Ahed as hero

Pales­tini­ans warn Tamimi trial would just boost her sta­tus

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Ahed Tamimi, the 16-yearold Pales­tinian girl ar­rested af­ter she was seen slap­ping Is­raeli sol­diers, prom­ises to have her newly minted sta­tus as a Pales­tinian hero and sym­bol en­hanced fur­ther if she is tried and a tough pri­son sen­tence is meted out against her, Pales­tinian ob­servers say.

Tamimi was in­dicted Mon­day for throw­ing rocks, threat­en­ing sol­diers and in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence.

“Is­rael has helped build her into heroic sta­tus,” said Ghas­san Khatib, a vice pres­i­dent of Bir Zeit Uni­ver­sity. “Any per­son the oc­cu­pa­tion takes mea­sures against will be per­ceived as a hero among the peo­ple.”

Tamimi was ar­rested dur­ing a raid on her home in the West Bank vil­lage of Nebi Salah on De­cem­ber 19, af­ter a video show­ing her slap­ping and kick­ing sol­diers who did not re­spond went vi­ral. An­other young Pales­tinian woman filmed the ac­tion with her cell­phone, sug­gest­ing that Tamimi was ac­tively seek­ing to pro­voke a vi­o­lent re­ac­tion by the sol­diers. The day af­ter Tamimi’s ar­rest, her mother, Na­ri­man, was also ar­rested.

While right-wing Is­raeli politi­cians have clam­ored for pro­tracted im­pris­on­ment for the girl, what Arabs per­ceive as her brav­ery and her be­ing tar­geted for pun­ish­ment, have si­mul­ta­ne­ously el­e­vated her into the new­est hero to emerge in the West Bank and the Arab world as a whole. Among the thou­sands of pic­tures of Tamimi cir­cu­lat­ing in Arab so­cial and con­ven­tional me­dia, is one in which she is de­picted as be­ing five times as big as an Is­raeli sol­dier as she flexes a bi­cep wrapped in a Pales­tinian flag.

An­other im­age shows her bran­dish­ing a sword as she is mounted on a horse, her blonde hair flow­ing. The horse is draped in a Pales­tinian flag. Jor­dan’s Zain telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany has cre­ated a song in her honor. She has also gained fame beyond the re­gion. A de­pic­tion of her fac­ing a sol­dier adorns bus stops in Lon­don, placed there by Lon­don Pales­tine Ac­tion, with the mes­sages “Free Ahed Tamimi” and “Free­dom for Pales­tinian Pris­on­ers.”

“She is young; she is a girl,” said Ji­had Harb, a political an­a­lyst based in Ra­mal­lah. “In her ap­pear­ance she has West­ern traits, mak­ing it easy for the world to re­late to her. Her fam­ily has a his­tory of strug­gling against the oc­cu­pa­tion. All this gives her power.”

He said for Pales­tini­ans, Tamimi is a sym­bol of how chil­dren can con­front the oc­cu­pa­tion with “peace­ful re­sis­tance,” by which he means with­out arms. Her pop­u­lar­ity can be one fac­tor to help spread the idea of un­armed re­sis­tance, Harb said. At the same time, “She’s be­come an im­por­tant sym­bol for con­vey­ing the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans in­ter­na­tion­ally”

Khatib said Tamimi has be­come “a sym­bol that stands for the new gen­er­a­tion, for the peace­ful re­sis­tance and for the con­ti­nu­ity of re­jec­tion of the oc­cu­pa­tion.”

Is­raeli crit­ics have termed her “Shirley Tem­per,” be­cause of her blond hair and cam­era-con­scious con­fronta­tions. But Khatib said in Pales­tinian eyes, it is not the color of her hair that mat­ters, but rather that it is un­cov­ered and that she looks sec­u­lar. “Most fe­male re­sis­tance fig­ures come with Is­lamic dress, con­firm­ing the stereo­type of an Is­lamic di­men­sion to re­sis­tance,” he said. “She breaks the stereo­type and gives the im­pres­sion that Pales­tini­ans of all types are against this oc­cu­pa­tion and ac­tive against it.”

The way she was ar­rested in the mid­dle of the night – as if she was dan­ger­ous and had jeop­ar­dized the sol­diers, when in the Pales­tinian view there was no rea­son for tak­ing her from her home – has also gen­er­ated wide sym­pa­thy. The fact that her cousin Muham­mad was shot in the head with a rub­ber-coated metal bul­let dur­ing a clash days be­fore she chal­lenged the sol­diers, has also con­trib­uted to the sense of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with her ac­tions.

Whether Tamimi be­comes an en­dur­ing hero is too early to say, Khatib said. “It de­pends how she han­dles her new sta­tus, how Is­rael treats her and whether her fam­ily and friends will re­main ac­tive in sus­tain­ing her role. Years in pri­son will in­crease the sym­pa­thy for her be­cause it will be too un­fair. Ar­rest­ing her is un­fair. Is­raelis do what she did in demon­stra­tions and this is an over­re­ac­tion and in­volves racism,” he said.

Ashraf Ajrami, for­mer Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity min­is­ter for pris­oner af­fairs, said: “Be­cause of the many Is­raeli ac­cu­sa­tions against this lit­tle girl, and that Is­raelis wanted re­venge against her, Pales­tinian peo­ple saw her as a hero and she be­came a sym­bol of non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance. To give her a sen­tence in Is­raeli jail will give her more and more cred­i­bil­ity and will help her be more of a sym­bol and hero in the Pales­tinian pub­lic’s eyes.”

But Shaul Shay, for­mer deputy head of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and cur­rently di­rec­tor of re­search at the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy and Strat­egy at the In­ter­dis­ci­plinary Cen­ter in Her­zliya, said Tamimi’s case has been han­dled ap­pro­pri­ately and that even if she be­comes more of a hero in Pales­tinian eyes, Is­rael should not shy away from a jail sen­tence if that is found to be ap­pro­pri­ate. “It could boost her sta­tus but you can’t le­git­imize her be­hav­ior. If nec­es­sary, we will have to pay that price and I hope it will de­ter oth­ers from re­peat­ing such be­hav­ior. Go­ing on with busi­ness as usual is in­tol­er­a­ble.”


PALES­TINIAN TEEN Ahed Tamimi en­ters a mil­i­tary court­room at Ofer Pri­son near Ra­mal­lah last Thurs­day.

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