Out of the harsh reality and the day to day struggles of life in an occupied Palestinian village, Ahd Tamimi - a 17-year old girl - emerges as an activist fighting for emancipation from the oppression, discrimination and dispossession exercised by the Israeli Occupation.
Born in an activist family, she has been standing up against injustice, fearlessly confronting those who are way more powerful, protesting land confiscation in her community including the threat of demolition of her own home and bearing losses of family members.
Ahd comes from a village of 600 people called Nabi Saleh, situated within a wider administrative area, known as area C of the West Bank that is under near-full Israeli control. This area is being overtaken by Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law, and is thus continuously subjected to home demolitions, land confiscation, movement restrictions and planning and zoning discriminatory regulations that prevent Palestinian communities from developing their own housing, infrastructure and social services.
Demolitions and confiscations have led to displacement and impoverishment. On their daily walks to the nearest schools, children have to walk long distances, go through checkpoints, and be subjected to search by Israeli soldiers.
Nabi Saleh village residents have been holding weekly protests for years.
Facing the patriarchy
Ahd was arrested on 19 December in a raid of her home by 12 Israeli soldiers in the middle of the night, for slapping and kicking two armed Israeli soldiers who refused to leave her home’s backyard. According to news accounts, this was following a protest that turned into clashes with the military where her 15-year-old cousin was shot in his head with a rubber bullet. The military, with its might and deep patriarchal foundations, reportedly could not tolerate the humiliation brought about by a teenage girl’s action, which was taped and circulated on social media by her mother (who was also arrested on grounds of incitement along with another female cousin).
Ahd’s resistance unleashed further tones of patriarchy and vengefulness in the words of the Israeli minister of education who said that she should be locked up for life, the defense minister who threatened anyone - the girls and their parents - with night raids arrests if they “attack” the army, and even harsher was one journalist for Israeli Maariv daily newspaper who was publically inciting what can easily be interpreted as the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
While Ahd was in “Ofer” prison awaiting trial, she turned 17. She was indicted and remains in custody until her next trial on 11 March, possibly facing years in prison. Ahd is not the only minor held in Israeli prisons, in fact, over 300 Palestinian children are prisoners and detainees today and the most common charge is throwing stones in resistance.
Hope in the dark
The story of Ahd, despite the severity of her situation, is one of hope, inspiration and defiance. The reaction by the occupying state, if anything, highlighted the effectiveness and power of her activism. Her pictures filled up social media platforms of Arab users; acts of solidarity were organised by Palestinian supporters and several campaigns are being circulated for her freedom, including one with about 1.7 million signatures. She was compared by some in the Arab media to Rosa Parks and Malala, and portrayed in Palestine and in Israeli media as a Joan of Arc figure.
She has become a symbol of Palestinian young women’s courage and resistance. Yet despite the surrounding hype, her story, and that of the Palestinian struggle she embodies, remains one that is being told by a few to those who are willing to listen.
Ahd’s activism is not unique in her context. Palestinian women have historically been at the forefront of their national struggle. They bear the brunt of conflict and occupation - which are the epitome of patriarchy - and fearlessly dare to stand up against it. This form of activism does not fit that of the mainstream feminist model, yet it should be embraced. It is one for survival, national liberation, and emancipation.
International Women’s Day not only represents an opportunity for celebration but also for solidarity with all women and support of their struggles.
On this day let’s stand up for Palestinian women, let’s stand up for Ahd.
Rania Tarazi is a 2017-18 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.