Ahed is free, and Palestine must be too

July 30, 2018

The release of Ahed Tamimi and her mother after eight months in prison demonstrates the steadfast Palestinian resistance in the face of Israel’s offensive, including air strikes in Gaza and passage of a racist “nation-state” law, explains Sumaya A.

TEARS OF joy were flowing as Ahed Tamimi and her mother Nariman returned to their West Bank village of Nabi Saleh after eight months in an Israeli prison.

Video of the then 16-year-old Tamimi slapping an Israeli soldier went viral and won her worldwide admiration for her courageous stand against Israel’s occupation.

At the press conference to celebrate Ahed’s release, Ahed and her father Bassem did a call and response of “Amandla! Awethu!” echoing the slogan of the South African anti-apartheid struggle. “From our home, the resistance is continuing until the end of the occupation,” Ahed told the crowd.

The joy at Tamimi’s release is necessarily mixed with sorrow at Israel’s ongoing offensive against the Palestinian people — militarily, in the form of repeated strikes against besieged Gaza; and legislatively, with the July 19 passage of Israel’s nation-state law restricting the right to national self-determination in Palestine to Jews, and Jews alone.

Ahed Tamimi (center) addresses supporters and the press after her release
Ahed Tamimi (center) addresses supporters and the press after her release

In the last six months, Israeli forces have killed more than 140 Palestinians in Gaza, and in the last two weeks alone, they have carried out air strikes on three separate occasions, making this the largest offensive against Gaza since Israel’s 51-day attack in 2014 that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including 500 children.

Meanwhile, passage of the nation-state law codified Israel as an apartheid state, which guarantees Jews anywhere in the world more rights than the indigenous Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed from their homes in the years before and since the 1948 founding of the Israeli state.

The outcry has been intense, even from within the Israeli establishment, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been relentless in asserting Israel’s ethnic chauvinism.

DURING HER interrogation, Ahed was forbidden from seeing her family or being accompanied by a lawyer, despite being a minor.

A 93-minute video of the interrogation released in April shows Ahed sitting silently as two Israeli officials use the good-cop, bad-cop strategy. One yells in her face, “Who is making you do this? Your mother, your father?” while the other harasses her, cooing in her ear, “When I see you, I think of my daughter...and my little sister — she’s white like you.”

Less than an hour before Ahed slapped the soldier standing outside her family’s home, she had received news that her younger cousin, Mohammad Tamimi, had been shot in the head from a distance of a few meters by Israeli soldiers.

After being detained for over a month and spending her 17th birthday behind bars, Tamimi was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison. Ahed’s brother, Waed Tamimi, was detained in a raid on the Tamimi’s village of Nabi Saleh. He remains imprisoned.

Israel’s conviction rate for Palestinians is 99.74 percent, so it’s no surprise Ahed was found guilty and charged with “assaulting security forces” and “incitement.”

Yet Elor Azaria — the Israeli soldier who was caught on camera walking up to an incapacitated Palestinian man writhing on the ground and then shooting him point blank in the head — served almost the same amount of time in prison as Ahed.

Azaria was convicted and sentenced to 18 months, but was let out nine months early because the chief prosecutor claimed he constituted no threat to the public and had shown “good behavior” while in custody.

Ahed Tamimi, on the other hand, was denied her appeal for early parole because Israeli security authorities claimed she constituted a “potential for danger if she receives an early release.”

There are currently at least 350 Palestinian children detained in Israeli jails. During her time in prison, 30 more Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers.

Upon her release, Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel demonstrated how, in the warped worldview of Israeli authorities, even the most mild acts of resistance constitute “terrorism.” “I think Israel acts too mercifully with these types of terrorists,” he told reporters. “Israel should treat harshly those who hit its soldiers.”

Of course, Israeli politicians have nothing but contempt for the idea that the far greater violence unleashed by Israel against Palestinians is a textbook case of state terrorism.

Tamimi’s family has long been a target of the Israeli authorities, as is every Palestinian who attempts to resist the expanding Israeli occupation.

In fact, upon her release, one of the first things Ahed’s mother Nariman did was to pay her respects to the family of Ezz-al-Din Taimimi, shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during a morning raid on the village of Nabi Saleh earlier this year.

Ahed’s release is being celebrated around the world. Her father, Bassem, said in an interview prior to her release: “Our homes are open, our hearts are open, and, as they say, the whole world is waiting for her, not just me.”

But as we celebrate Ahed’s release from an Israeli prison cell, it’s important to remember that she remains in the prison of apartheid and occupation. Her village of Nabi Saleh is surrounded by illegal Jewish-only settlements, her mobility is restricted, her access to adequate education, and health care severely curtailed by the Israeli occupation.

THIS ALL became crystal clear on July 19 when the Israeli Knesset passed the nation-state bill, which stipulates that the “actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

The law also made Hebrew the official language of Israel, denigrating Arabic — the language spoken by more than half the combined population of Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza — to a lower status.

