, cynically, that it is Ahed’s family who are really behaving badly, advancing their cause through risking their photogenic child. Ahed’s father, now campaigning vociferously for her release, has achieved far more from her detention than he could ever have hoped from the (rather obviously) doctored version of the video which circulated earlier, suggesting the soldier struck Ahed first. Yet Israel is behaving badly too.
Ahed became one of over 330 Palestinian minors held in Israeli jails. In 2016 the UN Committee Against Torture criticised Israel’s treatment of detained Palestinian children for interrogation without lawyers, and using torture and ill-treatment to obtain confessions. Various UN treaties including the Convention on the Rights of the Child protect children, but Israel argues that it is not obliged to apply UN conventions to Palestinians under occupation. The International Court of Justice disagree.
Ahed’s trial begins on February 13th. Whatever the verdict, neither Israel nor her family emerge with great credit, but the biggest loser is Ahed herself, demonised by one side and martyred by the other. When two sides fight through children, nobody wins.