Ahed Tamimi is the symbol of the politicisation of Palestinian youth

She is only 17. But her face has been seen around the world. Palestinian Ahed Tamimi was arrested by the Israeli authorities on 19 December 2017. Charged with “assault”, she is accused of striking two Israeli soldiers in her village of Nabi Saleh, ten kilometres from Ramallah in the West Bank.

The event would not have had the same impact if it had not been recorded by her mother and widely shared on social media.

In a video that went viral, we can see Ahed Tamimi, together with her cousin, getting angry at two soldiers posted in the courtyard of their family home. The adolescent asks them to leave, pushes them, and finally slaps and kicks them. The soldiers remain stonily calm, but faced with her insistence they finally step back.

It’s not the first time Tamimi has drawn attention to herself. The young girl appeared in another video in 2012. She was only 11 years old then, but she was already shoving Israeli soldiers away to show them they were not welcome in her village.

Ahed Tamimi’s trial opened on 13 February, before a military tribunal in the Ofer prison in the West Bank. In the view of the Israeli right, and notably the Education Minister and head of the pro-colonisation party The Jewish Home, Naftali Bennet, the adolescent is a dangerous agitator who must pay for “humiliating” the Israeli army.

According to her Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky, however, the young Palestinian has done nothing wrong. “Ahed has the right to resist the occupation. It is not a criminal act” she says.

That view is shared by many human rights associations. On 12 February, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of the adolescent, recalling that “the arrest, detention and imprisonment of a child must be a measure of last resort.”

Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer has gone even further, claiming that the trial of the young Palestinian is “illegal”. “The occupation is illegal, and therefore this tribunal, as an organ of the occupation, is unlawful, it cannot organise the Ahed trail”.

To support her defence, Gaby Lasky points to the fact that the military judge had ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors, away from the eyes of the media and foreign diplomats. Against the wishes of Ahed Tamimi and her family.

“The court says they want to protect Ahed by holding the trial behind closed doors. But I think the court wants to protect itself. It knows that people, on the outside, think that Ahed’s rights have been violated and that she should not be put on trial” says the lawyer.

For many Palestinians, Ahed Tamimi has become an icon of the resistance against the Israeli occupation. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, believes the adolescent is “a freedom fighter who, in the years to come, will lead the resistance against Israeli domination”.

A new generation of Palestinian activists

Like Ahed Tamimi, other young Palestinians are politicising and using social media to express their frustration and anger.

Within the Tamimi family, another of Ahed’s cousins, Jinna Jihad, is also known for her political involvement. All of ten years old, she is presented as the “youngest journalist in Palestine”.

For the past year, the young girl has appeared in numerous videos, in which she comments on demonstrations and confrontations with the army as they go on behind her. This commentary has earned her more than 270,000 followers on Facebook.

Jinna Jihad’s popularity is far from anecdotal, it goes beyond the frontiers of the West Bank. Proof of that is the special prize awarded to the young Palestinian by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March 2017.

Less well-known in Western media is Ziad Fakhoury, who is an extreme example of this phenomenon. At only three years of age, this little boy, the son of a Palestinian journalist, has his own YouTube channel. More than 59,000 followers watch his videos.

With his baby face, laughing eyes and glib tongue, Ziad fires off strings off barbed comments against the Israeli occupation, tackling complicated and political issues.

In an interview with Middle East Eye, his father explains that his little boy, who is “sociable and highly gifted (…) wants to be the voice of a childhood sacrificed by the occupation”. “Although the subjects he tackles are very complex, Ziad has a gift for simplifying things and adding a lighter touch” he says.

On the Israeli side, this precocious political activism has ruffled more than a few feathers. Some believe the young Palestinians are being used by their parents. They are just “pawns” in a media war nicknamed “Pallywood” (a contraction of Palestine and Hollywood) waged by Palestinians in Israel against the occupation.

“Since the second Intifada, there has been a distortion between what happens on the ground and what the Palestinians are showing in their videos” says Maurice Hirsch, a member of the pro-Israeli association NGO Monitor.

That is why he believes people have a distorted view of the Tamimi affair. “The Tamimi family are presented as human rights defenders, but the father has been found guilty of urging the children of his village to attack Israeli soldiers. They are using their children as weapons” he says.

The political speeches that Palestinians are steeped in from a very early age, at school, on the television or in their family circle certainly have an influence on their early activism.

“Nursery schools in the West Bank have provided an institutional system that has reinforced this politicisation of Palestinian children” wrote Palestinian Nafez Nazzal, now a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, back in 1996.

According to the professor, the nursery rhymes taught to Palestinian children during the second Intifada, designed to awaken their political conscience and cultivate their patriotism, played a decisive role in this process.

But Nafez Nazzal points out that these nursery rhymes would certainly not have had such an impact on young Palestinians if they had not reflected what they experienced in real life.

“For the children these rhymes are not fictitious or imaginary, they are valid and compatible with the experience of their daily lives” he stresses, citing for example the destruction of their houses or confrontations with Israeli soldiers.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter very much whether these young Palestinians have been influenced by their parents or not. Like Ahed Tamimi, they were born and have grown up under occupation. For them, getting involved in the resistance against the Israelis is a source of pride, and a reason for existing. Even at the risk of finding themselves behind bars.

Ahed Tamimi’s trial is due to resume on 11 March. It is estimated that the adolescent could find herself facing between a year and half and seven years in prison.

This story has been translated from French.