A pre-dawn arrest of well known Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, 16, helped cement her standing as an iconic illustration of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Immediately after her arrest, a Twitter hashtag called #FreeAhedTamimi was created and Facebook memes were circulated, calling for her release in both English and Arabic.
The arrest also sparked an intense debate over whether she was a provocateur, manipulating social media to show Israel in a bad light on the international stage, or whether she was a victim of the conflict and a righteous activist, intent on pushing the IDF out of her village of Nabi Saleh and the West Bank in general.
In a video that was filmed on Friday and went viral, Tamimi is shown slapping two IDF soldiers that stood near her home.
The soldiers were immediately chastised by some for their lack of response, and hailed by others for upholding the army’s moral values by taking the high road.
Early Tuesday morning, the IDF responded by raiding the home and arresting her.
Tamimi’s mother, Nariman, was detained later in the day when she tried to visit her daughter in jail. According to the police, they are both under investigation on suspicion of “attacking the IDF soldiers and incitement” and will be held until Thursday.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “No one involved – not only the girl but also her parents and those around them – will escape from what they deserve.
Palestinian girl confronts a soldier
“The IDF is the most humane army and operates undervalues that do not exist anywhere else. But its humanity can’t come at the expense of its deference and power,” Liberman said.
“Whoever goes wild during the day, will be arrested at night. This is also an important message,” he said.
The pro-Israel group StandWithUS, as well as centrist and left-wing politicians, lauded the soldiers for keeping their cool.
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) tweeted, “the first thing on my agenda is to say ‘thank you’ to the soldiers who stood with honor against the Palestinian girls who tried to attack and humiliate them.”
The army said Tamimi had participated in a “violent riot” in which 200 Palestinians threw stones at soldiers.
According to the IDF, some of the stones were thrown from Tamimi’s home with the family’s consent, and soldiers removed “all the rioters from the house,” guarding it to prevent anyone else from entering.
The police added, “This was a severe incident” in which “Palestinian women attacked an IDF officer and attempted to use social media as a platform to provoke the officers to respond.”
But Tamimi’s family and friends explained on social media that the incident occurred after her cousin Muhammad, 15, had been shot in the face by an IDF rubber bullet and soldiers had raided their home. The soldiers in question were standing near the house.
But this was hardly the first time that Tamimi was caught on video.
Nicknamed “Shirley Temper” because of her blond curls and popular YouTube videos that show her slapping or yelling at IDF soldiers, she is somewhat of a star in the Arab world.
Right-wing Israelis have charged that these videos, which they call Pallywood, are carefully orchestrated cinematography.
Palestinians and the international community see them as spontaneous expressions of protest against a military occupation.
Tamimi spoke at an event in the European Union parliament building, toured South Africa to share her story, and five years ago received an award in Turkey from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Her immediate family has been prominent in Nabi Saleh’s almost-weekly demonstrations against the IDF.
Two years ago, her family made headlines, when an IDF soldier tried to arrest her younger brother, also named Muhammad, on suspicion of stone throwing. The soldier placed the boy, whose arm was in a sling, in a choke hold, while Tamimi and her mother managed to pull him away.
The location of their home on the village’s edge ensures that the tear gas and stone throwing from clashes occur just outside the family’s front door.
On Tuesday morning her father, Bassem, posted a brief video of the soldier who entered his home to arrest his daughter and wrote about it on his Facebook page, saying that the soldier had beaten his family and taken their phones, cameras and laptops.
Former Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer tweeted, “The IDF should be very proud of itself for acting as heroes against a young girl.
Israeli deference has returned.
What about all the hilltop youth who have attacked police.
They can sleep quietly at night because no one will drag them from their bed.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett went so far as to tell Army Radio that she should be jailed for life.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) tweeted, “The Tamimi family – which may not be a real family – dresses up kids in American clothes and pays them to provoke IDF troops on camera. This cynical and cruel use of children constitutes abuse.
Human rights organizations must investigate!” The Meretz Party posted on Facebook that the IDF had bowed to public opinion by arresting Tamimi.
The soldiers took a beating in the court of Israeli opinion for not acting against the girls who slapped them, but had they taken action they would have been scorned internationally, Meretz said.
“This is the nature of the occupation – it has no solution, just bad options,” the party said.