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The face of Palestinian women's defiance is a 16-year-old girl

The Tamimis' struggle is typical of that of the millions of Palestinians who have been losing their homes, their land, their natural resources and their livelihood for 70 years

Ahed Tamimi has been protecting her ancestral land since she was a tender nine years old.

Photos of the 16-year-old in pigtails, sometimes in a Minnie Mouse T-shirt, mostly with a keffiyeh around her shoulders, started circulating a few years ago, as she and the rest of her family held weekly protests against their dispossession.

Israel arrests an average of two children every night, more so since the recent protests that followed US President Donald Trump’s declaration 

Weekly demonstrations

The extended community of Tamimis have put the small West Bank town of Nabi Saleh on the map, and in 2013 on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, as they steadfastly confront the Israeli military and nearby settlers during weekly demonstrations against the encroaching settlement of Halamish, which is stealing their water, and wants to prevent them from tending their crops.

Ahed's father, Bassem Tamimi, has been imprisoned for his non-violent resistance multiple times and last week Israeli soldiers arrested Ahed herself in a nighttime raid, after video footage emerged of her slapping an Israeli soldier who had shot her 14-year-old cousin Mohammad Fadel, who remains in intensive care.

The next day Ahed's 21-year-old cousin Nour, who also appears in the video footage, was arrested the next morning, as well as Ahed’s mother Nariman, when she showed up to be present for her daughter’s interrogation.

Sadly, the Tamimis' struggle is not unique. Rather, it is typical of that of the millions of Palestinians who have been losing their homes, their land, their natural resources and their livelihood for 70 years, and most of whom engage in non-violent resistance which is met with the full fury of the powerful Israeli military.

Nor is Ahed’s nighttime arrest extraordinary: Israel arrests an average of two children every night, more so since the recent protests that followed US President Donald Trump’s declaration that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Ahed Tamimi (C) gestures in front of an Israeli soldier in November 2012 during a protest against the confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah (AFP)

One example, from earlier this month, is that of Abdul-Khalik Burnat, the 17-year-old son of Iyad Burnat, another non-violent protest leader, who was also arrested with two friends, and charged with “damaging” the apartheid wall.

Burnat and his friends are now in Ofer prison and, their equally worthy struggle notwithstanding, their arrest and imprisonment are not making international headlines.

'Empowerment' of Palestinian women 

Gender matters. What is unusual about Ahed and her family is the visibility, by Western standards, of the "empowerment" of Palestinian women. This is not to suggest that a veiled woman is not empowered - rather Ahed's iconic status holds up a mirror to Western myopia, which frequently fails to see beyond a headscarf.

If Ahed wore a hijab, and let's be honest, if she were not an attractive, blue-eyed, blonde young girl, she would not have become the favourite of millions of Western liberals who cannot quite reconcile themselves to the full validity of a hijabi woman's struggle. 

Feminism teaches that the hypermasculinity of the military - even a military that includes women and openly gay soldiers - cannot liberate women and children

The young Ahed Tamimi, as well as her mother, Nariman, and her cousin Nour, are the irrefutable proof that Palestinian women and children do not need to be saved from Arab patriarchy, or Islamic fundamentalism, but from the Israeli military, as it carries out their dispossession, displacement and the violation of their human rights.

Indeed, there is something so unnerving to Westerners about the Tamimi women and children that Michael Oren would not even recognise them as Palestinians, claiming instead that they are "staged" for the purpose of provoking the Israeli Occupation Forces. (I include Zionists among Westerners, since Zionism is a European settler-colonial movement.)

In a tweet on 18 December, Oren wrote: "The Tamimi family - which may not be a real family - dresses up kids in American clothes and pays them to provoke IDF troops on camera. This cynical and cruel use of children constitutes abuse. Human rights organisations must investigate!"

Lioness vs Zioness

Ahed has been described as the Palestinian Mockingjay, and, because of her unruly, mane-like hair, a "lioness". I love that latter image. A lioness protects her own, as Ahed has done since she was a child. The video that shows her slapping an Israeli soldier was taken after her cousin was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

Ahed Tamimi (L) fights with other members of her family to free a Palestinian boy held by an Israeli soldier during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in Nabi Saleh in August 2015 (AFP)

The earlier photo, where she is biting another soldier, was taken when Israeli soldiers were trying to arrest her brother, whose broken arm was in a sling. Nobody would wish this need to protect oneself, and one's loved ones, on anyone, least of all a young child.

Yet most women would totally relate to this protectiveness, and would indeed praise the impulse to stand between the attacker and the weak. Feminism teaches self-reliance and strategic self-defence rather than submissiveness.

Feminism also teaches that the hypermasculinity of the military - even a military that includes women and openly gay soldiers - cannot liberate women and children. 

Because of her visibility, various groups and organisations have denounced Ahed's arrest, starting petitions, gathering signatures and calling for political action.

One self-professed Jewish feminist group, however, is conspicuously absent, despite its claim to be "a new initiative that empowers progressive and feminist Zionists who wish to engage in movements to advance civil rights, social justice and equality for all".

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The Zioness Movement, which was formed earlier in 2017, when the International Women’s Strike took on an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist stance, is silent when a fearless, powerful young woman who knows her rights, and resists her dispossession, is standing up to oppression.

And yet a "Zioness", according to that website, is someone who is proud, progressive, and "stands for justice and fights against all forms of oppression".

Is the nighttime arrest of innocent children not a form of oppression? Is the theft of one’s natural resources not a form of oppression? Is a court that finds occupied Palestinians guilty 99.7 percent of the time not a form of oppression?

And will the Zionesses side with the oppressor again and again, just as some white women continue to vote for Trump, even as he boasts about sexual assault with impunity? 

Ahed, Nariman and Nour Tamimi did not choose to be the face of Palestinian women's defiance, and sumoud. But they make us proud, and give us hope that we will overcome, long after the Zionesses have been tossed, along with other non-starters, into the dustbin of history.

Nada Elia is a diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin' 'Demographic Threat?' Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of gender and global studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Ahed Tamimi holds up a Palestinian flag as she takes part in a protest in June 2011 against the expropriation of Palestinian land in the village of Nabi Saleh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Israeli army arrested her on 9 December 2017 after a video went viral of her slapping Israeli soldiers (AFP)

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