The case of Ahed Tamimi encapsulates the tragedy of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ahed is a 16 year-old Palestinian girl from Nabi Saleh in the West Bank who slapped an Israeli soldier during a protest in her village last week. She is now being held in administrative detention without charges by the Israeli army.
A video of Tamimi has circulated widely online and shows the young girl slapping a fully-armed soldier who does not respond physically, allowing the incident to de-escalate in the moment.
Critics on the political right charge that Tamimi is a provocateur, with a long history of hitting and kicking Israeli soldiers, hoping to provoke them. She had already been nicknamed “Shirley Temper” by right-wing bloggers, who regularly deride videos taken of her as ‘Pallywood’ fake news.
Supporters of Palestinian resistance, by contrast, look to her as a hero, and this latest incident has only further elevated Tamimi, an already well-known figure in the West Bank, to iconic status.
In Israel, the reaction of the soldiers has provoked some fierce debate. Loud voices on the right have expressed anger at the soldier’s supposed “failure to respond,” while more moderate ones have highlighted with pride how the soldiers’ restraint prevented the situation from deteriorating further.
Internationally, of course, there is outrage at Israel as some of the country’s leaders have called for lifetime imprisonment of a 16 year-old girl for simply slapping a soldier.
Those of us at J Street trying to make sense of this are filled with conflicting emotions.
“There is no compelling security or military justification for the way in which families, including the Tamimis, have been treated over the decades.”
On the one hand, we truly honor and respect the individual men and women – teenagers and young adults really – who day-in and day-out serve their country dutifully in the Israel Defense Forces.
We can relate to the love and respect that every Israeli family has for their teenage children who are sent to carry out difficult and dangerous assignments put on their young shoulders by the nation’s leaders – whether they agree with them or not.
On the other, we feel compelled to criticize and fight the very policies that these brave young men and women are enforcing – often at great personal risk – every single day.
The lands and resources of the people of the village of Nabi Saleh have systematically and with the support of the government been taken from them over the past several decades and put to use by an Israeli settlement that has been – under international law – illegally established on land that Israel occupied militarily in 1967.
There is no compelling security or military justification for the way in which families, including the Tamimis, have been treated over the decades, and it should come as no surprise when young men and women like Ahed choose to resist. It doesn’t take a textbook to bring about resistance in young people; it results quite naturally – without need of instruction – from the human impulse to resist injustice against one’s community and family.
While the specifics of the Tamimi case are being hotly debated, we hope that our friends and family in Israel – as well as those who love the country here in the US – will realize that trying to make sense of this horrible situation requires moving beyond a debate over the appropriate punishment for a young girl who physically strikes a soldier.
We are obliged to take a long, hard look at the underlying policies that could lead a 16 year-old girl to slap fully-armed soldiers in the first place, and to risk years in jail.
The situation on the West Bank is unstable, unjust and unsustainable.
The right way to address it isn’t to arrest a 16 year-old girl, it’s to end a 50-year occupation.
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