Seventeen-year-old Palestinian activist, Ahed Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, were released from prison Sunday, July 29, after serving eight-month sentences in an Israeli prison.
Social media posts showed the tearful pair reunited with their family and supporters.
Tamimi, who hails from the village of Nabi Salih in the occupied West Bank, was arrested in December 2017 after a video went viral of her slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier who trespassed on her family’s land. Her outburst against the soldier was in response to news that, shortly beforehand, Israeli soldiers had shot her 14-year-old cousin in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet. Fortunately, the boy was not killed but was left in critical condition and had to undergo surgery to remove the bullet. Tamimi was later arrested on twelve charges and eventually agreed to a plea bargain for assault, incitement, and two counts of obstructing soldiers. She and her mother also paid more than $3,000 in fines.
“I’m going to invest in my studies, because knowledge is the strongest weapon for a struggler,” Ahed Tamimi.
Upon her release last Sunday, she is said to have first visited some extended family who had lost a son to Israeli soldiers in June during her time in prison and then paid her respects at the grave of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. She and her mother then returned home to their village, where crowds of journalists, activists, and members of their family jubilantly celebrated their return.
When asked about the incident, Tamimi told Al Jazeera. “I did nothing wrong that I should regret . . . . It was a natural reaction to the presence of a soldier in my home. The soldier came to my house, I didn’t go looking for him in order to hit him.” She also commented that during her time in prison, “I learned a lot. I learned how to stay patient, to be in a group. I did my best to use the time to study. I came out more educated, and understand the world better than when I went in . . . . Of course I’m not going to forget the cause, but I’m going to invest in my studies, because knowledge is the strongest weapon for a struggler,” according to recent article by The New York Times.
Tamimi’s encounter with Israeli authorities has sparked local and international controversy. Her supporters view her as an icon of Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. Hundreds of Palestinians from throughout the occupied West Bank turned out in Tamimi’s village in January to demand her release. Palestinians and members of the international community were further outraged following the release of another video in April that showed two Israeli soldiers interrogating and harassing Tamimi. In the video, the two men sat unnecessarily close to her at times, threatened her family, and made inappropriate comments about her body and fair complexion.
Amnesty International reported that the news of Tamimi’s release is bittersweet since it serves as a reminder of “Israel’s continued human rights violations against Palestinian children.” The head of the Jerusalem office, Saleh Higazi, stated, “[H]undreds of Palestinian children continue to face the harsh conditions and abuse of the Israeli penitentiary system that flouts the principles of juvenile justice and standards for the treatment of prisoners.” Human Rights Watch reported that the trial of a minor for a rather menial crime raises human rights concerns.
On the other side, a variety of criticism has been levied against Tamimi. Some claim she and her family staged her actions in front of the camera with the intention of discrediting Israel. Others applaud the soldiers for their restraint in not responding violently to her assault, while still others have complained that the teen made the soldiers appear weak. Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev alleged, “[S]he is not a little girl, she is a terrorist.” He added, “It’s about time they understood that people like her have to be in jail and not be allowed to incite racism and subversion against the state of Israel.” A final critique raises concerns over Tamimi’s comments, “[O]ur strength is in our stones.” Some suggest that Tamimi is condoning violent resistance against the Israeli occupation.
Tamimi’s arrest occurred just days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his controversial decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, explicitly recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and Palestinians also claim the city as their capital. The status of Jerusalem has been one of the major stumbling blocks in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Trump Administration’s efforts unilaterally to recognize the city as Israel’s capital has undoubtedly undermined American mediation efforts.
While the release of Tamimi is undoubtedly a joyous occasion for many throughout the West Bank, it does not negate the ongoing humanitarian injustices occurring in the West Bank and Gaza as Israel expands its settlement activity into Palestinian territory, restricts free movement of persons and goods, and uses disproportionate levels of force against civilian populations.