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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 August 2018

Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi freed after eight months in Israeli prison

Portrayed as a symbol of Palestinian resistance, Ahed Tamimi's story is emblematic of Israel's aggressive detention of minors 

Ahed Tamimi speaks to the press after her release from an Israeli prison, on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. AFP
Ahed Tamimi speaks to the press after her release from an Israeli prison, on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. AFP

Ahed Tamimi, the teenage girl jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier, told how she turned her prison which was "full of humiliation and difficulties ... into a school".

Speaking hours after she was released from an Israeli military jail, after eight months in prison, Ahed thanked her supporters, called for a united Palestine, and highlighted the struggles of female and juvenile prisoners.

The teenager spoke about how she established classes with other young people to study for university matriculation exams and international law so they could know their rights. They called their class "the challenge class" because of how efforts to get an education were opposed by Israeli officials.

The 17-year-old said she will study law so she can advocate for the Palestinian cause in international courts.

Ahed said the interrogators would speak to her in a manner "in a way that was not ethical" and said that there was never a female soldier present, as her rights dictate.

She spoke about the importance of women in the struggle against Israeli occupation and highlighted the continued detention of other Palestinians, particularly women and three girls.

Ahed said, "prison taught me how to be patient, how to be in a team, and how to love life ... the power is with the people and the people can decide her destiny".

Earlier she met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his headquarters in Ramallah hours after she returned home from an Israeli military prison where she had been held for eight months.

After meeting Ahed, Mr Abbas called her "a symbol for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence".

"The popular and peaceful style of struggle that Ahed Tamimi and her village and nearby villages have been practising proves to the world that our people will remain steadfast in this land, defending it no matter how much needs to be sacrificed," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets freed Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, hours after she was released from an Israeli prison. PPO
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets freed Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, hours after she was released from an Israeli prison. PPO

Ahed and her mother, who was also jailed, had hours earlier returned to a festive welcome back in her hometown of Nabi Saleh.

They were greeted by supporters and international news media. Emotional, Ahed smiled, waved to friends and embraced her family.

"The resistance continues until the occupation is removed," she said after returning home. "All the female prisoners are steadfast. I salute everyone who supported me and my case."

Her father, Bassam Tamimi, a prominent activist, put his arms around his wife and daughter as they walked down the road. A crowd chanted "we want to live in freedom". He used the moment to bring attention to his son, Wa'ed, 22, who is still in prison.

Ahed later visited the tomb of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and laid flowers there before reciting a prayer from the Quran. She also visited the home of a family member who was shot dead in June after throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.

Tamimi kisses the tombstone of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his mausoleum in Ramallah. AFP
Tamimi kisses the tombstone of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his mausoleum in Ramallah. AFP

After eight months in Israeli captivity, Ahed was released as a celebrated figure in Palestinian politics, amid a period of particular tension along the border.

She was arrested on December 19 last year, days after the teenager was filmed with her cousin, Nour Tamimi, slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers who refused to leave their home in Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, which is home to about 600 members of her extended clan.

The scuffle took place amid protests against United States President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ahed's family said a member of the extended family was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet during those protests.

Turning 17 in prison, Ahed was refused bail throughout her detention and subsequent trial in an Israeli court, where she was tried for assault, throwing stones, incitement to violence and making threats.

In March, a plea deal was struck with Israeli prosecutors, giving her an eight-month sentence, including the time she had already served. Her cousin was released immediately.

For Palestinians, Ahed became a heroine for standing up to Israeli aggression and the invasion of her family home.

Meanwhile, Israelis initially saw the video as emblematic of Israeli restraint, the soldiers backing away, not reacting. However, after the girls and Ahed's mother, who also filmed the incident, were arrested, there was criticism even within Israel that prosecutors were overreacting.

Ahed's case drew international support from high-profile artists, actors, academics, and athletes, who called for the teenager's release.

Jim Fitzpatrick, the artist who created the globally recognised Che Guevara image, created a poster of Ahed, the strapline reading "there is a real wonder woman", which he released.

In February, Sarah Silverman, a comedian of Jewish descent tweeted her support for Ahed, saying "Jews have to stand up even when, especially when, the wrongdoing is by Jews or the Israeli government".

Last week, an Italian artist, Jorit Agoch, painted a four-metre long mural of her on the separation wall that cuts the West Bank off from Israel. Her calm expression and shock of auburn hair stood out in contrast to the black background and implicitly, Israeli aggression.

On Saturday, Agoch and another graffiti artist were arrested by Israeli police.

An Italian artist paints a mural of Palestinian Ahed Tamimi on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. EPA
An Italian artist paints a mural of Palestinian Ahed Tamimi on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. EPA

In April, a video emerged of Ahed facing a lewd interrogation from an Israeli official. The interrogator threatened the girl with the arrest of her family, and comments on her body, skin and "eyes of an angel".

Despite sometimes being within inches of the man, who was said to be part of the Israeli intelligence branch, Ahed remained unaffected.

Her father said the video was demonstrative of Israel's failure to break the will of his daughter. Her silence under pressure showed that "we are not victims, we are fighters for the cause of freedom of our people", he said.

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Read more:

Opinion: Loser’s justice is now the most that Palestinians can hope for

Editorial: No civilised nation would treat minors the way Israel treats Palestinian children

Video reveals threats and innuendos in questioning of Palestinian teenager

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Ahed comes from a family of prominent activists, and before her arrest was no stranger to confronting Israeli aggression or the spotlight of media attention.

The teenager made headlines after she was filmed biting the hand of a soldier trying to arrest her brother. Before that, she was photographed defying soldiers in her village, fist raised in opposition.

Yara Hawari, a Palestinian activist and friend of the Tamimi family, said the tough sentence helped to build support.

"It was a symbolic image of a child confronting a heavily armed Israeli soldier at her home," she told AFP.

"The fact that what she did got her so long in prison is also something that drew a lot of attention."

The teenager's case also highlights bias within Israel's court system — there is more than a 99 per cent conviction rate for Palestinians, and there are more children detained by Israel. An Israeli human rights organisation criticised the treatment of Ahed, saying that arresting children overnight and treating them as adults is "the first step, not a last resort of the system".

Her father said Ahed would rise to the platform she's been given.

"I don't think any child can be totally ready to become a prominent symbol of the Palestinian struggle, but Ahed is a very strong child," Mr Tamimi said.

"We have seen from the interrogation videos, from how she behaves in court, that she is incredibly confident and resilient. So I think she will take this in her stride."

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