On July 29, 17-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi was released from an Israeli prison. Her mother Nariman, who was present in February when Tamimi slapped an Israel Defense Force soldier in the face and who filmed the incident, was also released. Tamimi had been imprisoned since the February incident, for which she was charged with 12 offences, including assaulting security forces and incitement to violence. Tamimi and her mother are part of an activist family that has been attempting to show the world the nature of the Israeli occupation.
The incident, captured on videotape, immediately became a symbol not only of Palestinian resistance to the occupation, but also of the lengths the Israeli state will go to in order to safeguard its image and protect Israeli pride. This includes, but is not restricted to, letting hundreds of other Palestinian children languish in jail, many for minor crimes like throwing stones. (In a related story, Israel also arrested two Italian artists for painting a portrait of Tamimi on the separation wall.)
This cruelty and violation of international human rights doctrine is just one part of the systematic and longstanding nature of Israel’s illegal occupation.
Many Zionists declared that Tamimi’s sentence should be harsh, even permanent. This teenager only attacked one soldier, but the capture of the incident on film made it into a symbolic attack on the entire occupying force and occupation itself. Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said, “When I watched that, I felt humiliated, I felt crushed.” She called the incident “damaging to the honor of the military and the state of Israel.” Similarly, an Israeli lawmaker from the Knesset, Bezalel Smotrich, declared: “In my opinion, she deserved a bullet, at the very least to the kneecap. That would put her under house arrest for the rest of her life.” But perhaps worst of all, consider this comment by journalist Ben Caspit: “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.”
In fact, interrogators did come very close to sexually threatening Tamimi. Examining a video of the interrogation, The Associated Press notes, “The interrogator, identified as an agent of the Israeli military intelligence branch, at times moves within centimeters (inches) of the teenager, who doesn’t respond and repeatedly asserts her right to remain silent”:
The military intelligence agent, who sits in a chair close to her, attempts to get her to speak, at times threatening her, then telling her that with her blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin she reminds him of his younger sister…. At another time, he tells her she has the “eyes of an angel.”
While we might recoil at this interrogation, it is not at all uncommon. Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories are not tried in civil courts. Their cases go to military courts, which are frequently in violation of international human rights doctrine. Children can be kept in jail indefinitely, without legal representation and their parents prohibited from seeing them. Right now nearly approximately 350 Palestinian children are languishing in military prisons for minor crimes like throwing stones.
Brad Parker, an international advocacy officer and attorney for Defense for Children International–Palestine, told Truthout that Tamimi’s detention, prosecution, plea agreement and sentence is not exceptional in Israel’s military court system. Further, he says, the ill treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces is widespread and systematic, with three out of four Palestinian children experiencing physical violence following their arrest. Moreover, Israeli military law provides no right to an attorney during interrogation.
“Palestinian children like Ahed often typically arrive to interrogation rooms bound, blindfolded, frightened and sleep deprived. Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture,” Parker said. “It is clear that detaining and prosecuting Palestinian children in Israeli military courts has little to do with justice.”
In 2016 the United Nations issued a damning report on the treatment of Palestinian youth, expressing its concern
“at allegations of many instances in which Palestinian minors were exposed to torture or ill-treatment, including to obtain confessions; were given confessions to sign in Hebrew, a language they do not understand; and were interrogated in the absence of a lawyer or a family member. The Committee is also concerned that many of these children, like many other Palestinians, are deprived of liberty in facilities located in Israel, thus hindering access to visits of relatives who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Committee is further concerned that at the time of the dialogue there were 12 minors in administrative detention and 207 Palestinian minors residents of the West Bank in detention for security-related offences.”
In December 2017, Defense for Children International-Palestine published a report noting the “spike” in violations against Palestinian children following the announcement that Trump would move the US embassy to Jerusalem. That Israel has been emboldened by the current political situation might help explain the passage of the “Jewish Nation-State Law.” This is a simple and blunt instrument that has one and only one purpose—to declare Israel a Jewish state and relegate all non-Jews to the level of second-class citizens. It “views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” This, of course, refers to the continued building of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and the appropriation and destruction of Palestinian homes.
Israel has thus thrown down the gauntlet to the international community, asking bluntly: What are you going to do about it? Though Ahed and Nariman Tamimi have been released, the cruel logic of the occupation remains very much in place. If we do not wish these kinds of acts to continue, we must do something about it—again, this is something the Tamimis have tried to get us to do.
One thing to do is support Rep. Betty McCollum’s efforts to prevent US tax dollars from supporting these cruel human rights abuses. In a December article in The Nation, McCollum wrote, “Israeli soldiers and security officials kick, punch, and beat children. They utilize sensory-deprivation techniques. Their ultimate goal is to get signed confessions—usually in Hebrew, a language the children cannot read or understand.” People who protest the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their families have no legitimate reason not to be appalled by this and protest.
Another thing people can do is to support the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, called for by Palestinian civil society. This nonviolent, human rights-based effort pushes for the legitimate and internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people to be recognized, and for the structures of apartheid ethno-nationalism in Israel-Palestine to be dismantled. As more people join this mass international movement, the Israeli government will continue to fall under increasing pressure to end its abuses against Palestinian children.