Meet Ahed Tamimi, the 17-Year-Old West Bank Activist Jailed for Eight Months for Slapping an Israeli Soldier

Seventeen-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi has been freed from Israeli prison after eight months behind bars. Known to some as the Rosa Parks of Palestine, Tamimi became a hero to Palestinians and people around the world last year after a viral video showed her slapping a heavily armed Israeli soldier near her family’s home in the occupied West Bank. The incident came just after Tamimi learned her cousin had been gravely wounded by an Israeli soldier who shot him in the head using a rubber-coated steel bullet. Video of Tamimi confronting the soldier went viral, elevating her into a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Ahed was soon arrested in the middle of the night and charged with assault in an Israeli military court. She was sentenced to eight months in an Israeli prison and celebrated her 17th birthday behind bars. Her mother was also arrested and charged for incitement, in part for streaming video online showing the interaction between Tamimi and the Israeli soldier. Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, were released in late July. We speak with Ahed Tamimi from her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with a young woman described as the Rosa Parks of Palestine: 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi. Last year, Ahed became a hero to Palestinians after a video went viral showing her slapping a heavily armed Israeli soldier near her family’s home in the occupied West Bank. The incident came just after Ahed learned her cousin had been gravely wounded by an Israeli soldier who shot him in the head using a rubber-coated steel bullet. Video of Ahed confronting the soldier went viral, elevating her into a symbol of Palestinian resistance.

Ahed Tamimi was soon arrested in the middle of the night, charged with assault in an Israeli military court. She was sentenced to eight months in an Israeli prison. She turned 17 years there; she celebrated her 17th birthday behind bars. Her mother was also arrested and charged for incitement, in part for streaming video online showing the interaction between Ahed and the Israeli soldier. Both Ahed and her mother, Nariman, were released in late July.

Last week, soon after she was released, Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke with Ahed Tamimi from her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahed, welcome to Democracy Now! How does it feel to be free from jail?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] It’s an extremely wonderful feeling. I hope all prisoners, men and women, live to experience this joy. Of course, my joy is incomplete, because my brothers and sisters remain in prison. And I hope that they are liberated and feel the happiness that I feel today.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the day you were released? Can you talk about that Sunday, where the Israeli military took you and your mother?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I was released from prison at 5:30, and they took me to Rantees, but they told my parents that I would be released at the Jbara checkpoint. It’s about an hour between Rantees and Jbara. They kept playing with my parents, telling them here, then there, then there. They made my parents go everywhere At the end, they ended up dropping us off at the gateway to the village.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain, Ahed, what actually led to your arrest?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] They accused me of hitting a soldier. I had 12 charges brought up against me, but the main one was the charge of hitting a soldier in front of the door of my house. My goal wasn’t to hit him. I didn’t intend to hit him. He had shot my cousin in the head, and my cousin was going to die because of the injury. The soldier at the front of my house was shooting at children and young men in the street. I’m not the one that went to him. He’s the one that was at the front of my door.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Mohammed, your 15-year-old cousin, and explain what the Israeli soldier did to him? What does it mean to be shot at close range by a rubber-coated steel bullet?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] He was on a hill, and Israeli soldiers came up and shot him. And the bullet went through his head. It went through here and was lodged here. It was a lethal injury, and there was a chance he would die. His surgery took a very long time. It took a long time for him to begin to walk again and to stand up straight and everything.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you tell us, Ahed, what happened after you were arrested? Where were you taken?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] They took me to an interrogation center. And then, from there, they took me to prison.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve said that there were several violations during your interrogation. What were those violations.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The interrogation was inappropriate, because there was verbal harassment. The interrogator would tell me, “Your hair is pretty. Your eyes are pretty.” There were no female soldiers with me. My parents weren’t allowed to be with me, nor my lawyer. They threatened me with my family by saying, “If you don’t confess, we’re going to detain your entire family.”

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of other questions did they ask you in that interrogation? And were there women present, family, your lawyer?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] No, there was no one with me. They asked me why I hit the soldier. There were a lot of questions the interrogator asked me during the interrogation.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you tell them when they asked you why you slapped the Israeli soldier?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The entire time during the interrogation, I used my right to remain silent, and did not confess anything.

AMY GOODMAN: How long did that interrogation, that one-sided interrogation, take?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] There were several interrogations. There were actually four separate interrogations. Each one was different. One was four hours; another, five or six.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were always alone, never with a lawyer or family?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Never. It was always just me alone with the interrogators.

