The teenager’s struggle is a reminder of the 300 children illegally held in Israeli prisons
Ahed Tamimi represents the voiceless young in jail
Captured in a dawn raid, put through a humiliating interrogation, denied an open trial, paraded before a military tribunal and thrown in jail – all for the sin of resisting the degradations of occupation by raising her hand against the agents of Israeli colonialism who had stormed her village – 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi was released from prison on Sunday. It is a measure of the teenager’s unflinching devotion to the greater cause of freedom for her people that her first thoughts were about the many Palestinian children still languishing in Israeli jails.
Israel remains the only country in world that prosecutes children in military courts as a matter of policy. According to a UN report published in 2013, detention of children by the Israeli military is “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”. Ahed is one of more than 8,000 Palestinians under the age of 18 subjected to the gruelling procedures of Israeli military tribunals since 2000. But if Israel thought it was going to break Ahed, it was gravely mistaken. The teenager who returned home on Sunday is a more resolute figure than the one Israelis arrested in December. Prison, she said, “taught me how to patient, how to be in a team and how to love life”.
Her experience of captivity and the lessons she has learnt from it place her in the pantheon of the most dedicated freedom fighters. As Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, said on meeting Ahed, she is now “a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence”. Israel, in seeking to terrorise young Palestinians by making an example of Ahed, has instead created an inspirational national heroine with an international following. Her story has stirred the consciences of people everywhere, debunked the racist lies propagated by Israel that cast it as the victim of Arab aggression and prompted prominent individuals – from Hollywood celebrities to artists – to voice their support for the Palestinian cause. Ahed did not waste a minute in prison; she spent the time preparing for exams and now intends to read law to defend her people and hold Israel to account through the international courts.
Ahed’s restraint and courage belie her youth. Like most Palestinian children, she has been forced to forgo the distractions of others her age and instead had to carry the considerably heavy mantle of being a figurehead for the Palestinian struggle – one which would be burdensome to many far older, but a challenge to which she has risen with dignity. A sense of how unconscionable Israel is in its dealings with Palestinians can be gleaned from the fact there are nearly 300 Palestinian children in its jails. They might be faceless and voiceless but Ahed represents each of their struggles. Israeli authorities would be wise not to underestimate her or the power of the face of resistance.