Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian activist who was arrested in December for slapping an Israeli soldier, was denied bail on Wednesday, January 17, amid calls by human rights groups for her release.
Tamimi is an activist who lives in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, where life has become unbearable because of Israeli occupation. Some of the village’s land was illegally annexed by the nearby Israeli settlement, and military checkpoints control their movements in and out of the village.
Tamimi’s parents and relatives are principal organizers in the weekly, nonviolent demonstrations protesting the loss of their land that began in 2009.
Children under Israeli occupation don’t get any special treatment. They are arrested, injured and killed just like adults.
For their resistance, the Tamimi family has been consistently targeted by the Israeli military with arrests, night raids and violence that has sometimes been fatal.
On December 15, 2017, shortly before the slapping incident, the Israeli army shot Tamimi’s 14-year-old cousin in the head during a weekly protest in Nabi Saleh.
“He was in a coma for seven days,” 11-year-old Jana Jihad, Tamimi’s cousin told Truthout. Jihad is also an activist, and she reports on events in Nabi Saleh, calling herself the “youngest journalist in Palestine.”
The soldier that Ahed slapped was in Nabi Saleh as part of an effort to violently disperse Palestinian protests against the nearby Israeli settlement that took control of their land.
“Ahed was angry about that, and we were all very sad about it,” Jihad said.
Tamimi was grieving and worried about her cousin and whether he would survive when soldiers tried to enter her house to take over the roof in order to shoot at more protesters, Jihad said.
Tamimi told them to get off of her family’s property.
“I think it’s a normal thing that Ahed did, because she didn’t want her friends to be killed or injured by the soldiers,” Jihad said.
Minor scuffles consisting of pushes and shoves took place between Ahed and the soldier before the infamous slap occurred. The soldier slapped Ahed — and seconds later, she slapped him back.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not respond to Truthout’s request for comment.
Jihad said she didn’t think it was fair that Tamimi was in jail.
“And I think that it’s not anybody’s right to put her in jail because she’s still a child,” Jihad said.
But children under Israeli occupation don’t get any special treatment. They are arrested, injured and killed just like adults. Already in 2018, 16-year-old Musaab al-Tamimi, a relative of Ahed’s in the next village over, was killed by the Israeli military.
“It’s not a childhood, and not just in Nabi Saleh — we’re living under occupation,” Jihad said. “Our friends are getting injured, our mom is getting injured, our dad is getting arrested….”
Kids in Nabi Saleh are forced to grow up fast. They can show you things like how “rubber bullets” shot by IDF soldiers are actually rubber-coated steel bullets by peeling back the thin layer of rubber. They’ve likely experienced tear gas, and had a close relative arrested by the Israeli army.
Tamimi’s family, including her parents Bassem and Nariman, have been targeted specifically by the Israeli army for their part in planning protests.
Bassem has been arrested by Israeli soldiers many times throughout Ahed’s life. Nariman is also active in the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh, and for that was shot in the leg and has been arrested by the Israeli army.
Tamimi’s younger brother, Mohammed Tamimi, was targeted by Israeli soldiers during a weekly protest several years ago. The soldier put now 14-year-old Mohammed in a headlock and pinned him against a rock — sitting on him, despite the boy’s arm being in a cast.
Tamimi, her mother and father, and other relatives arrived and tried to pull the soldier off of Mohammed.
In this 2015 incident, Ahed was videotaped being choked by the soldier as she tried to pull him off of her brother. It showed her trying to protect her brother’s arm, and trying to bite the soldier in her attempt to get him off of her brother.
Ahed spoke about her fear that something could happen to her family in a 2016 interview.
“All of my family is in danger here. We are at risk of dying at any moment,” Tamimi told teleSUR in 2016. “Although I am not afraid of death, I’m always afraid of losing my family, or my loved ones, or my friends.”
The stress and hardships the Israeli occupation inflicts on children ruins their childhoods, Tamimi said in the interview. They feel unsafe all the time — feeling they could be arrested, even killed.
“This feeling cannot be explained or put into words — those who do not live our suffering cannot understand it, and no one can translate it into words,” Tamimi added.
Israeli soldiers have killed three protesters during Nabi Saleh’s weekly marches, including Ahed’s cousin Mustafa Tamimi. He was shot in the head at close range with a high-velocity tear gas canister.
Ahed’s father said experiencing these violent incidents has left Ahed with a negative impression of soldiers, to say the least.
