Pooja Sajanani is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
It is 4 in the morning and you are asleep in your bed. 30 armed soldiers enter your home and start ransacking everything. They confiscate all the mobile phones and electronic devices in the house, assault your family members and arrest you. Not because you killed someone or you were plotting a terrorist attack but for resisting oppression. This is what happened to Ahed Tamimi. This is the story of a traumatized teenager who courageously protested encroachment of her home after seeing her 14-year old cousin being shot in the head by a rubber bullet which resulted in him being left in a coma for 72 hours. Now after over 50 days of aggressive interrogation in jail, Ahed’s detention has been extended indefinitely and she is likely to face up to 10 years in prison. This is a highly disproportionate and unfair punishment for a comparatively small and harmless crime. What’s more, the international community has largely failed in demanding justice for Ahed and approximately 350 other Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons and detention centres. In this article I invite you to consider this matter from a humanitarian perspective, keeping in mind the physical, emotional and psychological suffering of children growing up under the conditions of routine violent conflict and oppression.
First of all let’s talk about the video that led to the arrest of Ahed and subsequently the arrest of her mother, Nariman Tamimi and her cousin, Nour Tamimi. On 15th December 2017, Nariman puts a video online in which Ahed, alongside herself and Nour are seen slapping and kicking heavily armed soldiers in an attempt to push them out after they refuse to leave their backyard. This video instantly sparked controversy, with some people praising the resolution of soldiers to not react violently while others labelled them as weak and called for a stricter response to such ‘provocations’. For instance, Oren Hazan, a Knesset member (legislative branch of the Israeli government) from the Likud party proposed that, “Restraint is a failed and dangerous policy. Next time it must end differently.” Sadly, this whole narrative, lacks basic human compassion and is intent on painting Ahed as a “terrorist” while it is clear that she meant no physical harm and was only lashing out to drive the heavily armed soldiers out of her house because she felt threatened by their unconsented presence.
Furthermore, it is doubly troubling as this narrative is then used by journalists like Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv and Al-monitor to justify horrendous acts against Ahed. Caspit wrote, “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.” It is not difficult to guess what he is insinuating here and just the thought of it is outrageous and infuriating. I am not saying that slapping soldiers is an absolutely right way of protesting, just that she shouldn’t be called a ‘terrorist’ for doing it, especially under the conditions she did it in.
When a normal 16-year-old girl finds herself confronting an armed soldier like that, putting her own life at risk, there might be something really wrong with the way her childhood has unfolded. Indeed as I researched more, I found that the residents of Nabi Salih, constantly live in a condition of insecurity.They are blatantly subjected to civil and human rights violations at the hands of the Israeli Defence Forces because they resist the theft of their land and water resources. As Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian puts it, these children, “have known only a life of checkpoints, identity papers, detentions, house demolitions, intimidation, humiliation and violence”.
The Tamimi family has been particularly targeted and on almost a daily basis by Israeli soldiers because of their prominent role in organising and engaging in unarmed protests against the occupation. Four members of Ahed’s family have been killed by the IDF since 1983, while several others have been severely injured, including her mother who was shot in the leg during protest. Not shortly before Ahed slapped the soldiers, their colleagues had shot her 14-year-old cousin point blank in the face, which left him in a medically-induced coma for 72 hours, and fired tear-gas canisters directly at her house, breaking windows. Looking at all this context, it doesn’t seem hard to understand why Ahed felt threatened and frustrated by the presence of soldiers who were armed from head to toe, in her backyard.
Now let’s consider what happens after Ahed is arrested in the middle of the night on 19th December 2017. Almost all Palestinian children arrested on the occupied territory for crimes against the Israelis are automatically tried in Israel’s military court, which has a conviction rate of 99.7%. Ahed too is set to be tried in this court. This shows that the discrimination against Palestinian children in Israel’s justice system is widespread and institutionalized. In fact, it is often said that Israel’s military court is a ‘kangaroo’ court used as a tool for legitimizing the suppression of voices of Palestinian protesters while giving the world an impression of a fair and just trial.
Ahed has been charged with 12 counts, including assault and upon conviction could face up to 10 years in prison. This seems to be an incredibly harsh sentence in comparison to the crime she committed. The motives of the Israeli government are clearly to project power and set an example that will deter future protests by Palestinians even at the cost of destroying Ahed’s future, who turned 17 in prison on 31st January, and great emotional suffering to her family.
Furthermore, she was recently denied bail due to “the gravity of the offences of which she is accused”. In detention she has been transferred between at least three different prisons in Israel, in clear violations of international law. In fact, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. A study conducted by UNICEF found that, “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 until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.” It is very likely that aggressive interrogation techniques were used on Ahed as well, including but not limited to hand ties, blindfolds, physical violence and denial of food and water. We know for certain that Ahed was not allowed access to a lawyer or family member during interrogation. These atrocious actions are a flagrant violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and have a devastating physical, psychological and emotional impact which lasts way beyond the duration of their detention, on children who are already traumatized by the conflict and arrest. This must not be tolerated.
However, sadly, because this issue is mixed up with the politics of Israel-Palestine conflict, feminists and humanitarians have largely turned a blind eye towards it, forgetting that at the centre of it is a 16 year old girl who has had a traumatic childhood and continues to suffer because she bravely stood up for her rights. It has been pointed out that the reaction received by Ahed is quite different to the one received by other activists like Malala. However, that is not the right direction to draw parallels to. We should measure our progress by our success in securing justice for Ahed and other Palestinian children and women held in prison for political reasons. The first and most important step towards doing that is by talking about this issue. #LetsnotforgetAhed
You can also support her by signing this petition started by Amnesty International:
18th February will be the Global Day of Action for the Free the Tamimis Campaign