By Ushaym Tariq
Israelis call her Shirley Temper and Palestinians call her a hero, for fearlessly standing up to those who enforce the Israeli occupation of their land and those who terrorize her village. Her name is Ahed Tamimi.
The young teen, is often seen dressed in jeans and a cartoon-emblazoned T-shirt, her wild locks swept up in a hair band. The 16-year-old girl from the village of Nabi Saleh is being celebrated by Palestinians as a hero and symbol of a new generation after confronting the two soldiers in a melee caught on a video that has been widely watched. In the video, the curly haired Palestinian teenager, who symbolizes defiance and resistance, is seen walking up to two soldiers standing near the entrance of her house, and she can be heard telling them to leave. She pushes and kicks both soldiers who casually fend off the blows. Then, she slaps one soldier hard in the face.
Ahed Tamimi, born 30 March 2001, is a Palestinian activist from the village of Nabi Salih in the occupied West Bank. Nabi Saleh could have been an inconsequential village with a population of about 600 in the middle of Ramallah’s rolling hills if not for a small fresh water spring called Ein al-Qaws and a determined community unwilling to back down. Ahed Tamimi was born to Bassem and Nariman Tamimi. The Tamimis are a well-known activist family, have been involved in protests and political agitation articulating their opposition to the expansion of Jewish settlements and detention of Palestinians. Ahed shares similar convictions to her family and commentators have been divided in their assessment of her. To her supporters, Ahed is a “hero” for opposing those who enforce Israeli occupation; detractors refer to her actions as a “performance” aimed at discrediting Israel. Much of Ahed’s recognition derives from images and viral videos. She began protesting when she was just nine years old.
In August 2012, when she was 11, Ahed was photographed attempting to stop the arrest of her mother, an act which President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, commended for her courage. Two additional confrontations occurred in November and December; in the latter incident, 13-year-old Ahed was awarded the Hanzala Award for Courage in Turkey by the Başakşehir municipality for berating Israeli soldiers who arrested her brother. She rose to international prominence after a video and series of photos were published of the young activist, along and her mother and aunt, desperately attempting to save her injured brother Mohammad, then 11 years old, from being arrested by Israeli forces in 2015.
A quick Google search of the Ahed’s name brings up pages of images of her growing up over the years; a red-faced girl with wild blonde curls fearlessly screaming and expressing herself directly in front of Israeli soldiers. One set of viral photos even shows her, just 13 years old at the time, biting the hand of a soldier who had tackled her little brother, as the then-11-year-old screamed atop his broken arm, his head smashed between the soldier’s knee and a large rock. Ahed is a member of second generation of Palestinian 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.
Ahed’s protests are a metaphor for Nabi Saleh and raise the larger question: Why do the people of this particular village protest ?
The reason is the village’s sole water source. In 2008, the neighboring illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish began to take over the spring. Soon a road was built, with the spring on the side of the settlement, and Nabi Saleh on the other. Villagers were denied access to the spring that provided for their community for as long as anyone could remember. By 2009 villagers, particularly the Tamimi clan, decided to organize a protest. Since then, protests have been held in the village every Friday without fail. Nothing stops the people of Nabi Saleh from taking to the side of the hill facing the spring and reclaiming their land. In response, every Friday, Israeli soldiers are deployed to suppress the protests, leading to clashes.
Ahed was 8 years old when it all started .Since then, she has actively taken part in protesst and confronting Israeli soldiers. While the Tamimi clan has garnered various criticisms for allowing the children of Nabi Saleh, from the bold Ahed to the vocal child journalist, Janna Jihad, the Tamimis have explained countless times during radio, print and television interviews why they allow their children to participate. First, they say violence is simply a reality for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and second, they believe keeping their children indoors during the protests fosters fear inside them. The Tamimis say they choose to cultivate strength, not fear within their children even if that means teenagers get pulled out of bed and taken away to unknown locations in the middle of the night by fully armed soldiers.
On social media, Palestinians celebrate Ahed as a hero in widely distributed cartoons. In one of these, she is shown in a Joan of Arc-like pose, raising a Palestinian flag, framed by her easily recognizable mane of blonde curls. In an interview she promised: “I will continue my actions until Palestine is liberated. The video and the charges have polarized opinion. To many pro-Palestinian activists, Ahed is a symbol of resistance, a child hero, a freedom fighter. Comparisons have been drawn to Malala Yousafzai and Joan of Arc. She has been lionized on social media, and been publicly praised by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. On the Israeli side, some have said she is a puppet of political parents who has been, schooled in violence, and that she deserves stiff punishment. Ahed wanted to become a lawyer when she grew up so she could fight for Palestinian rights. At 16, she could be facing a long prison sentence. Her story is not just about one child, but about many generations, without hope and security. Tragically and unforgivably, the same bleak prospects could for the future generations in Palestine.
Ahed’s courage should have made here a darling of the international media and feminist groups. But, both are conspicuously absent.
The sad irony, which appears to reflect the hypocrisy of the Western media which made Malala Yusuf Zai into a celebrity, is that instead of Nobel prizes and invitations to meet Presidents, Ahed Tamimi remains in Israeli detention, having been labeled dangerous by Israeli occupiers. Ahed, has a substantial history of standing up against injustices. She has been protesting the theft of land and water by Israeli settlers. She has endured personal sacrifice, having lost an uncle and a cousin to the occupation. Her parents and brother have been arrested time and again. Her mother has been shot in the leg.
Ahed Tamimi displays the qualities of Afeni Shakur, Rosa Parks other women who rose against injustice The world media is ignoring or deliberately not reporting #AhedTamimi’s call for freedom from Occupation by Israelis. Relatedly, girls like Ahed, who critique settler colonialism and articulate visions of communal care are not the empowered femininity that the West wants to valorize. She seeks justice against oppression, rather than empowerment that benefits only herself. Her courage and fearlessness vividly render all that is wrong with this Occupation.
—The author is a student from Kashmir and studies In Delhi and can be reached at: [email protected]