Ahed Tamimi: Spotlight turns on Palestinian viral slap video teen

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Nabi Saleh

  • Published
Media caption,

Ahed Tamimi was arrested after the video went viral.

To some she's a modern-day Joan of Arc. Others call her "Shirley Temper", a play on Hollywood child actor Shirley Temple, claiming she is a star of staged Palestinian propaganda.

At 16, Ahed Tamimi is now a famous Palestinian prisoner, arrested by Israel in December on charges of assaulting a soldier and incitement to violence.

On Wednesday, a judge ordered her continued detention until her trial before an Israeli military court.

The primary evidence against her is an online video filmed on 15 December, which went viral and has been repeatedly aired and discussed by mainstream media.

In it, Ahed confronts two Israeli soldiers outside her family home in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, demanding they "get out".

She pushes them and one swats her away. Then she slaps and kicks them with her older cousin, Nur. The Israeli soldiers do not react and Ahed's mother, Nariman, intervenes.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Tamimis' village of Nabi Saleh has been the scene of weekly protests

The incident was livestreamed on Nariman Tamimi's Facebook account.

Days later, Ahed was arrested in a night-time raid, filmed by Israeli forces. Her mother was detained when she went to a police station to inquire after her daughter.

"It's become a very important case," says Ahed's lawyer, Gabi Lasky. "So many people are taking all the energy regarding everything they know or feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You feel it in the courtroom."

"For a long time, Israelis weren't dealing with occupation, they weren't talking about it," she goes on, suggesting the trial raises a question.

"People that are occupied, do they have a right to fight occupation? Yes or no, and what is the best way to do it."

'Provocative tactics'

For many Palestinians, Ahed is a hero of their nationalist struggle for the digital age. They see her standing up to the reality of Israeli occupation, defending her home with her bare hands.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Ahed Tamimi was pictured at the age of 11 confronting Israeli soldiers

Ahed is said to have been angry at the time of the confrontation because her 15-year-old cousin had just been seriously injured, shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

Meanwhile, Israeli media have questioned whether the soldiers showed exemplary restraint or cowardice. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says that the two soldiers were part of a deployment sent to Nabi Saleh to deal with Palestinians throwing stones at troops and at a road used by Israeli motorists.

There had been widespread unrest following the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

It is not the first time that videos of Ahed have been the subject of intense debate, leading to Israeli accusations that her family deliberately provokes soldiers to stage anti-Israeli propaganda. Pro-Israeli activists call such footage "Pallywood".

Aged 11, Ahed was filmed threatening to punch a soldier after her older brother was arrested. Two years ago, she bit a soldier trying to detain her younger brother.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Critics say the Tamimis provoke situations for the media

"Now when she's in jail, I think she's going to pay the price and it's a very high price," says Anat Berko, an Israeli MP from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. "And I am very sorry that the family did not stop this behaviour."

"The motivation is to be provocative and our brave soldiers did not react to this provocative behaviour of the Tamimi girl."

'New generation'

I visit Ahed's father, Bassem Tamimi, at his home. He is an activist who has been repeatedly jailed by Israel, most recently for joining illegal demonstrations and sending people to throw stones.

For years, he organised weekly protests in which villagers - often joined by Israeli and foreign solidarity activists - would try to march towards land taken by a neighbouring Israeli settlement.

Image caption,
Bassem Tamimi denies the incidents involving his daughter are stage-managed

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Usually the marches would lead to clashes, with Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. But Mr Tamimi always allowed his four children to participate.

In 2012, the children's uncle was shot dead during clashes.

Previously, Ahed was invited to Turkey by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who hailed her actions. She has recently spoken as a Palestinian activist in South Africa and at the European Parliament.

"Of course I'm worried but I am proud of my daughter, I am happy that she became the spirit and example of the new generation for resistance," Bassem Tamimi says.

He dismisses suggestions the videos featuring Ahed are staged.

"They say it's a movie, or it's a theatre? Then I ask you how can we bring those soldiers to our home to make this play?" he says.

Military court

Confrontations between Palestinian children and Israeli soldiers are almost a daily occurrence in the West Bank.

About 1,400 minors have been prosecuted in special youth military courts over the past three years, the IDF says.

Palestinian rights groups are very critical of the Israeli system, saying it lacks fundamental protections and gives no guarantee of a fair trial.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ahed Tamimi faces a dozen charges

They point out that Israeli settlers are tried in civil courts. However the former chief IDF prosecutor for the West Bank, Maurice Hirsch, defends the system.

"Fundamental rights are guaranteed for everyone. It doesn't matter if you're an Israeli or Palestinian," says Mr Hirsch, who now works for Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, a group that documents alleged distortions of human rights and international law related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Ahed was interrogated. She said nothing during her interrogation, she maintained her right to silence. Ahed used her right to consult with a lawyer."

'Urged attacks'

Mr Hirsch views the more serious accusation on Ahed's charge sheet to be that she allegedly "attempted to influence public opinion" and "made a direct call to carry out attacks".

At the end of the online video, Ahed calls for large demonstrations as "the only way to reach results", but says US President Donald Trump must bear responsibility for any Palestinian violence, including stabbings and suicide attacks.

Nariman Tamimi is also facing charges of assault and incitement to violence. Nur Tamimi is accused of assault.

The case of the three will be watched closely, with each side likely to claim a moral victory whatever the outcome.