Eulogy for a Sunday: Finally Seeing Ahed Tamimi

Palestine / Israel

At the Critic’s Choice Awards this past week, Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot was presented with the #SeeHer award for “pushing boundaries” and “challenging stereotypes” onscreen. In light of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative which have been taking Hollywood and the general public by storm, the award was given for Gadot’s portrayal of the iconic superhero in a show of solidarity to women’s movements.

We see her as the brave female superhero who embodies strength, character, and independence. We see her as a new symbol for the role women could play in Hollywood and in the world. We don’t, however, see Gadot as the Israeli Defense Force soldier who publicly endorsed Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza which left 1,462 Gazan civilians dead, 495 of whom were children. Still, for symbolism’s sake, we see Wonder Woman, and we see Gal Gadot for what we want her to be.

Who we don’t see at all is Ahed Tamimi.

On December 19, 2017, around thirty IDF soldiers stormed the home of the Tamimi family in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, arresting their 16-year old daughter Ahed after a video of her hitting a heavily armed IDF soldier went viral in the region. This pivotal moment, which saw Ahed being hailed as a “heroine” by Palestinians and a “trouble-maker” by Israelis, was yet another example of the near-daily eruption of conflict in occupied Palestine.

In the moments preceding the alleged assault, Ahed was participating in a protest against President Trump’s decision to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. During the protest, IDF soldiers shot Ahed’s 14-year old cousin Mohammed in the face with a rubber bullet which left him in a medically induced coma for 72 hours, and has rendered him badly disfigured as a result. Soon afterwards, IDF soldiers  launched tear gas into the Tamimi home, breaking several windows, which led to Ahed’s attempts to remove the soldiers from her family’s property.

In the video, Ahed and her cousin Nur can be seen screaming at two soldiers, telling them to “Hurry up and get out,” while shoving them towards the exit. Having clearly had enough of Ahed’s ‘incitement,’ as the Israeli government terms it, one soldier engages by slapping Ahed’s hand off of him, which then results in a brief altercation in which Ahed slaps and kicks the soldier, the soldier slaps back, and finally, Ahed’s mother, Nuriman, intervenes by coming between Ahed and the soldier, backing him off of the property.

Since her arrest, Ahed has been indicted for assaulting, interfering with, and threatening soldiers, in addition to throwing stones (days prior to the incident). Soon after Ahed’s arrest, Nur was also arrested and indicted for aggravated assault and “interfering with a soldier in carrying out his duties,” and Nuriman has been arrested and charged with “incitement” for uploading footage of the incident to the internet. While Nur has been let out of prison on bail, Ahed and Nuriman remain incarcerated.

Despite the fact that Ahed’s fate has yet to be officially determined, she has already endured one death and is slowly, painfully undergoing a second.

A life in prison is no life at all, and Ahed’s youth, which has already been robbed by the trauma of a life lived under occupation, is giving way to her tragic adulthood behind bars. Israel’s military courts are well-known for their 99.74% conviction rate , which means that, in all likelihood, Ahed is looking at up to 14 years in prison. After serving her sentence, she will return to the mental prison—the physical silo—that is the occupied West Bank, and, in all likelihood, she could serve several more stints in Israeli prisons where her activist family are frequent tenants.

Both behind bars and behind the West Bank’s apartheid wall, Ahed lacks freedom, respect, and, perhaps most strikingly, support as the death she has already succumbed to is that which occurs when one’s name is mentioned for the last time.

Of course, Palestinians chant it, hashtag it, and pray for it, but are they anybody at all? To the Israelis, Palestinians are Araboushim (cockroaches), and to Americans, they are terrorists. Both of these terms callously vilify, and more so dehumanize Palestinians, delegitimizing their protests.

Still some countries with international clout, such as the United Kingdom, have voiced concern over Ahed’s illegal detainment, but does that matter? When it comes to Palestine, the so-called international community is rendered null as there are only two relevant actors that have any effective power: the United States and Israel. This fact has become evident through Israel’s flagrant dismissal of international rulings on illegal Israeli settlements, Israel’s wall, and most recently the feud over Israel’s capital, with no objections raised by the American government—Israel’s greatest ally and chief provider of foreign aid. And so, Ahed’s future is to be determined by the will of the American and Israeli publics alone, and without proper recognition of her plight, her fate has been sealed and her death knell rung.

Palestinians in general and the Tamimi family, in particular, have a long history of civil disobedience resulting in incarceration, injury, and death. The family’s trauma continues now, through Ahed’s incarceration, through the recent imprisonment of her 19-year old cousin Muhammad Bilal, and through the killing of her 17-year old relative Musaab by IDF forces. Thus, Ahed’s arrest is just par for the course, another tragedy in the long list of atrocities ignored beyond the borders of the West Bank Wall or the Gaza Strip. Still, what makes this particular event so telling, as to the American neglect and disdain for the Palestinian people, is that Ahed’s tale has all the trappings of a bonafide Hollywood tragedy, yet it has scarcely been noted in even a scrolling chyron.

Ahed is young, bold, beautiful, and blonde—everything Hollywood, mainstream media, and the American public adore. She is a real-life Wonder Woman, standing up to oppression in the face of insurmountable odds, galvanizing patriotism and purpose in her community, marching towards her doom with her head held high, confident that her punishment is the consequence of doing the right thing.

Amidst a wave of female empowerment and celebration, Ahed’s story is starkly missing from American public discourse. CNN has posted only one article about Ahed, which focuses on the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli opinions of the matter. The CNN article has an accompanying video which was aired only online. FOX News also boasts only one article regarding Ahed’s arrest. Most significantly, there have been no articles about Ahed in arguably the most important news organization in the world, The New York Times.

What’s happening to Ahed is a new take on the old paradox about a tree falling in the forest, except now there are plenty of people around to hear it, but they all choose to cover their ears.

We do not see Ahed Tamimi, and we certainly do not hear her, because it is inconvenient to do so. She represents the culmination of American neglect and Israeli aggression towards a marginalized and persecuted people.

She is not the woman we want to be pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes; rather, she is the woman we want to either quietly disappear or conveniently vilify. Unfortunately for us, Ahed is neither. Despite death after death, Ahed lives, and being a child who did little more than stand up to a man with a machine gun, she is hardly the terrorist mastermind we would like to imagine.

And so, rather than grapple with Ahed’s reality, we ignore her. Instead, we see Gal Gadot and others like her—mirages and symbols which, though important in theory, are meaningless if we fail to actualize and embrace their reality.

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