Almost two months after she was released from Israeli prison for assaulting an IDF soldier, Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi is rapidly losing her status as an “icon” and “symbol” of the Palestinian “resistance” against Israel.
Some Palestinians and Arabs now view the blond, photogenic 17-year-old from the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah as a controversial figure because of her statements and the widespread media coverage she has been receiving since her release from prison on July 29.
Others have even gone as far as accusing Tamimi of being an Israeli “agent” and meddling in the internal affairs of the Arab world.
This week, for example, Tamimi found herself at the center of controversy surrounding the ongoing Western Sahara conflict between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco.
During a visit to France last weekend, Tamimi appeared in a photo with Salah Eddin Amaidan, a member of Polisario, the rebel national liberation movement fighting since 1975 to end Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara.
The photo enraged many Moroccans, who are now saying they regret having backed the campaign to support Tamimi after she was arrested and brought to trial for slapping an IDF soldier in her village last year.
The photo was taken during Tamimi’s visit to France, where she was guest of honor at the left-wing “Fête de l’Humanité” festival, which took place in Paris last weekend.
The fact that Israel allowed her to travel to France
has also triggered a wave of speculation among Palestinians and Arabs. Some claimed that she travelled to France through Ben Gurion Airport - a privilege denied to most Palestinians.
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“This is very suspicious,” said a Fatah activist from east Jerusalem in reference to her visit to France. “Since when does Israel allow former security prisoners to travel abroad so easily and quickly?”
Many Moroccans took to social media to condemn Tamimi for her photo with the Polisario activist.
“Palestinian deception of the Moroccan people began during the era of Yasser Arafat,” commented Abdelilah Touil on Facebook. “This, despite the huge sacrifices the Moroccans have made for the Palestinians.”
Other Moroccans denounced Tamimi as an “Israeli agent.”
Yahya Her commented: “She’s an Israeli agent. The Israelis know how to promote her through the media.”
Another Facebook user, Marouane El-Filali, described the Palestinian teenager as an “invention of the Zionist intelligence and media.”
However, several Palestinians and Moroccans chose to defend Tamimi, saying she had acted innocently and did not know the identity of the man she was photographed with.
Tamimi’s father Bassem said in a statement that his daughter did not have any intention to offend the Moroccan people. “We are not with or against the Sahara case,” he told the Moroccan Kifache website. “We can’t appease everyone. My daughter was at an international conference, and she was meeting with many people and taking pictures with them. She did not ask them about their identities or positions.”
During her stay in Paris, Tamimi granted an interview to France 24 in which she described herself as an “activist who speaks in the name of a country.” She claimed that Israel had initially banned her from traveling abroad, but this time, thanks to “support from France,” she was able to fly to Paris.
The controversy surrounding her photo with the Polisario member was not the first of its kind in recent weeks.
Last month, Tamimi drew sharp criticism from several Arabs after she heaped praise on Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah.
Her praise of Nasrallah came after he described her as a “brave and courageous girl.” He added: “This is a girl who confronts and slaps Israeli soldiers.”
In response, Tamimi said in a televised message: “To the honorable sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, I say: ‘Thank you very much and happy holiday.’ His words boosted our morale, not only my morale, because I represent a people. I’m not just representing myself, but the people and the cause.”
As with the case of the Western Sahara, Tamimi’s remarks in support of the Hezbollah chief sparked a wave of denunciations in the Arab world, especially among Syrian opposition groups and figures, as well as Gulf activists and commentators who are strongly opposed to the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist Shi’ite organization.
Commenting on the Palestinian teenager’s words of support for Nasrallah, Syrian poet and writer Maher Sharaf Eddin said: “It’s true that you slapped an Israeli soldier, but now you have dealt 1,000 blows to the Palestinian cause.”
Other Syrian opposition figures said they wished Israel had kept Tamimi in prison longer so that she would get a sense of the suffering of the Syrians under President Bashar Assad.
Responding to the controversy surrounding her praise of Nasrallah, Tamimi told France 24: “To me, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I have no regrets. Hassan Nasrallah supports the Palestinian cause. He stands against the US and Israel, and I agree with him on this particular point. I would like to thank him for supporting the Palestinian cause.”
Many Palestinians have also expressed outrage over Tamimi’s support for Nasrallah. A PA official in Ramallah said she “obviously made a big mistake by voicing public support for Hezbollah, which has been attacking us for many years and accusing us of being traitors.”
Other Palestinians are also unhappy with the huge media attention that Tamimi has been receiving since her arrest and subsequent release from prison. Some pointed out that in recent months, other Palestinian female prisoners released by Israel were completely ignored by the media.
“Many Palestinians are asking how come Ahed Tamimi is receiving all this attention from the international media,” said a Palestinian journalist in Ramallah. “There’s a feeling that someone is trying to turn this girl into a big hero and an icon. There are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prison and no one seems to care. The large-scale attention she’s receiving raises many doubts. The Western media seems to be more interested in her than the Palestinian and Arab media. The Western media is trying to create a Palestinian hero.”
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