Ahed Tamimi is a 17-year old Palestinian girl currently on trial in an Israeli military court in the West Bank for 12 violent offences dating back to 2016. She achieved global notoriety for the video, filmed by her mother in December last year, in which she kicked and punched two Israeli soldiers. The video was viewed thousands of times on Facebook and broadcast in news bulletins around the world. The media narrative was simple – this plucky teenager symbolised the Palestinian resistance struggle against Israel.
The reality is far more disturbing. Ahed’s family has a long history of involvement in terrorism. Her aunt was part of the terrorist cell that carried out a suicide bombing in a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem in August 2001 that killed 15 people, including 7 children, and wounded 130. Most of her direct and extended family have been convicted of terrorism offences.
Ahed grew up in an environment that normalised, glorified and celebrated brutal violence against Israelis. Her parents decided long ago to deploy their young children in the service of their dangerous games. From a very young age Ahed was sent out to take part in violent attacks on Israeli soldiers as her parents encouraged her and filmed her. As a young child, she was in no position to consent to being used in this way and the constant filming and grooming to perform violent attacks, is nothing short of abusive.
Instead of shunning and condemning this abhorrent behaviour, a procession of journalists and activists has visited the Tamimi household to pay tribute. Before her arrest, a media circus followed her exploits with glee because she gave them the pictures they wanted.
In the UK our NGOs and human rights groups have long campaigned against the use of children in conflict and condemn placing children in harms way for political purposes. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their thinking becomes confused. Amnesty International said the Tamimi case typifies Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child activists and Jeremy Corbyn called for her release saying ‘if people are standing up for their rights, they should be allowed to do that.’
Ahed Tamimi is just one example of a deeply ingrained culture in the West Bank that celebrates violence as the most effective method of political expression. This culture has been created and reinforced by Palestinian Authority (PA) policy. Young Palestinians who attack Israelis are lauded as heroes, if they are killed carrying out attacks they are glorified as martyrs. The PA spends $350m a year paying benefits to families of convicted terrorists or those killed during terrorist attacks. Prisoners get pensions for life. At the same time, the small number of Palestinian organisations who try and promote non-violence and dialogue with Israelis are sidelined and attacked.
Make no mistake, if we in the UK celebrate Ahed Tamimi and her family, we are celebrating violence and its consequences. We are also betraying the many brave Palestinians who work every day to shun violence, desperate to build a future where activism means taking part in demonstrations and debates – not throwing firebombs and rocks at Israelis and kicking them on camera.