AMY GOODMAN: With the male interrogators.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Yes, they were male interrogators.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, then, about your trial?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] They used to take me to court periodically. And they kept discussing the case and interrogating me, until I was sentenced to eight months.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ahed, what were the conditions like in the jail where you were held? Were there other children there?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The prison was very, very difficult. There were 29 other female prisoners with me. The numbers would go up and down depending on the situation. The conditions for female prisoners, and male prisoners, is difficult. The rooms are very, very small. There are no air vents. There was medical neglect and prevention of education. They attempted to prevent us from getting educated. But prisoners are always strong, persistent and steadfast.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And who were the other — the 29 other prisoners? And you said that the composition of the prisoners changed. Were they all women? Were they children?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] There were women, and there were children. There was one woman who had been detained under administrative detention. Administrative detention means the detention is based on undisclosed files, so the detainee doesn’t know why they’re detained. Administrative detainees only attend administrative courts, and their sentence is always extended. At first, it might be six months, but it’ll be renewed another time for four months. They’ll tell you your administrative detention is six months, but then, after six months, they’ll tell you they’ve extended another four. After four months, they’ll tell you another six. It’s like the prisoner — may God rest his soul — Ali Jamal, who spent seven consecutive years under administrative detention.

There are over 350 children in prison, and three children who are under administrative detention. The conditions children endure in prison are very difficult. Prison isn’t for anyone. And the prison administration puts a lot of pressure on them, so it’s very difficult. I hope for the release of all prisoners, and especially children, as soon as possible.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Now, Ahed, following criticism, widespread criticism, Israel instituted a separate military court for minors, for children, in 2009. What, if anything, has changed since then?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Nothing’s changed. There are children who are in Israeli detention for over 10 years, children sentenced to 13 years, children sentenced to 14 years. The court just changed its name to a children’s court. The judge is still a Zionist judge. The court is still a Zionist court. It’s still a racist court. So nothing has really changed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your village, Nabi Saleh, if you could talk specifically about the situation with Israeli settlements in the area? Children in Nabi Saleh are reportedly taught how to deal with Israeli soldiers if they come to detain them?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] In Nabi Saleh, there is a settlement, the settlement of Halamish, which has taken over the Nabi Saleh water spring. It rarely gives the village of Nabi Saleh adequate water. Almost everyone in Nabi Saleh has been detained or shot at or harassed by Israeli soldiers. We have more than one martyr. In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of resistance within Nabi Saleh, and we lost four martyrs. And they are Rushdi Tamimi, Mustafa Tamimi, Izz al-Din Tamimi, and there was a young man who died in Nabi Saleh whose name is Saba Nidal Obeid. Nabi Saleh is a point of a lot of resistance. We always say our problem isn’t with the settlement, it’s with the entire occupation. We can deal with the settlement, but we want the occupation to end.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahed Tamimi, When you were in jail, another one of your relatives, 20-year-old Izz al-Din Tamimi, was killed, in June, after being shot in the back by an Israeli soldier. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said his killing was illegal and unjustified. Can you talk about what happened and what you understood when you were in prison?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The martyrdom of Izz al-Din Tamimi while I was in prison was something very difficult for me. It was very, very difficult. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. To lose someone from your family while you’re in prison and you don’t know what’s happened, it was a lot of anxiety. It’s a difficult thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us who Izz al-Din was?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Izz al-Din was a very calm, good person. I think he was in the street. I wasn’t there, but they told me he was in the street. He was being pursued, after being detained a year ago, so they came to detain him, and he ran away, so they shot him in his neck. They let him bleed on the ground until he lost all his blood and died.

AMY GOODMAN: During the time that you were in prison during this last eight months, there was a major uprising in Gaza, the nonviolent Great March of Return that started March 30th. The Israeli military killed — at this point, I believe it’s more than 140 Palestinians, injuring something like 13,000, 14,000 people there. Can you talk about what your knowledge of what’s happening in Gaza is and what it meant to you in jail and to Palestinians on the West Bank?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] The Great Return marches were launched from the time of the Nakba and continue until today. And the reality is that the people of Gaza are still continuing these marches. We hope that everyone, even here in the West Bank, and those outside, be part of the return marches, just like the ones in Gaza. It’s not just Gaza that has refugees, but there are Palestinian refugees everywhere, and they should return to their land, to their country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ahed, I want to turn to a video of you in December 2012, when you confronted an Israeli soldier, demanding to know what happened to your brother, who had just been arrested. I believe you were only 11 years old at the time.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] My brother was 15 years old. And so I went and I asked them. I demanded to know, “Where did you take my brother? He’s 15 years old. What can he do to you?” But they didn’t respond to me. I got angry and frustrated and began to yell at them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And three years later, a video went viral that showed you biting an Israeli soldier who was holding your brother.

AMY GOODMAN: On the ground.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] This is when they were going to detain my brother, who was 12 years old. He was trying to detain him, so I tried to take my brother back from the hands of the soldier.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, many people, Ahed, have remarked on your courage in undertaking such protest at such a young age. Where do you get such bravery from?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] All Palestinians have courage. It’s different from one person to another. But I grew up in a family where I got used to seeing prisoners, the injured and martyrs. It reached a level where we were just saying, “Enough. Enough with the occupation.” So I decided to break the barrier of fear, so I can continue defending my land.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from an article in The Guardian. It said, quote, “Ahed is a member of the second generation of Palestinians to grow up under occupation. Her father, Bassem, was born in 1967 — the year Israel seized the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the six-day war. He and his children have known only a life of checkpoints, identity papers, detentions, house demolitions, intimidation, humiliation and violence. This is their normality,” The Guardian writes. Can you speak, in your own words, about what life is like growing up under occupation?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Imagine going to your school and finding a checkpoint, so you’re prevented from going to school because of this checkpoint, or from going to your university or work. Or imagine that every day the military enters your town and keeps firing gas and bullets, and you’re constantly afraid that someone will be killed or that they’ll detain someone. There’s a constant fear that you’ll lose someone in your family. The occupation is extremely difficult. To look at the settler who is on your land while you’re barred from it, it’s really so difficult.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ahed, you’ve been hailed as the icon of Palestine, following this latest protest of yours. Your response to that, and where you see yourself in the struggle for Palestine?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I’m very proud that I can be a symbol of the Palestinian cause. I hope that I can live up to this title and that I’m able to spread the message of the Palestinian people, and the men and women in prison, to the whole world.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you like to see happen?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I hope for the liberation of Palestine, for the end of the occupation, for us to be able to go anywhere we want, anytime we want, without anyone preventing us from doing so.

AMY GOODMAN: The classes you took, you finished high school in an Israeli prison? What are the classes you took? Who taught you? What kind of discussions did you have behind the bars.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] We were taught by the prisoner Khalida Jarrar, and we would learn mathematics, Arabic, English, history, geography, science. We used to take international law classes, as well. We took a lot of these different classes.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you discuss your own imprisonment as a child and discuss the issues of international law and occupation?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Khalida Jarrar used to teach us about the international law and about all the different conventions within it. We would go through all the violations that happened to us. I didn’t have a female soldier with me during my interrogation, but, according to the convention, there was supposed to be a female soldier with me during the interrogation. So we would always tie these things together.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ahed, you plan to become a lawyer. Explain why you want to study the law.

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] So that I can use the law to defend the Palestinian cause for liberation.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahed, your brother is a student at Birzeit University nearby your village in the West Bank. Do you plan to go to a Palestinian university, or will you go to college outside?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I haven’t yet decided where I want to study. I haven’t decided, and I’m still not sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Is your brother at the university now or in prison?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] My brother is currently in prison. He was detained while I was in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you consider studying in the United States?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I’m still not sure. I still haven’t thought about it at all. I’ve just got out of prison. I just haven’t had time to really sit and think about what I want exactly.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ahed, what is your message to the United States? What would you like people in the US to know?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I thank everyone who supported me and stood with me in the United States. I urge all the people, all the populations everywhere, to put pressure on their governments to support the Palestinian cause.

AMY GOODMAN: You have made a distinction, Ahed, between Jews and Zionism. Can you explain the difference?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] There is a huge difference between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a religion. You know, it’s just like Islam. It’s just like Christianity. But Zionism, that’s the occupation. That’s the killing. That’s what closes checkpoints. That’s what detains innocent people. That’s all Zionism that’s causing this conflict with Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did it mean to you when you were in jail, the international solidarity, both in the West Bank and Gaza, within Israel and around the world?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] It was something that kept my spirits up, of course. I hope this strong solidarity continues to extend to all the rest of the prisoners, men and women, who remain in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother was in prison for as long as you were nearly, and she was released with you. Did you see her in prison? And can you explain why she was imprisoned?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] I used to see her from 10:30 in the morning to 1:00 and from 2:30 to 5:00. We were not in the same room, of course, but we were in the same section.

AMY GOODMAN: And why she was in jail?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] She was detained because — I’m not sure. They accused her of — I’m not sure. Because she came to me during the interrogation? It’s unclear to me why they detained my mom.

AMY GOODMAN: I know you have to go, Ahed. Do you plan to continue your activism?

AHED TAMIMI: [translated] Of course. I will continue down this path that I’ve started, and I will never give up until the day Palestine is liberated.

AMY GOODMAN: Seventeen-year-old Ahed Tamimi, speaking to us from her home in Nabi Saleh, in the occupied West Bank. She was released last week from an Israeli prison after serving an 8-month term. The 17-year-old activist became a hero to Palestinians and many others around the world after a video went viral showing her slapping an Israeli soldier near her family’s home, just after Ahed learned her cousin had been gravely wounded by an Israeli soldier who shot him in the head using a rubber-coated steel bullet.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the first attempted assassination by drone strike. It occurred in Venezuela against the president, Nicolás Maduro, this weekend. Stay with us.