“When you grow up under these conditions and you see, all the time, soldiers — the image of the soldier in your mind is the same,” Bassem Tamimi told Truthout. “For her, this is the soldier who killed her uncle, shot her mom, arrested her brother, arrested her dad, killed Saba (Obaid), Rushdi (Tamimi) and Mustafa (Tamimi) — this is the image.”
Was his daughter expected to give the soldier a rose and welcome him after she had just found out her cousin was shot? Bassem asked.
Three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence following arrest.
“The occupation has not just put my daughter in the prison; it forced her to grow up earlier,” Bassem said. “Earlier, she wanted to be a football [soccer] player, but the occupation destroyed her dream.”
Nabi Saleh is in what’s known as Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank and all of the settlements, buffer zones, Israeli military and training sites. It is under full Israeli control. Area A is under the Palestinian Authority’s control and Area B is under shared control. These delineations were made in the Oslo Agreement in 1993.
Nabi Saleh is surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints that are often arbitrarily closed, cutting the village off from the rest of the West Bank. Next door is the Halamish settlement.
Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law because they are built on occupied lands, and activists like Bassem say they are destroying the chance for a two-state solution.
The Halamish settlement is why the village began protesting in the first place.
One day in 2008, villagers found they were simply not allowed to access part of their land, which included al-Qawas spring and agricultural lands. That land was now to be used by settlers only, and that ban would be enforced by the Israeli military.
Ahed Tamimi watched the settlers enjoy the spring she could no longer go to. The settlers had picnics and dips in the water. She saw them enjoy Nabi Saleh’s land and swim in pools in the settlement, where they had round-the-clock running water. Villagers in Nabi Saleh receive water only 12 hours out of every day.
Nabi Saleh responded by starting weekly protests. Every Friday, they would attempt to march to their stolen land. And every week, they would be met by the Israeli army.
The army uses heavy dispersal tactics against the nonviolent marchers, and clashes almost always break out. Among the several West Bank villages where weekly protests are held, Nabi Saleh is notoriously dangerous.
Soldiers almost always enter the village, shooting ammunition ranging from high velocity tear gas canisters to live bullets. There is no safe place in the village on Fridays, not even for children.
And if children are arrested, they most likely experience violence, advocates say.
“Three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence following arrest,” Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told Truthout.
Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children, or 500-700 children every year, have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military detention centers that are notorious for ill-treatment and torture.
The military judge actually cited Ahed’s lack of fear of Israeli soldiers as a reason to penalize her.
“Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that, in some cases, amounts to torture,” Parker said.
Tamimi has been in prison since she was arrested in December. She faces up to 14 years in prison for the charges against her, which include aggravated assault against a soldier and obstructing a soldier in the performance of his duty.
Bassem said he wasn’t surprised.
“This is the occupation and we don’t expect them to give us a gift because we are resisting,” Bassem said.
“They will punish us,” Bassem said. Nariman, his wife, was arrested on charges of incitement for sharing the video of the slap on social media when she went to visit her daughter at the jail.
On his daughter’s charges, Bassem said the Israeli military “inflated the charges to make the punishment as high as they could.”
Part of the reason behind the severe charges could be the outcry among many Israelis in the days following the video of the slap going viral, saying it “humiliated” the army.
The fact that Tamimi shows no fear and resists the soldiers has caused an outcry in Israel, Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said. The military judge actually cited Ahed’s lack of fear of Israeli soldiers as a reason to penalize her.
“When an entire system works in unison to humiliate and penalize a 16-year-old on the grounds that ‘she has no fear,’ it gives us an excellent opportunity to understand its essence,” Gilutz wrote in an op-ed for the Times of Israel.
The occupation’s courts are not there to seek justice, but to maintain Israeli control over the Palestinian people, Gilutz added.
“Let us state the obvious: If Ahed Tamimi were Jewish, chances of her being arrested would have been negligible; only Palestinians are tried in Israel’s military courts in the West Bank; the conviction rate in these courts is almost 100 percent,” Gilutz said.
Gilutz forwarded a B’Tselem report to Truthout that details how the Israeli military has violated the rights of demonstrators in Nabi Saleh.
Every Friday, hundreds of villagers are intimidated into staying in their homes for many hours, and their movement is restricted when the military declares the entire village a “closed military zone” most Fridays, the report said.
In one demonstration, “security forces hurled tear gas canisters at a procession of children in costumes who were flying kites,” the report said.
The extreme reaction by Israel to a teenage girl shows that fearless resistance to the Israeli occupation won’t be tolerated, and not even if it’s in the form of a procession of children flying kites.
“It is clear that detaining and prosecuting Palestinian children in Israeli military courts has little to do with justice,” Parker, of DCI-Palestine, said.