All occupations produce political prisoners, some of whom become resistance icons. Seventeen-year-old prisoner Ahed Tamimi has captured Western attention like few other Palestinian prisoners before her, even though it is common for children to be detained by Israel. In fact, Israel illegally holds 330 children in detention, according to Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. The Israeli military occupation has detained a total of 10,000 Palestinian children since 2000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees.
In the U.S., the campaign to #FreeAhed represents the budding pro-Palestinian solidarity movement among a growing number of domestic grassroots organizations that see the fight for civil liberties and human dignity as inseparable from the fight for Palestinian rights.
Since childhood, Ahed has taken part in demonstrations to preserve her family land against encroaching illegal Israeli settlements. On December 15, 2017, Ahed joined one such demonstration, which was attacked by Israeli occupation forces firing rubber-coated steel bullets. After Israeli soldiers invaded the Tamimi home, Ahed confronted one of the soldiers. The incident was captured on video: Ahed slapped a soldier to force them off her family’s property. The soldier remained passive; a rare case of restraint in an army where excessively injurious, and often lethal, abuse is standard practice. The feeble pushback by an adolescent against an armed soldier who has occupied her country and commandeered her home illustrate the moral bankruptcy of the occupation; but most Israelis saw it differently, perhaps unsurprisingly: Ahed had terrorized an Israeli soldier, humiliated and emasculated him on camera, and had the gall to walk away without being slapped back.
Bowing to public pressure to make an example out of a Palestinian adolescent, the Israeli occupation forces arrested Ahed in her bedroom on the night of December 19, 2017. Palestinian are tried in Israeli military courts, where they can be held indefinitely without charge, and Ahed was jailed for 13 days before being summoned to a court with a conviction rate of 99.7% to be indicted for assault, incitement, and throwing stones. The persecution of Ahed and her family stands in marked contrast to the leniency shown to Israeli settlers, whose attacks against soldiers, Palestinians, and Israeli human rights activists are met with yawns from the occupation authorities.
Her trial began on February 13, 2018 with preliminary hearings where Ahed was not allowed to speak and the Court delivered its indictment based on 12 charges that are “solely created in order to deter Ahed and other Palestinian youth to [sic] resist the occupation the way she has done,” her lawyer said in a statement after the hearing. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for her release.
Ahed’s next hearing will be held in March 2018. In the meantime, a host of organizations and leading figures have joined a global day of action on February 18 to demand Ahed’s release using the hashtag #FreeAhed.
Ahed Tamimi has become a powerful symbol of Palestinian resistance.
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) February 12, 2018
— Francesco Giusti (@Fcocountertenor) February 12, 2018
Adalah-NY, a solidarity campaign group, highlighted Ahed’s detention to illustrate the larger imprisonment of Palestinian children:
— Adalah-NY (@AdalahNY) February 12, 2018
In London and Oakland, posters supporting Ahed have popped up:
— Injy Abou El So'oud (@Injy) February 5, 2018
Feminist anti-war group Code Pink has long championed the Palestinian cause, and Ahed’s case is no exception:
— CODEPINK (@codepink) February 12, 2018
Jewish Voice for Peace members sought to raise Ahed’s spirits as she celebrated her seventeenth birthday behind bars.
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) February 4, 2018
An Irish member of the European Parliament shared art work by Jim Fitzpatrick, who designed the renowned Che Guevara poster, celebrating Ahed as the “a real Wonder Woman,” which may also have been a jab at the pro-IDF Israeli actress who stared in last year’s film.
— Lynn Boylan MEP (@LNBDublin) February 12, 2018
One of the most notable acts of solidarity is a statement by Dream Defenders, a social and economic justice organization, “with Ahed Tamimi and the Palestinian Freedom Struggle.”
The Dream Defenders letter builds on a long history of Black-Palestinian solidarity and struggle to end occupation, apartheid, police brutality, and mass incarceration
[https://t.co/zYiDyOjb48] https://t.co/UEfMYC56Rr pic.twitter.com/Uu12jvm5w2
— The Dream Defenders (@Dreamdefenders) February 12, 2018
Last year, the statement notes, a Dream Defenders delegation visited occupied Palestine where the delegation “learned that every year hundreds of Palestinian kids across the West Bank are arrested and detained by Israeli soldiers and police who kick, punch, and beat them. Torture is routinely used to get signed confessions from children, mainly on charges of stone throwing.” Dream Defenders captured the intersectionality that united the Palestinian cause with the anti-racism cause in the U.S.:
While our struggles may be unique, the parallels cannot be ignored. US police, ICE, border patrol and FBI train with Israeli soldiers, police, and border agents, utilizing similar repressive profiling tactics to target and harass our communities. Too many of our children quickly learn that they may be imprisoned or killed simply for who they are. From Trayvon Martin to Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Khalif Browder to Ahed Tamimi – racism, state violence and mass incarceration have robbed our people of their childhoods and their futures.
The statement was signed by several prominent activists and artists, including Jesse Williams, Rosario Dawson, Angela Davis, and Marc Lemont Hill.
Despite Israel’s best efforts to enforce a media blackout (the military judge banned the press from the February 13th hearing), Ahed’s case may be the most visible example of Israel’s persecution of Palestinians in its grossly unjust military courts, and a prisoner who is a minor no less. The hollow talk about “the only democracy in the Middle East” is increasingly incredible to observers witnessing Israel throwing the book at a teenager for a minor slap. Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman declared that Ahed and her family “will not escape from what they deserve;” Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared that Ahed should be jailed for life; and Deputy Minister for Diplomacy and former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren tweeted that the Tamimis “may not be a real family” who were dressing “up kids in American clothes” to evoke global sympathy. “She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist,” Culture Minister Miri Regev told the press. Ahed’s ordeal lays bare the brutality inherent in military occupation and the oppressive nature of the Israeli state.
The campaign that has rallied to free Ahed’s is unlikely to achieve its objective anytime soon, but such efforts propel the growth of powerful movements. Each struggle raises awareness, recruits more people to the cause, and affords opportunities for coalition building. From the American civil rights movement, to the gay rights struggle, to the anti-Apartheid campaign in South Africa, every successful movement for equality was paved with minor struggles the sum of which ended up being larger than the individual campaigns. The campaign to #FreeAhed may prove to be one of those struggles.