Lebanese and Palestinians gather for a protest calling for the release of Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi.
(photo credit: ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old 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.
Palestinian teens filmed slapping IDF soldiers (Credit: Facebook/The Israel Project)
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.”