PORTRAYED as the modern-day Joan of Arc, Ahed Tamimi, who is only 16, is a Palestinian prisoner who was arrested after a video went viral depicting her confrontation with two Israeli soldiers outside her home.
The village of Nabi Saleh, where Ahed and her family live, is in the occupied West Bank, an area that has been under Israeli occupation for 50 years. Land theft, illegal settlements, home demolitions, checkpoint closures, arrests, detentions, walls that cut off farmers from their lands, killings, and abnormal images of dead bodies held by grieving families are frequent reporting.
The foreign occupation outraged Ahed since an early age. At 11, she was pictured confronting Israelis soldiers as well, defending her home with just “her bare hands”. Her strong-spirit and courage, followed by arrest and detention have caused a revival hope for her people as she is portrayed as a hero of their nationalist struggle, akin to Joan of Arc in the digital age. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a French teenage heroine who rose from obscurity to champion Charles VII of France at the age of 17, leading the French army to important victories during the 100 Years’ War against the English occupiers. Two years later, she was captured and burned at the stake for heresy.
Ahed and Joan of Arc share similar characteristics, although born roughly 600 years apart. Whilst many commented on their striking physical resemblance, Ahed, like Joan is from a peasant family. Foreign occupation caused both teenagers to set out to fight. They were captured, imprisoned and prosecuted by the foreign occupiers. Their courage brought the renewal of hope amongst their oppressed people.
History does not portray Joan of Arc as a terrorist. She was, in fact, canonised a saint in 1920. Yet, Israelis are now trying their utmost to paint Ahed as a terrorist, all for the “crime” of slapping an Israeli soldier after her 14-year-old cousin was shot in the face by a rubber-coated steel bullet. This was a wound that necessitated the boy to be placed under a medically induced coma during which the projectile was surgically extracted from his skull.
Like Joan of Arc, Ahed was indicted on 12 charges. These include assault, incitement and past instances of stone-throwing. Other charges included insulting Israeli soldiers in which she called them “child murderers, Nazis and thieves”. None of the charges consists of the use of weapons although “biting” a soldier who detained her younger brother has been reported. She once said: “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine”. Ahed’s next hearing will be on Jan 31, the day she turns 17. Ahed’s family members did not expect any justice from the Israel’s legal system that had long been accepted as a system to oppress and charge the Palestinians. For them, “this is Israel’s goal: destroy Palestinians’ childhood”. Just like the prosecution of Joan of Arc who was charged on trial staged by the English occupiers, Ahed’s lawyer said that “the real task of this military court (in occupation) is not to enact justice, but to perpetuate occupation”.
However, a moral victory is ensured, whatever t he outcome. According to the Defence for Children International, Palestine (DCIP) rights group: “Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts. Israeli civilian courts deny bail to Israeli children in only 18 per cent of cases. In contrast, Israel’s military courts refuse bail to Palestinian children in 70 per cent of cases.”
DCIP has reported that at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israel’s military courts since 2000.
Fair-skinned and blonde, Ahed is a clear departure from previous impressions of Palestinian resistance with women in hijab and bearded men. The feisty blonde activist challenged not only the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its violent oppression methods, but more importantly, “rebrand” a kind of resistance in Palestine.
There is also a growing concern among Islamist movements that reliable “secular” opposition is finally reaching a solid foothold and is organising itself into credible and popular movements. Cultural symbols of resistance such as Dabkeh (Palestinian line dance), dancing Kanafa street food vendors and campaigns reinstating the Palestinianism of authentic foods, like hummus and falafel, are among many other modern and more peaceful resistance initiatives to oppose the occupation and tell the Israelis to “get out”.
With a sharp tongue, strong youthful bare hands and a couple of stones, Ahed’s image has circulated in the media globally, widening the reach of this new generation’s “secular” Palestinian resistance against Israel’s multiple moral crimes independent of religious motivation. Ahed’s fight to defend her home ultimately exposes this new brand’s authenticity of resistance through courage and unrelenting human spirit.
The writer, a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow