What I learned in Ahed Tamimi’s Living Room

Rabbi Hannah Goldstein Image
Rabbi Hannah Goldstein
on January 11, 2018

I was taken aback when I saw the images of Ahed Tamimi circulating following her arrest in December. I recognized the dramatic curls, and the town Nabi Saleh. This summer, a group of rabbis and I sat in the Tamimi family’s living room, with Ahed, her father Bassem and a number of their cousins and other relatives.

T’ruah and Breaking the Silence organized the visit on a stiflingly hot day. Although I had visited Israel many times, I had never been in a Palestinian’s home and heard their family’s story. I followed the news, I read about life under occupation; I had just finished reading Kingdom of Olives and Ash. But sitting there was more complicated and challenging than I expected.

Bassem explained that, after the second Intifada, he realized the Palestinian approach to resistance was wrong. Instead of pursuing terror attacks and violent resistance, Palestinian activists needed to build solidarity and engage in public, non-violent opposition to the occupation.  Bassem enlisted his family, his neighbors – young and old, men and women. They protest every Friday.

I am a rabbi, not a Middle East expert. I cannot pretend to know the best path toward peace and reconciliation. But I do know that the occupation drafts teenagers on both sides into a war that they should not be waging – with little hope for an end in sight.

To be clear, they do not practice total non-violence. Protesters in Nabi Saleh throw stones at Israeli soldiers, and as the video of Ahed Tamimi demonstrated, they sometimes commit acts of physical violence – slapping or pushing. Still, as a means to resist and call attention to the ongoing occupation, the contrast with the indiscriminate murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada is stark.

I admit, I questioned the thinking of this man who seemed willing to put his children in danger. Yet, it is hard for me to imagine a parent’s calculus when they and their children face so few options. Under occupation, their opportunities are limited and the prospects for self-determination and full civil rights feel very far away.  In these circumstances, one can understand why one might feel that even putting children (or allowing them to put themselves) in harm’s way for the sake of greater change seems worth the risk. As I sat listening to their story, I thought of the children in Kelly Ingram Park, victims of dogs and fire hoses who were part of America’s awakening to the injustice of the Jim Crow South.

The Tamimis showed us videos as another family member, 11-year-old Janna, stood beside the TV, translating and narrating the scenes. The images of the confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers were searing, violent and hard to watch. They were not the types of videos you would want an 11-year-old to watch, much less narrate, or worse, experience firsthand.

It was challenging to sit in the living room of a person who had been involved in violent uprisings before embracing a new strategy of resistance. A person who makes videos that promote a kind of anti-Zionism that can so easily cross over into anti-Semitism and make the world a more dangerous place for Jews. It was difficult to imagine encouraging one’s children to throw stones at soldiers. And it was disturbing to watch the Israeli military respond with tear gas and violent arrests.

Likely, all of them were teenagers…. Teenagers who are playing roles foisted upon them by circumstance, by an absence of leadership, and by an unwillingness to end the occupation.

I recently read The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping, the most recent – and final – book by Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld. It begins with a boy, alone in a displaced persons’ camp in Italy in the aftermath of the Holocaust. There he is recruited to begin “training.” As the Jewish recruits prepare for life in Palestine, they learn Hebrew, and they run drills to sharpen their bodies and their minds. He arrives in Palestine just in time to be injured in combat at age 16. Of course, it is fiction. Still, I was struck by the similarities between the stories: a 16 year old boy, put in harm’s way and trained to struggle for the dream of a homeland. I thought immediately of Ahed and the Tamimis.

After I saw the photo of Ahed in the newspaper, I watched the video that started the controversy. I was struck by the proximity of the two Israeli soldiers and Ahed Tamimi. Likely, all of them were teenagers who, by an accident of history, found themselves together, in Nabi Saleh. Teenagers who are playing roles foisted upon them by circumstance, by an absence of leadership, and by an unwillingness to end the occupation.

I am a rabbi, not a Middle East expert. I cannot pretend to know the best path toward peace and reconciliation. But I do know that the occupation drafts teenagers on both sides into a war that they should not be waging – with little hope for an end in sight.

We must think creatively and remember that this is about real people’s lives. We have to do our parts to extricate Israeli and Palestinian young people and their families from this tragic conflict. Doing so requires speaking out against injustice and advocating for an end to the violence –and an end to the occupation.


Rabbi Hannah Goldstein is Associate Rabbi at Temple Sinai of Washington, DC.

Recent Blogs

Become a Member

Members Only!

(Membership is free!)

I'm already a member, let me in! No, I don't want to become a member

By clicking you will be taken away from the site.

JStreetPAC, http://jstreetpac.org.

Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.