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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Israeli court closes doors for Palestinian teen's trial

Judge ordered diplomats, journalists and supporters of Ahed Tamimi to leave courtroom

Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi is in a courtroom at the Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on February 13, 2018. Ariel Schalit / AP
Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi is in a courtroom at the Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on February 13, 2018. Ariel Schalit / AP

The trial of a Palestinian teenager, filmed shoving and slapping Israeli troops outside her home, got under way on Tuesday but the presiding judge abruptly ordered the case be heard behind closed doors.

Ahed Tamimi, 17, has become an international symbol of Palestinian resistance following her arrest in December last year, which came days after her confrontation with the Israeli soldiers.

She faces charges in a military court that could see her spending years in prison stemming from that incident and others, including threatening a soldier, attacking a soldier under aggravated circumstances, interfering with a soldier in carrying out his duties, incitement and throwing objects at individuals or property.

Ahed's supporters had hoped to turn the proceedings into a trial of Israel's 50-year-old occupation of the West Bank but one of judge Menachem Liberman's first actions was to clear the court of diplomats, journalists and her backers. He said the move was intended to protect Ahed's privacy as a minor, but it came despite the fact that the teenager's lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said her client was willing to waive this right.

"This court of occupation fears the light shined on it by this case." Ms Lasky said. "After it placed Ahed under open-ended detention in violation of her rights as a minor, the court now uses the false pretext of protecting these rights to shield itself from the criticism this case raises."

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Read more:

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On the eve of the proceedings, already once delayed, Amnesty International called for Ahed's release, saying that keeping her in custody was a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a state party.

Rights groups say the case highlights harsh Israeli army behaviour against Palestinian minors, including widely criticised military trials. But Israeli defenders of the proceedings say that soldiers need to know attacks against them won't be tolerated.

"There's a broad consensus on defending soldiers from violence and humiliation," said Shmuel Rosner, an analyst at the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute. "Showing soldiers have the backing of the entire system is at least as important as winning in the court of international opinion. These soldiers are part of the Israeli family, the sons and daughters of the country."

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In the December incident, Ahed was filmed by her mother, Nariman, screaming at and pushing two soldiers. She is seen kicking one soldier and slapping his face and threatens to punch the other. Her supporters say she was affected by the army's prior shooting of a cousin in the head with a rubber coated metal bullet.

In her mother's video, Ahed can be heard saying that in the wake of US president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Israeli troops "need to bear responsibility for every Palestinian response that will come from us, whether it's a stabbing operation, a martyrdom operation or throwing rocks".

Ahed's father, Bassem, told Reuters on Tuesday: "We don't expect justice. They are trying to maximise the charge so they can maximise the punishment. We hope the international community will reduce the Zionist will to suppress Ahed and our children." Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, said Ahed's importance as a symbol is in part because "she breaks the stereotype of the resistance being Islamic in nature. Her look breaks this stereotype. That's why so many people are so proud of her and are following her trial."