Ahed Tamimi is instantly recognizable. The fiery haired Palestinian girl can be seen in several viral videos and photographs confronting Israeli soldiers near her West Bank home of Nabi Saleh.
The latest shows the 16-year-old punching a heavily-armed Israeli soldier on her family’s property last December. Tamimi can be heard yelling, “get out or I’ll punch you!” The soldier pushes her away.
The clip has captured imaginations and divided assessments in the region and further afield - the court of public opinion trying the case, as it always does, on the internet.
For supporters, the video showed an inspirational heroine and an international symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. By contrast, many Israelis focused on the behavior of the soldiers. Some praised them for showing restraint; others said they had showed weakness, with the video itself dismissed as a PR stunt.
Ahed has been called “Shirley Temper” because of her long ginger curls, and has been accused of starring in carefully choreographed “Pallywood” videos, a dismissive characterization of protests considered staged for the camera.
Israeli Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, said authorities should lock her up and throw away the key. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the soldier’s restraint, but added a warning to anyone who’d attack the army.
“Whoever goes wild during the day, will be arrested at night,” he told reporters. “Not only the girls and the parents but others around will not escape punishment.”
A few days later, Israeli forces raided the Tamimi’s house in the early morning and arrested Ahed. The army filmed the arrest and released a video of it on the Internet. Ahed’s mother and cousin were also later taken into custody. An outcry over her detention quickly grew.
A mural of the teenager sprung up in Gaza. Further up the coast, in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, graffiti in Hebrew read, “Ahed Tamimi is a hero” and “Ahed Tamimi, we love you.” Two thousand miles away in London, bus stops started showing posters with a stylized image from the video, along with the message, “Free Ahed Tamimi.”
At its heart, the image is simple and striking: a teenage girl standing up to the much larger soldier. A post by a local Hebrew news outlet, Local Call, via the online magazine +972, compared it to David and Goliath, with Israel representing Goliath.
Critics charge that is exactly what you are supposed to see.
They point out the Tamimi family is known for its activism, regularly leading Friday demonstrations against Israeli soldiers and the occupation in their village. The demonstrations often turn into clashes with Israeli forces. Events are filmed and then disseminated on social media making Ahed and her family online celebrities.
To be sure, Ahed has been feted for several years. Her introduction to the world stage came in 2012 when a photograph of her with a clenched fist, staring down an Israeli soldier, went viral. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted her in Turkey where she received an award for courage. Her star would continue to rise in 2015 when a video showed her biting and hitting a masked Israeli soldier who had grabbed her 12-year-old brother.
But her activism would come at a cost. Israel has now brought 12 charges against Ahed – including aggravated assault against a soldier, incitement, obstructing a soldier in the performance of his duty, threatening a soldier, and throwing stones at troops.
Nariman Tamimi – Ahed’s mother – also faces charges of incitement.
Ahed’s lawyer, Gabi Laski, says the case has been blown out of proportion. The military court “exaggerated the indictment by looking into, and judging her on, incidents that happened in previous years,” Laski told CNN. “This doesn’t show the other side. [It is] as if her behavior took place in [a] sterile environment without taking into consideration the occupation.”
Marwan Barghouti, a high-profile prisoner who enjoys considerable support among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, also commented on Ahed Tamimi’s situation in a letter posted on Facebook by his wife.
“My pain was not confined to the child Tamimi, who is being held in Israeli jails, but to all her generation, who are considered the most courageous generation among the Palestinians, who offer a model of sacrifice and redemption,” Barghouti’s letter said.
If convicted, Ahed could face years in prison. Prominent Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti says her detention will not be in vain.
“Ahed Tamimi exemplifies the spirit of non-violent resistance that is growing in the Palestinian territories because of the occupation,” Mustafa Barghouti told CNN. “If they put her in jail for a long time, it’ll destroy her childhood but it will send a very powerful message to Palestinians and hurt Israel’s image internationally.”
This story has been updated to clarify the source of the David and Goliath comparison.