Palestinian teenager’s chutzpah shames Israeli military

Resistance: Palestinians gather in support of Ahed Tamimi, 16, who slapped an Israeli soldier and was arrested (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto)

Resistance: Palestinians gather in support of Ahed Tamimi, 16, who slapped an Israeli soldier and was arrested (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto)

PALESTINE

In a few short months, Ahed Tamimi has become a symbol of resistance against the Israeli occupation.

In recent days, even the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported on the chutzpah of the 16-year-old Palestinian girl.

But Tamimi is about far more than that.
By defying the Israel Defence Force, she has shown extreme courage in the face of a military and military court system designed to intimidate and oppress.

A few days ago, Tamimi accepted a plea bargain, which means she will be sentenced to eight months in prison. She has already spent three months in pretrial detention, so she is expected to serve another five months.

The Tamimi case has focused attention on the position of minors in the Israeli military detention system.

Tamimi, from the village of Nabi Salih in the occupied West Bank, slapped and kicked an Israeli soldier during a confrontation outside her family home in December after she heard that her 14-year-old cousin had been shot in the face with a rubber bullet. He was severely wounded and had to undergo emergency surgery.

Tamimi was arrested on December  19 last year and taken to the Ofer prison. She was charged on 12 counts, including assaulting a soldier, incitement, throwing stones and disruption of the public order. She pleaded guilty to attacking 
the soldier and to two other counts of disrupting the work of a soldier and incitement. Other charges, including stone-throwing, were dropped.

The plea bargaining deal is not final yet and will have to be approved by the military court in the West Bank, but such approval is usually a mere formality.

Tamimi’s defence lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said one reason her client accepted the deal was that it was evident there was no chance of a fair trial.

But for the exceptional amount of media attention, there is nothing special or unusual about Tamimi’s case. There are currently 365 Palestinian minors in custody; 95 of them are serving a prison sentence and 257 are in pretrial detention or post-indictment detention.

I do not have a single male Palestinian friend who has not, at some stage in his youth, been arrested or threatened with arrest. Overall, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been tried in military courts.

When Palestinian children get arrested by Israeli soldiers, their cases are not heard by the ordinary Israeli courts but by special juvenile military courts. Israel is one of very few countries in the world that places children in administrative detention.

Children and adults used to be tried by the same military court but, after an outcry by civil society, juvenile courts were introduced in 2008. In military courts, the age of majority is 16.

According to the progressive nongovernmental organisation B’Tselem, the rights of the minors are abused from the moment of their arrest.

The conviction rate in Israeli military courts is nearly 100%.

Plea bargaining is very common in these cases. Almost all Palestinian minors sign plea bargains, which are essentially an admission of guilt. They have little choice because the prosecution typically drops some of the more serious charges, leading to a shorter prison term.

In February, the Ofer military judge ordered that Tamimi’s case be heard in camera. In-camera trials increase the possibility that they could be conducted in a manner that is prejudicial to the accused.

Military courts the world over are not considered to follow due process and ensure a fair trial. They are often staffed by officers with no legal training.

The United Nations has repeatedly criticised military courts for violating international law.

By trying children in military courts, Israel is clearly violating the widely ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and many other international conventions. In a world where international law is routinely violated, respect for the rights and best interests of the child is almost universally considered to be among the highest norms. But international law has long been a casualty of the occupation.

In the media frenzy surrounding the case, much has been made of Tamimi’s good looks — her fair skin and wayward blonde hair. Of course, her looks are irrelevant to the case or to her activism.

But the fact that she is very young and a woman arguably highlights the vulnerability of Palestinians. Compared with the way arrested Palestinian youths are often manhandled, the Israeli soldiers treated Tamimi less harshly. 

As a result, a Facebook commentator, Saber Mohammed, called the Tamimi case a mockery, saying it showed “the beautiful face of the occupier”. The case is also a slap in the face of justice.

Mia Swart

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