Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi vows to continue resistance
Palestinians say they see 17-year-old as a symbol of new hope in the face of Israeli occupation
Teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi voiced defiance as she returned to a hero's welcome in her home village of Nabi Saleh on Sunday after eight months in an Israeli jail for slapping a soldier.
"I want to say that my message is our resistance will continue for equality and our rights," she said, seeming composed and self-assured. In a nod to international supporters who campaigned on her behalf, she added that "international solidarity is vital to securing our rights".
Ahed, 17, spoke in the hilly village's Martyrs' Square after visiting the grave of Ezzedin Tamimi, 21, a relative who was killed by soldiers while she was in jail. She also visited the tomb of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and had a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas after being released on Sunday morning.
Her mother Nariman, who filmed Ahed confronting and slapping the soldiers outside their home in December, was also freed on Sunday.
After meeting Ahed, Mr Abbas called her "a symbol for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence".
Sat in her village with her mother and her father Bassem against the backdrop of a giant slingshot loaded with a pencil, Ahed's talk of continued resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank offers hope to Palestinians at a time when Israel is relentlessly expanding settlements across the heartland of a future Palestinian state.
Yet she was also cautious when necessary. Asked whether she would slap Israeli soldiers again if they came to her home, she chose her words carefully. "I can't tell you what the future will hold. I am under probation and could be arrested. I hope in the future Palestine will be free so that none of this has to happen again," she said.
Describing her time in Israeli custody, she said interrogators had used vulgar language against her. "I told them I have the right to remain silent but they kept asking me questions for long hours against my right," she said.
Ahed said she challenged the occupation while in prison by studying for her matriculation exams, with the help of other prisoners. "We also took classes in international law and human rights to make sure we know our rights," she said. Now she has her sights set on studying law so that she can "hold the occupation accountable" and "raise the issue of prisoners to the whole world".
She said she had conveyed a message to President Abbas from the prisoners about their conditions and he had promised to get more information and to meet her again to discuss the issue.
Ahed said she had "left behind 29 female prisoners, three of them children" in HaSharon prison. "They asked me to give a message of Palestinian unity and that the Palestinian people remain strong and steadfast."
Friends who gathered to greet Ahed in Nabi Saleh said her role as a hero for her people was just beginning and compared her to Mr Abbas and other inspiring Palestinian leaders.
"She has raised the heads of the people and shaken the strongest army in the Middle East. When she slapped the soldier she moved the whole world," said Malak Tamimi, a member of the same extended family to which all village residents belong.
As a song blared outside Ahed's home with the words "We have defeated the prison guards", her classmates spoke of her actions as a victory of epic proportions.
"She deserves to be president more than Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas]," said Malak Tamimi,17. "She has planted courage in our hearts."
Another friend, Raneen Tamimi, 17, said: "The leaders now protect their own interest. She protects the homeland. Her main interest is Palestine. She's a pure person and has all the qualities of a leader in her."
Jamal Zakout, who was an adviser to ousted former premier Salam Fayyad, said Ahed had given Palestinians hope.
"The Palestinians who are living now in terrible retreat in their struggle are declaring by celebrating Ahed's release that they are not defeated. There is no person other than Ahed who has the courage to slap an aggressive soldier in the face."
Despite her imprisonment, Ahed said she believed "peace with Israelis is possible, but it should be with justice and without occupation. But I have never experienced such peace with the Israelis. That's the peace we want."
Ahed said she grew from her time in prison. "I learned a lot in prison. I met many prisoners and they taught me the correct history. What I learned most is to love life. But too many things are negative in prison. I was under heavy pressure from the interrogators. The officer in charge of me refused to release and told me don't talk to journalists when I'm freed."
Now it seems she wants some time to recover. "I want to sit with my girlfriends, talk with them about prison, see the sky and the stars and talk to the people in the village and enjoy the sun."
Updated: July 30, 2018 08:28 AM