Ahed Tamimi, Palestinian teen, tried in closed Israeli military court
LONDON - An Israeli military court ordered the proceedings of a teenage Palestinian protester to be held behind closed doors, drawing criticism from the defendant’s lawyer, who accused the authorities of trying to stop the high-profile case from gaining more international attention.
Ahed Tamimi, who turned 17 in January while in prison, went on trial on February 13 for assaulting two Israeli soldiers after the judge ordered dozens of journalists, representatives of NGOs and European diplomats out of the courtroom.
The judge said it was standard practice for trials of minors to be held behind closed doors in order to protect the interests of the defendants.
“I didn’t think it’s good for the minor that there are 100 people in the courtroom,” the judge, Lieutenant Colonel Menachem Lieberman, said.
Tamimi’s lawyer dismissed the court’s reasoning as a cover-up.
“The court decided what is best for the court, and not what is good for Ahed,” Gaby Lasky told reporters outside the court.
“They understand that people outside Ofer military court are interested in Ahed’s case. They understand that her rights are being infringed and that her trial is something that shouldn’t be happening, so the way to keep it out of everybody’s eyes is to close [the] doors and not allow people in the court for her hearings,” Lasky added.
Lasky said the family had requested an open trial and that even the prosecution had not called for the courtroom to be emptied of journalists and observers.
“The right to have closed doors is of the minor, not of the court. If the minor and her parents want the court to be open… then that’s what’s best for her,” she said.
The court handed down a 12-count indictment against Tamimi. If found guilty, she should could face a prison sentence of several years. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 11.
“We believe that this is an indictment solely created in order to deter Ahed and other Palestinian youths” from resisting the Israeli occupation, Lasky said.
Tamimi was arrested on December 19, four days after confronting two Israeli soldiers outside her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The incident, which was filmed by her family and widely shared on social media, reportedly took place after she heard that her 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi, had been shot by Israeli forces.
'A slap is terrorism'
In the video, she is seen slapping and punching the Israeli soldiers, prompting calls by some Israelis to treat her as a terrorist.
“If I was there [when she slapped the Israeli soldiers], she would finish in the hospital for sure. Nobody could stop me. I would kick, kick her face,” Oren Hazan, a member of the Israeli Knesset, told the BBC. “A slap is terrorism.”
The Israeli government appears to be facing pressure from its right-wing voters to hand a harsh punishment to Tamimi but may not wish for the case to draw too much international attention.
“Ahed Tamimi is on trial because Israel’s political leadership doesn’t want to be accused by the Israeli public of allowing the [Israeli army] to go soft on Palestinian civilians,” wrote Haaretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer. “The trial is being hidden because the same leadership doesn’t want the world to see how pointlessly cruel Israel’s occupation of those same Palestinian civilians is,” he added.
One day ahead of her trial, Amnesty International called on the Israeli authorities to release Tamimi.
“By refusing to release Ahed Tamimi… the Israeli authorities have shown nothing but contempt for their obligations under international law to protect children,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, said in a press statement.
“As an unarmed girl, Ahed posed no threat during the altercation with the two Israeli soldiers who were heavily armed and wearing protective clothing. Nothing she has done can justify her continued detention and the long, aggressive interrogation sessions she has been forced to endure during the first two weeks of her detention,” added Mughrabi.
“Yet again, the Israeli authorities have responded to acts of defiance by a Palestinian child with measures that are entirely disproportionate to the incident in question.”
Tamimi, who has taken part in previous protests and confrontations against the Israeli military, has come to be seen as a hero by Palestinians who object to the Israeli occupation.
“So this is where it happened, in the driveway of the Tamimi’s house. The incident says a lot of the conflict. The imbalance of force. The way it has invaded the lives of yet another generation. And the bleakness of a future with no prospect of peace,” said Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, in a report on Tamimi’s case.