Further, the bill gave official sanction for the construction of exclusive Jewish communities, clarifying that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.”

Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year was also officially sanctified by the bill, which states, “[The] unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

The nation-state law is easily summed up in the following statement: A Jewish person living anywhere in the world is guaranteed more rights in Israel than Palestinians who have lived on the land for centuries.

Any Palestinian will tell you that the effects of this law — the discrimination, exclusive settlements and entrenched apartheid — have existed for decades. How else could Jewish-only roads, schools, hospitals and even maternity wards have proliferated? Even interreligious marriage is strictly forbidden in Israel.

According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are “over 65 laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel.”

But what this new law does is officially codify apartheid, ridding the world of any illusion of Israeli democracy and inclusivity — something that even moderate Israeli critics of Netanyahu are themselves pointing out.

Many events this year have paved the way for the nation-state bill. The emboldening of the far right in Israel has both foreshadowed the rise of the far right globally and been inspired by the international right.

Donald Trump’s attack on immigrants in the U.S. and the construction of immigrant detention camps along Germany’s borders go hand-in-hand with Israel’s drive to demonize Ethiopian Jews living in Israel.

In the last two years, Israel has ramped up its settlement construction, destroyed multiple Palestinian Bedouin villages, expanded its occupation of Jerusalem, initiated a project to close down all Palestinian institutions of higher education and intensified its siege on Gaza.

Trump’s role in emboldening Israel goes beyond moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. He has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency responsible for running schools and health clinics in occupied Gaza and the West Bank. By the end of August, at least 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza will have likely lost their jobs as a result of UNRWA budget cuts.

BUT PALESTINIAN resistance in the last year has also been revived.

On the first Friday of the Great Return March, more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza marched to the militarized border as a sign of resistance. The mass mobilization began to put the issue of Palestinian liberation back in the news — and to shift the mainstream narrative, exposing Zionism for what it really is: a lethal and racist ideology.

Now, 18 weeks later, the March of Great Return continues every Friday, and just like in its first month, innocent Palestinians are targeted and killed each week by Israeli snipers and heavy artillery shells.

An official Israeli military probe into the killings of more than 100 Palestinians in Gaza, including journalists, medical workers, and women and children, is expected to conclude that the deaths were simply a result of “operational mishaps” as opposed to deliberate targeting.

Men, women and children have marched to demand their internationally recognized right to return to the homes from which they were expelled, and they’ve been punished for attempting to exercise this right.

One of the many Palestinians targeted and killed by Israeli snipers during the march was Razan Najjar, a young paramedic shot in the back as she was providing medical aid to an injured protester. Razan’s words in an interview with the New York Times a month before she was killed, beautifully described one of the most overlooked aspects of Palestinian resistance — the fact that women are at the forefront:

In our society women are often judged...But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to accept us because we have more strength than any man...The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else.

Razan Najjar and Ahed Tamimi represent the strength of the Palestinian resistance, whose inspiration escapes the confines of borders and laws. As Ahed reminds us, “We should extend our struggles to one another in order to end all the world’s injustices.”

Palestinians marching in Gaza and resisting in the West Bank — against their Israeli occupiers and the Palestinian leadership that has betrayed them at every turn — must serve as a reminder of the revolutionary process that continues to this day, not just in Palestine, but Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq.

ALTHOUGH THE U.S. has cozied up to Israel under Trump, some observers say that elements within the Democratic Party have adopted a more critical posture toward Israel.

For example, nine-term Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a bill that would prohibit Israel from using any U.S. aid for “military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill treatment of Palestinian children.” Not long after, Bernie Sanders released a video highlighting the brutality of the siege on Gaza.

But such criticism of Israel’s most brutal policies should not be mistaken for a major reorientation within the Democratic Party establishment. Even if some Democratic Party voters are more critical of Israel today, party officials remain fully committed to backing Israel economically, politically, and diplomatically.

Establishment criticisms are intended only to curb the most flagrant and politically indefensible atrocities committed by Israel in order to make continued U.S. support more palatable both at home and abroad.

The socialist case in support of the Palestinian struggle places Israel’s settler-colonial project within the larger framework of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Standing up for Palestinians should be combined with supporting Syrians rising against their dictator; Egyptians fighting the repression of the regime of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi; Yemenis struggling against the Saudi-U.S. onslaught; and others in the Middle East and around the globe revolting against imperialism.

These are all popular struggles which both the Republican and Democratic Parties oppose.

More than anything, Palestinian freedom fighters like Ahed Tamimi and the brave participants in the Great Return March are proof that people coming together to organize and resist from the bottom up create the largest, strongest and loudest waves of resistance.

In the words of Ahed: “Peace is living in a world without borders, without occupation, with equality alone being the basis on which nations are built, not individual benefits.”

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