Israel’s PR disaster in dealing with the Tamimi teens
There is something spectacularly surreal about the way Israeli authorities are dealing with the Palestinian Tamimi family in the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. Morality issues aside, it has become a never-ending public relations disaster for Israel.
Israel arrested Ahed Tamimi, then 16, on December 19 for slapping and kicking armed Israeli soldiers in the driveway of her home, while calling on them to leave four days earlier.
The Israeli soldiers, seeing that the angry young girl did not pose a threat to them, ignored her. That was a wise move.
However, video of the incident, taken and shared on social media by Ahed’s family, sparked anger among members of Israel’s right-wing, leading for calls on the government to punish Ahed like a terrorist for humiliating the military.
With apparent political, not security, motivations in mind, Israel arrested Ahed on several charges, including one that dates to 2016, and denied her bail. If found guilty by the military court trying her, she could face 14 years in jail.
Ahed’s detention brought Israel unwanted international attention and criticism from human rights groups. It renewed focus on how Palestinian minors were often mistreated by the Israeli authorities.
“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,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and Africa deputy director, said in a statement.
To quell further international interest, the judge handling Ahed’s case ordered the courtroom emptied, ruling the hearing would no longer be open to the public. His decision came after journalists, European diplomats and NGO representatives had packed the courtroom. Kicking them out could only cause further damage to Israel’s reputation.
Ahed’s arrest brought international media attention to another, more disturbing incident. In addition to the daily humiliation of living under occupation, Ahed said she was particularly enraged on the day of the alleged assault after learning that her 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi, had been shot in the head with a rubber-coated Israeli bullet. Part of the boy’s skull had to be removed.
Israeli authorities did not stop there. The Israeli military raided the home of Mohammed at 3 o’clock one morning and took the disfigured child for interrogation.
“The mystery as to why Israel would inflict such an obvious blow to its own image, by arresting a boy with severe head trauma, was resolved… in a Facebook post from Major-General Yoav Mordechai, the senior Israeli official who oversees the military rule of Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank,” wrote Robert Mackey on the Intercept website.
“Mordechai revealed that during Mohammed’s interrogation by the military… without the presence of a parent or lawyer, the boy had ‘confessed’ that ‘he was injured while he was riding his bicycle and fell off it’.”
Mohammed, who is to undergo more surgery soon, was released but his confession, predictably, brought about more public outrage. He said that he lied in his confession statement out of fear he would be jailed.
“When the detainees are minors, their jailers have a greater ability — with the help of a few slaps, painful positions during questioning and psychological pressure — to extract false incriminations,” Israeli columnist Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz. “It is easy to manipulate and break them.”
Indeed, when the soldiers who shot away a part of your skull have you alone under their grip and ask you about your injury, it is highly unlikely that you — a 15-year-old — are going to look them in the eye and say: “Actually, it was you.”
Mohammed’s family, as well as Israeli rights activists, produced medical records to show that his injury was caused by a bullet, as initially reported and backed by witnesses, and hadn’t been challenged by the Israeli authorities until then.
Mordechai’s statement, which was welcomed by many right-wing Israelis, literally added insult to injury for the Palestinians.
Internationally, it doesn’t look good for Israeli authorities to use the “fell off the bike” story. After so many years of exploitation and abuse, such excuses ring hollow.