When a teenager has to spend her seventeenth birthday in jail and face a military court shortly afterwards, an outpouring of sympathy from around the world might seem fully justified.
But Ahed Tamimi’s story is more tragic than the global media coverage of her case suggests, because presenting her as just another Palestinian child who has been unjustly imprisoned by Israel ignores the ruthless indoctrination she has been exposed to all her life. A revealing hint can be found in the wildly popular campaign to “Free Ahed Tamimi,” which has garnered more than 1.7 million signatures. The petition’s short text claims that “Ahed’s been on the frontline defending Palestine since she was 7 years old.” How many seven-year-old children have ever been voluntarily on any frontline?
Prominent among those who are campaigning for Ahed Tamimi is Amnesty International. The organization’s Secretary General Salil Shetty has hailed the teenager from the small West Bank village of Nabi Saleh as “a powerful symbol of Palestinian resistance” and accused Israel of wanting “to punish her for that,” even though “she is just a child who has suffered the horrible consequences of war and violence.”
Ahed Tamimi was certainly just a child two months after her twelfth birthday, when she appeared alongside several of her family members on the cover of the New York Times Magazine with a quote summarizing the Tamimis’ all-consuming ambition: “If There Is a Third Intifada, We Want to Be The Ones Who Started It.”
The cover story was written by Ben Ehrenreich, who acknowledged his close friendship with the Tamimi family a few years later in a book that was praised in a New York Times review as a “love letter to Palestine.”
The kind of empathy and affection Ben Ehrenreich expressed for the Tamimi family is reflected in the current campaign for Ahed. Ehrenreich portrayed the Tamimis’ adamant refusal “to forswear bloodshed” sympathetically and depicted the family’s insistence on the participation of children in their almost weekly demonstrations as entirely justified. The fact that these demonstrations are staged in the hope of triggering a “third intifada” that would not only end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but also Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in any borders is widely ignored, as is the fact that the family includes several convicted terrorist murderers who – as Ehrenreich put it – “remain much-loved” by their relatives.
While it would obviously be unfair to hold Ahed Tamimi responsible for how she was brought up, it is all but inevitable that she will suffer for making her parents proud by fully embracing their fanaticism.
Everyone who has followed the coverage of Ahed’s recent detention and indictment will know that in mid-December, she was filmed punching, kicking, cursing and slapping two Israeli soldiers standing at the entrance of the courtyard of her family’s home. But some salient facts are rarely reported: this incident and its aftermath was filmed by Ahed’s family and livestreamed on the Facebook page of her mother Nariman Tamimi, who can be heard telling Ahed to go and “kick out” the soldiers – which Ahed, accompanied by a cousin, promptly tries to do. Moreover, the video includes a short segment where Ahed is asked by her mother to send a “message to the world.” Ahed’s response is profoundly shocking, because she declares almost casually: “Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine.”
But in the world Ahed Tamimi has grown up in, there is nothing shocking about this statement. Ahed herself has often thrown stones; her uncle Nizar Tamimi was involved in the stabbing and burning of an Israeli back in 1993 – a murder that was seen as an attempt to derail the Oslo peace process; and Nizar Tamimi’s wife Ahlam Tamimi is the proud mastermind and facilitator of a suicide bombing that caused carnage at a crowded Jerusalem Sbarro restaurant in August 2001.
People who now hail Ahed as a “symbol of Palestinian resistance” ignore the fact that for her, relatives like Nizar and Ahlam Tamimi are also heroes of the Palestinian “resistance.” Ahed surely remembers how they were celebrated for their murderous acts at their wedding in the summer of 2012 – a celebration the eleven-year-old Ahed attended with her family, happily sharing the stage with the terrorist couple.
Ahed is certainly also aware that her mother has the greatest admiration for Ahlam Tamimi. This is clearly reflected on Nariman Tamimi’s Facebook page. One of the recent examples is from last spring: when the FBI announced that Ahlam Tamimi was on the agency’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, Nariman Tamimi shared a poster showing the Sbarro massacre mastermind flashing a victory sign; the text printed on the poster praised Ahlam Tamimi’s “sacrifices” and emphasized “her right to wage resistance against the plundering occupier.” The “US demand to hand her over” was rejected with the slogan “#All of us are_Ahlam_Tamimi” – a cynical repurposing of a familiar expression of solidarity with victims of terrorism, which Nariman Tamimi reaffirmed to show her support: “#All of us are_Ahlam_Tamimi.”
Ahed’s casual call for stabbings and suicide bombings is just one indication that she is eager to echo her family’s fanaticism. Last September, she posted a picture on her Facebook page that shows gunmen masked with Palestinian keffiyeh scarves; repeating the Arabic message on the image, Ahed wrote: “Tell the fighters all over the world that they are my friends.”
Shortly afterwards, Ahed attended an event at the European Parliament in Brussels that prompted the endorsement of a proposal “to systematically deny access to all persons, groups, or entities involved in terrorist acts.” Among Ahed Tamimi’s co-panelists at this event was the notorious Palestinian airline hijacker Leila Khaled, who reportedly denounced Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time and urged her audience to demand that their governments “cease all cooperation with the Zionist state.” For her part, Ahed faithfully echoed her family’s rejection of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, declaring: “The occupation is not only the theft of land. We oppose racism, Zionism, the entire system of occupation and not only the settlements.” Together with her father Bassem Tamimi, Ahed also campaigned in Brussels for Georges Abdallah, a Lebanese terrorist who has been serving a life sentence in France since 1987, when he was found guilty of the murder of a U.S. official and an Israeli diplomat as well as involvement in another attempt to assassinate an American diplomat.
Whether it’s Georges Abdallah and Leila Khaled or Nizar and Ahlam Tamimi, the message Ahed has been getting all her life – and the message she increasingly promotes herself – is that terrorists don’t deserve to be imprisoned for their crimes, but that they should be admired as heroes devoted to the Palestinian cause.
This message is obviously reinforced when Amnesty International hails Ahed Tamimi as “a powerful symbol of Palestinian resistance.” Anyone who doubts how poisonous this message is would do well to recall that the list of Palestinian teens involved in terror attacks – including suicide bombings – is already depressingly long. Indeed, during the so-called “stabbing intifada” that started in fall 2015, dozens of Palestinian teens did exactly what Ahed Tamimi advocated in her recent “message to the world,” and when these teenage terrorists succeeded in stabbing an Israeli to death, Ahed’s mother Nariman would usually take to Facebook to praise them as heroes.
Human rights organizations that champion Ahed Tamimi as the poster girl for the plight of Palestinian teens in Israeli prisons betray their mission when they ignore the vicious indoctrination of these young people by Palestinians like Ahed’s parents. And at least those of us who still hold out hope for a peaceful two-state solution should arguably avoid cheering a Palestinian “resistance” that is fueled by the ambition to eliminate the world’s only Jewish state and that teaches children to view terrorism as a justified means to this end.
Note: Translations from Arabic courtesy of Ibn Boutros.