Tamimi’s imprisonment a slap in the face for Israel

  • Paula
Seventeen-year-old Ahed Tamimi has become the poster child of the anti-occupation movement. She has been compared, among others, to Anne Frank, one of the most well-known victims of the Holocaust and Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian Jewish paratrooper captured and killed by the Nazis.
by PAULA SLIER | Aug 02, 2018

Tamimi describes herself as a freedom fighter. Since childhood, she has been involved in ongoing protests against the Israeli occupation in her village of Nabi Salih in the West Bank.

She made international headlines this week when she was released after spending more than half a year in prison, cementing her transformation from teenage activist into international icon.

Following her discharge, she met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and will reportedly be invited to South Africa by Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, to receive a special award for her “bravery, resistance and being a symbol of hope for millions”.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan phoned to commend her “bravery and determination to fight” and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, among others, tweeted his support.

But it is the Israeli government and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) who ironically and unintentionally played a role in her shooting to stardom.

It stems back to December last year, when a demonstration in her village turned violent. In an effort to subdue the roughly 200 protestors who were throwing stones at them, Israeli soldiers entered Tamimi’s house.

The army claims some of the stone-throwers were inside. But in the ensuing violence, the soldiers shot Tamimi’s 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed, in the head at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet, badly wounding him.

Afterwards, Tamimi, her mother and cousin, approached two soldiers outside the house and started slapping, kicking, and shoving them. The soldiers did not retaliate. The incident was filmed by someone standing farther away, posted online, and soon went viral on various social media networks.

And herein lies Israel’s quandary. Had the soldiers retaliated – by hitting her or arresting her on the spot – the backlash and criticism against the army would have been much worse. In a preliminary enquiry into the incident, the IDF found that the “commander acted professionally by not being dragged into [the use of] violence”.

But by not responding, the IDF’s pride was hurt and more importantly many Israelis were disturbed by the video of their soldiers being provoked with no punishment being meted out.

It sparked a furious debate inside the country in which leftwing voices argued that the soldiers should be commended for showing restraint.

But a former Knesset (Parliament) member remarked that he missed Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who served nine months in prison for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron almost two-and-a-half years ago. Naftali Bennett, Education Minister and leader of The Jewish Home party added his voice, saying he hoped the girls would “end their lives in jail”.

Presumably this is why thirteen days later, the army arrested Tamimi, her mother and cousin, and charged them with assault, incitement, and throwing stones.

When pressed as to why it didn’t carry out the arrests at the time of the incident, the IDF said it could have “because they [Tamimi, her cousin, and mother] used physical violence, and because of the fact that they tried to interfere with soldiers carrying out their duties”.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that, “those who harm our soldiers by day are arrested by night”. No doubt, his intention was to deter other young Palestinians who might consider following in Tamimi’s footsteps.

However, what he didn’t count on was that by trying to make an example of her, he unwittingly helped to turn Tamimi into a symbol of resistance.

The IDF didn’t help either. It distributed footage of her arrest to all media, who obligingly broadcast it. But what foreign audiences saw on their television screens and computer monitors was very different to what Israelis saw. Whereas Israelis saw their soldiers being provoked, foreigners saw a young woman who’d grown up under Israeli occupation fighting against oppressive soldiers.

It is this that Israel sometimes forgets. The international media landscape – as a rule of thumb – is more sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, and Tamimi’s blond hair and light features resonate with many foreign audiences.

A picture will always be worth a thousand words, and a teenager who doesn’t wear a hijab or burqa and looks typically European will always evoke more empathy than a heavily armed Israeli soldier.

Regardless of how erudite pro-Israeli spokespeople are, and regardless of the accusations that Tamimi’s family has links with terrorism and stages protests, she is the most photographed Palestinian woman of the past five years.

Tamimi’s arrest and imprisonment ultimately did more damage to Israel’s international image than the initial video of her slapping a soldier ever could.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Ishai 03 Aug
    Dear Paula,

    Whilst you raise a few true points regarding the PR failure of the IDF/Israel, ultimately I disagree with you.
    Whilst things could have been handled differently, ultimately Israel will always be blamed, regardless of how well the PR aspect of this incident is handled. We know the reason - and it hasn't really changed throughout history.
    With this in mind, it is essentially irrelevant how much Israel's PR is improved, and that is - in my opinion - why Israel sometimes seems indifferent/not fully committed to polishing their international image. They know, that whatever they say or do will be twisted and turned against them, just like the good that they do almost always gets overlooked and ignored.


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