by Dina Lobo
(Disclaimer: This is an opinion essay)
In a January 2018 interview with independent journalist, Abby Martin, Ahed Tamimi was asked to explain how it feels to be a child under Israeli occupation.
“We often play, but we get shocked when soldiers enter places of play, they destroy all of our happiness. Children often go to school and encounter locked barricades so they are forced to return to their homes.” She continues, “sometimes children go to amusement parks, but all the fun is lost when they find the barricades are locked. I hope that the world’s children never live such a difficult life.”
By now, you’ve probably seen images of curly-haired Tamimi, the 17-year-old Palestinian teenager who has become an international icon and a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Even liberal mainstream media, which tends to wrongfully downplay the illegal Israeli occupation as a fair, two-sided conflict, has helped keep her story relevant on social media outlets.
Tamimi was arrested in Nabi Saleh (in the occupied West Bank) in the middle of the night in December 2017 after slapping two Israeli soldiers who were trespassing her family’s property. In the viral video, you can see her yelling for the uninvited soldiers to leave. It’s important to note that Tamimi found out that her 15-year-old cousin was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers only an hour before her property was invaded. Tamimi’s demand for the soldiers to leave is justified as an Indigenous resident of a village (and land) that continues to be exploited and colonized while its people continue to be denied, and have been denied, basic human rights for more than 50 years. It’s also justified as she, along with her family and friends, is directly affected by the Israeli occupation in every aspect of her life. The Tamimi family and the village of Nabi Saleh itself, is known for their anti-occupation protests and organized demonstrations of resistance. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, has been in and out of prison for organizing weekly protest marches, in which international activists participate in. Her uncle, Rushdie Tamimi, was shot in the back during a demonstration in 2012. Her brother, Wa’ed Tamimi, is a university student currently behind bars. Her mother, Nariman Tamimi, was also in prison for filming her daughter when soldiers trespassed their property. Most homes in Nabi Saleh are consistently raided by the Israeli military, following several arrests of anyone, including children, involved in the protests.
Tamimi’s arrest left her in prison for eight months. In the arrest that drew her international attention, she was commended for her strength and resistance, as well as her innocence. On most platforms and human rights campaigns, she was seen as a victim of ongoing Israeli violence. Although her strength is a fact, the media has failed to recognize that Tamimi is one of many children of the same circumstance and her story represents a larger issue. Like Tamimi, almost 300 children out of 6,000 Palestinians have been arrested according to data collected in June 2018. The children are victims of the occupation and their “crimes” of defense, like throwing rocks, can leave them charged with up to 20 years in prison. In most cases it’s unarmed resistance and it’s incomparable to that of which the Israeli government has thrown onto the Palestinian people. Most of the children are victims of a prison system that does not value or recognize the fact that they are indeed children. They are also victims of physical and emotional assault according to a UNICEF report from 2013. The report states that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest to the indictment of the child, the conviction and the issuing of verdict.”
Tamimi was interrogated without a female officer present (which violates Israeli law), she was also a victim of sexist and inappropriate comments from male officers who commented on her physical appearance and threatened to arrest her friends. In photographs of her appearances in court and in interviews, you easily forget she’s a child as she fearlessly represents herself with strength and resilience, but in my research and interest in Tamimi, I’m reminded of the permanent affects the occupation has in robbing Palestinian youth of their childhood and how wrong it is for the media to isolate Tamimi’s case from the hundreds of other minors facing similar consequences. Even Tamimi herself reminds the public of this. After her release on July 29, she said in a press conference, “of course I am very happy that I came back to my family, but that happiness is lacking because I have brothers and sisters who remain in prison. I wish that all the prisoners will be released.”
If your mind is trying to waterdown the Israeli occupation, or if you’re searching for the “two-sided conflict” you’ve been fed by mainstream media, or if you’ve supported Tamimi’s release, but neglected the many children arrested for the same reasons, then I’ll leave you with a statement from the Israeli Minister of Education, Naftalli Bennett, who said she hopes Ahed and her mother “would end their lives in jail,” or the fact that two Italian artists were arrested for painting Tamimi’s face on the illegal West Bank separation wall.
Although human rights campaigns and the media mostly rallied for Tamimi’s innocence, they failed to recognize the Israeli government’s consistent role in prosecuting children by the hundreds. They also failed to recognize the reasons behind her actions and how it paints a larger picture of apartheid, colonization, occupation and human rights violations. Tamimi represents the burden that all Palestinian children living under Israeli military law carry. She also represents every Palestinian identity that has been stripped of its right to exist and thrive since 1967. Tamimi, and every other teenager like her, is proof that a Palestinian’s mere existence is, in itself, seen as a threat.