[Editor’s note: sixteen-year-old Palestinian rebel Ahed Tamimi was kidnapped by Israeli soldiers this week. What follows is Justin King’s 2015 account of meeting her.]
The first time I saw Ahed Tamimi she was unarmed and screaming at an Israeli soldier on a dirty road. At one point, the soldier threw a concussion grenade. While many around her panicked, she ducked low and moved away covering her ears. She showed no panic, just a reaction. Even though I was on the other side of the world and sitting in the comfort of my own home, I could sense the defiance and rage through the glow of my computer screen. It took some time to process why the video had the impact it did. It wasn’t just the defiance in her eyes. It was the fact that it wasn’t new to her. She had obviously seen more carnage and violence than most. She was a veteran. The world is becoming more and more accustomed to female warriors, so why did this veteran’s battle have the impact it did? She was 13 years old. I say “woman” because she isn’t a “child” and she isn’t a “girl”. Not anymore. She’s a hardened veteran. We bought her childhood at the price tag of $10 million dollars per day in military aid to Israel.
That was three years ago. This week, I saw her again in another video. She was wrestling with an Israeli soldier who was attempting to make an arrest. She’s wearing a Tweety Bird shirt and should have a matching purse hanging at her hip. She has a gas mask dangling instead. She bit, punched, and kicked. The solider wasn’t able to make the arrest. Some have asked how her parents could allow her to be in such a situation. I would first point out, having interviewed her, that I don’t think it would be possible to keep her away from the fight. The words “Palestinian children are not afraid of the occupier,” are not the words of someone who could be dissuaded from joining the fight easily.
The rush to condemn her parents for allowing her to be in such a situation is really hiding our own guilt. That gas mask at her hip is an indictment of you and I. We allowed our governments to create a situation in which a teenage girl needs the same gas mask that I have strapped to my vest. This is the world we have created. What’s the alternative for her parents? They could allow her to stay at home so she could be killed by an Israeli airstrike while huddling in a corner of a house. Maybe she could be killed by a white phosphorus attack on the street, or burned to death by Israeli settlers. Americans want to condemn her parents because we know that if she is killed, we will have paid for the weapons that killed her. It’s true; she might very well be killed on the front lines, but she will die on her feet. She won’t die on her knees.
Americans don’t want to see the faces of those our tax dollars kill. We want them to remain anonymous so we can picture them as evil people. We want to be able to say “oh they were just some more evil Muslims.” When we see their faces, we realize they aren’t monsters. They’re people. This humanization is especially true in Ahed’s case. She’s blonde. She has blue eyes. She looks like the stereotypical American girl. Soccer moms across the country can’t simply write her off as just another faceless Arab. She looks too much like their own children.
We’ve created a world where defiance and resistance are her only options. You may call her a child if you want, but she’s a soldier. Her biggest worry should be getting yelled at for not doing her homework. Instead she’s being yelled at by an Israeli soldier who’s pointing an American-made rifle at her. She’s in a war zone that we fund. Don’t condemn her because she chose a side.
I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Hello Ahed. I’ve seen you in several videos online and I have to admit that I was amazed by the level of defiance you have shown. I’ve seen you wrestle with men armed with automatic rifles and I’ve watched you chase an Israeli soldier down a road. Are you ever afraid?
For sure, everyone is afraid. But I’m not afraid for me or for my life. I am afraid of losing someone from my family.
You obviously believe in your cause very much, where do you think you get your spirit from?
Every Palestinian, since the day he was born, he has this courage and this spirit because he’s born in such difficult conditions. If he wasn’t courageous, he would become a martyr.
Are other people your age as ready to fight for your cause?
Yes. Because all the Palestinians love their country and they’re ready to fight for it.
What are the main worries of people your age in the occupied territories?
Palestinian children are not afraid of the occupier.
Do you think there can be peace? If so, what can help bring about peace?
I think that for sure, one day there will be peace, as soon as the Israelis will take off the occupation and the Zionism from their mind, there will be peace.
What can Americans do to help your cause?
The USA is the country who supports Israel all the time and in every field, so American people should put pressure on their government to stop supporting the terrorist state of Israel and start to support us through the boycott of Israel and talk about the Palestinian cause to let the world know that we’re not terrorists.
If you could tell the world one thing about Palestine, what would it be?
I’d tell that they should support Palestine in every way and stand with us in order to get free from Zionism all over the world.
I feel honored to have her on my friends list on Facebook. Scrolling through her photos, mixed in with political memes, there’s still a glimmer of an average teen’s Facebook feed. There are selfies. There are photos of her and her sister by a birthday cake. One of her playing chess. Another of her trying on hats. Some of her making silly faces. There’s a photo of a friend making chocolate cakes. Just below that, there’s a photo an Israeli soldier pointing an M203 at her chest. No teenage girl’s photo stream should include a photo of her at the business end of a grenade launcher. We, as humans, have to stand up and say that this is unacceptable. We need to fight for a world where her Facebook photos don’t include images of her facing down automatic rifles.
Her defiance is a noble trait; the fact that it is necessary is the shame of the world.