By Haim Schwarczenberg, [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A closer look at the reaction to the Tamimi case

Why is it that Tamimi has become the poster child of resistance here in the West? She is certainly not the first to resist the occupation.


Ahed Tamimi — the 17 year old anti-occupation activist who was recently imprisoned for a viral video in which she is shown shoving and slapping Israeli troops off her family’s property — has become the new idol of resistance, at least here in the West.

Tamimi and her family have long been anti-occupation activists in her home town of Nabi Saleh, which neighbors an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Having grown up under occupation, there are several videos available online of her resisting the occupation she has grown under. One of the most well known shows her fighting off Israeli soldiers as they attempt to arrest her brother who had a broken arm at the time.

A few weeks before Ahed’s arrest, her cousin was shot in the face with a rubber coated bullet by an Israeli soldier and is lucky to be alive.

But why is it that Tamimi has become the poster child of resistance here in the West? She is certainly not the first to resist the occupation.

The Invisible Oppressed

A few weeks before the Tamimi video and arrest, Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, a double amputee, wheelchair bound, Gaza-based activist, was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration.

Thuraya was a well-known resister and his death was mourned by thousands. But it is only in death that his activism came to be known for us here in the west. Odds are, we wouldn’t have even heard of him had he not been an amputee, just like many of us didn’t hear about the three others killed alongside him that day.

Why is that? Thuraya and his compatriots represent the stereotypical image of Palestinian resistance, burly men clad with balaclavas, yelling angrily, waving flags, and tossing stones, they are aggressive and violent, callous with their lives and praise martyrdom — they are “uncivilized”.

This is how the media has taught us to see Palestinian resistance, through the lens of our western “civility”; and had it not been for his wheelchair, it is how we would have seen Thuraya — it is how we did until his death did away with our skewed and sterile view of what resistance ought to be.

This is why Thuraya and his compatriots will never be seen as leaders of icons of the Palestinian struggle, they are “too much”.

Acceptable Resistance

Ahed Tamimi poses no such challenges to our views of resistance. As a matter of fact, she fits right into western norms on several levels, and it’s our unconscious biases that have elevated her to the current status of an idol.

Tamimi is not a balaclava clad Hamas fighter, finger swinging and yelling — she is not “savage”. She fits neatly into our perception of non-violent resistance.

The video which has shot her to fame has done so through a heavily gendered interpretation. Her actions are seen as “emasculating”. This interpretation has led her (and her mother and cousin who also appear in the video) to jail and has also instilled a sense of gendered pride into her supporters as if to say: look even a 17-year-old girl can stand up to you.

Tamimi and her family do not live in a refugee camp. She is distant from the other image of Palestinians we are used to. The tear jerking powerless refugee child living in over-cramped conditions. Her family is well spoken and well dressed. She is not veiled, and her fair skin and fiery hair makes it almost as if she was one of us.

All this makes her easier to digest. It is resistance broken down and distilled to fit our western perspectives, allowing us to reinforce our own sense of justice and appease our sense of activism.

None of this is to discount Ahed or her family as resisters, or to put one form of resistance above another. By any measure she is a force to be reckoned with. This is merely a reflection on how and why we have chosen to listen to her in a sea of equally unrelenting activists.

What of the struggle?

Like Thuraya though, the elevation of Ahed has also come with a form of “martyrdom”, her imprisonment. With this we continue to see the resister only at the moment of victimhood, absent the struggle.

Our voices only coming up in outrage when these “out of the norm” events take place; and only when they do so in a space that doesn’t require us to challenge our own values and comfort around resistance. They come when the subject of our outrage has lost agency, when they have died or when they have been thrown behind bars. The struggle becomes a backdrop to our outrage, a staging area.

What does it say about us when the continuous presence of the occupation is not enough for our outrage, or that 331 Palestinian children behind bars is not enough? What does it say about us when we need an Ahed or a Thuraya to speak out?

Hope for the future

Ahed has now been sentenced to eight months in prison by a state that doesn’t represent her for an attack against an occupier.

I imagine that once she is released, our interest in the Palestinian cause and the absurdity of the context of her arrest will once again wane. The moral role we have crafted for ourselves will melt away as those enthralled in the struggle regain their agency. We will retreat to the shadows until the next sterile opportunity for us to express “solidarity”.

Of course, I hope I am wrong, I hope that these events will drive us to learn more about the occupation of Palestine beyond “they killed a man in a wheelchair” or “they threw a 16-year-old girl in jail”. I hope that we can move beyond our stereotypes and see the struggle for what it is, inextricable from all forms of resistance and not just those that sit right with us.

For now, though, I’m glad that the Tamimi family has got your attention, it’s about time something did.

The views expressed in this opinion are the writer’s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Turban Times.

This entry by Jade Saab originally appeared on Medium. A version of the article is published by The Turban Times with permission.

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