Ahed Tamimi breaks stereotype of young Muslim Arab women

Ahed Tamimi is a young woman of her time and her time rewarded her by making her a sensation that every Arab can be proud of.
Sunday 12/08/2018
International icon. A Palestinian man walks past a mural depicting Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.  (AFP)
International icon. A Palestinian man walks past a mural depicting Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP)

Ahed Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman, have been released after serving eight months in an Israeli jail for hampering the duties of Israeli soldiers.

Ahed Tamimi’s case is not the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories. It is, however, the first to benefit from wide media coverage in Arabic and Hebrew media, in the rest of the Arab world and internationally. This led to a media focus on the Israeli military tribunal system and how it is used to oppress Palestinians in the West Bank.

After her release July 29, Tamimi said the Palestinian resistance will go on until the end of Israeli occupation and praised the bravery of Palestinian female prisoners in prisons.

She spoke of the conditions of 29 Palestinian female prisoners at Damon prison, where she was held. She said she carried three messages from them: preserve Palestinian national unity, support popular resistance and support women prisoners in their fight for freedom.

Tamimi was catapulted to fame after kicking an Israeli soldier and slapping him in the face last December outside her home in the Palestinian village of Nabi Salah. For years, villagers there have resisted the spoiling of the land by Israelis.

The case of this Palestinian teenager, whose spontaneity, behaviour and appearance resemble other social media-addicted teenagers, revolutionised the concepts of resistance and fighting for one’s rights.

When fast-evolving events are throwing into confusion concepts and laws they underlie, one must wonder if human causes have an immunity to change and erosion that keeps them alive, immutable and unwavering. Then again, perhaps technological developments and environmental problems need a new type of fighter and a legal system in tune with current problems.

So, is it time now to say goodbye to the classical icons of human resistance?

Can we talk about priorities and preferences in human causes?

Or maybe the flame is the same but the arms that carry it are many and diverse.

Tamimi’s case focused the world’s attention on a new breed of freedom fighter, one that should have prevailed among the world’s young people instead of driving them to metaphysical and extremist thinking. She is emblematic of a new generation of enthusiastic people whose eagerness for progress does not overshadow their keenness on preserving their dignity and national rights. Tamimi said the only thing that caused her stress while she was in prison was fear of lagging behind in her studies.

Despite the obstacles, Tamimi and other prisoners completed their secondary education and called themselves “the Defiant Class.” They finished a training session in international law and another one in human rights.

In her village, Tamimi paid homage to Gazans for their daily protests for the right to return to their homes and lands and insisted that Jerusalem was and still is the Palestinians’ capital.

Is Tamimi a crucial turning point in the path of resistance?

Her release from prison received media and official attention to the point that observers warned that Tamimi’s individual case was becoming the Palestinian cause instead of the Palestinians’ saga with the Israeli occupation. Hers was a passing case after all but, like it or not, the teenager has become a Palestinian icon and risks being caught in the swirl of political intrigue.

Tamimi was not necessarily any braver or spunkier than many other Palestinian women who preceded her in Israeli — or even Hamas — jails but what has made this feisty teenager special in the eyes of the media was that she looked and acted as the perfect product of her time. Tamimi broke the stereotypical image of a Muslim Arab girl in Western media.

She does not wear the veil nor does she speak the language of jihadists and extremists. She is a normal emancipated teenager, the kind that you can see in the streets of Beirut or Tunis. She did, however, kick and slap an Israeli soldier without fear of his weapons because she knew that she had a much more powerful weapon by her side, a camera.

When we say that the hero in the video clip of “Ahed and the Israeli soldier” was the image itself, the idea should not be understood as belittling the fighting spirit of the young woman. It is a fact, however, that without that clip going viral, Tamimi would not have turned into an icon. In any case, and whether Tamimi had meant it or not, the event was a media triumph for the Palestinian cause.

Tamimi is a young woman of her time and her time rewarded her by making her a sensation that every Arab can be proud of. Her image was a far cry from the ugly and demeaning image of Arab and Muslim women that terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State proudly disseminated. When Tamimi slapped that Israeli soldier, she slapped the faces of all extremist Islamist groups and their followers.

By her heroic act, Tamimi joined the ranks of other female Palestinian heroes but also remained quite different from them. She joins the ranks of the likes of Shadia Abdessalem, the first Palestinian female military victim after the 1967 defeat, of Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 commandeered a bus transporting Israeli soldiers in the heart of Tel Aviv, and of Leila Khaled, who in 1969 hijacked an Israeli plane.

Each one of those Palestinian women belonged to a specific phase in the Palestinian struggle. Each embodied certain ideas and slogans that would become irrelevant through time. All, however, of them served the Palestinian memory and cause in one way or another. Tamimi’s experience is no different.