When an Israeli military judge opened the courtroom at Ofer prison for the press to watch his acceptance of Ahed Tamimi’s plea bargain, the teenage Palestinian activist who had already spent months in prison for slapping a soldier was blunt in her short message to the world.
“There is no justice under occupation,” said the 17-year-old cuffed in the docket on March 21, looking at her family and friends at the back of the gallery. “We are in an illegitimate court,” she continued in Arabic, speaking in a calm, explanatory tone until her guards shut down the impromptu statement.
The curly-haired teen has grown up with cameras documenting her family and village’s struggle against Israeli settlements on their land and military rule over their lives. She has learned, over years in a local protest movement, against overwhelming army domination, that publicly speaking out is her best defense. So in February, when the military judge ejected the media and diplomats who packed into the first hearing of the trial where Ahed intended to make a statement, the strategy changed, says her father, Bassem Tamimi.
Ahed was born and raised in the central West Bank village of Nabi Salah, where unpleasant daily encounters with Israeli settlers and soldiers are a fact of life. As a protest movement against the restrictions of the occupation took root during her childhood, her family became the focus of her village’s role in the movement, as it spread through West Bank border villages that opposed Israel’s expanding wall and settlements.
Growing up in the digital age, amid the media’s extensive reporting on her family and community, Ahed has become known in Israel for images of her boldly accosting Israeli soldiers as they attacked or arrested her friends and family. While hardline Israeli politicians and nationalist activists view her actions as humiliating for the army and undermining of the military rule in the occupied territories—for which they heap vitriolic condemnations on her—she has also become an inspiration for the handful of left-wing Israelis still protesting the occupation.
So when a video of Ahed confronting, shouting at, and slapping an Israeli soldier—who had recently shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet and temporarily put him in a coma—went viral in December, a storm of condemnations by Israeli politicians and calls to punish the teen and her family ensued.
The viral video of the slap and her displays of defiance during the public hearings have made Ahed into both a Palestinian icon and Israeli hate figure. Ahed has been mythologized as Wonder Woman by Jim Fitzpatrick, the artist behind the iconic image of Che Guevara, and her case exemplified as an experience so common to young Palestinians that it is lamented as a rite of passage. Meanwhile Israeli politicians have sought to undermine the Tamimi family by claiming—falsely—that they are actors and not a real family, and by describing their determination to protest as akin to terrorism.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast, Jesse Rosenfeld