Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager from Nabih Saleh, a village in the occupied West Bank, was arrested and detained for "slapping" an armed Israeli soldier on December 19, 2017. She was arrested when Israeli soldiers invaded her home at 3am. Just hours earlier her cousin, 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, was shot in the face at point-blank range with a rubber-coated metal bullet by an IDF soldier.
Mohammed required urgent surgery to remove part of his skull. Ahed's and Mohammed's childhoods have been plagued by constant harassment by Israeli soldiers, and the deaths of their families, cousins and friends. In terms of Israeli military law, Ahed was expected to be sentenced to up to fourteen years' imprisonment on the day of her 17 birthday, January 31, 2018. Her court appearance began behind closed doors on February 13, 2018.
Extreme thuggish reactions from some Israelis have included suggestions that Ahed (and girls like her) should be systematically raped by Israeli soldiers to avenge the humiliation of being slapped by a Palestinian girl. Just why is the sense of outrage amongst western media or human and children's rights organisations so muted? Is the plight of the Tamimi children any less than that of Malala Youfsafzai, who was also shot in the face for her activism, and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
Despite Ahed's remarkable resistance to Israeli oppression for many years, she has received only limited support from international organisations such as Amnesty International – which on January 15, 2018 called for her release. Even a prominent Israeli poet infuriated the Israeli government when he described her as "a modern Joan of Arc".
African-Americans are comparing her to Rosa Parks, who sixty years ago broke the law in Montgomery, Alabama by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. However, Ahed's revolutionary presence has brought new meaning to activism. Ahed does not want our tears for her struggle. Instead, she demands that our souls join her in dismantling and destroying the apartheid state of Israel.
Unicef repeatedly describes the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in military detention as "widespread, systematic and institutionalised". Even the U.S state department reports that Palestinian children are tortured by "beatings, long-term handcuffing, threats, intimidation and solitary confinement". The U.N Convention on Child Rights (CRC) recognises the importance of the rights of a child, and further highlights the significance of the growth and development of a person during this crucial phase of life.
This is grossly inadequate. More appropriate would be the immediate expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and complete severance of diplomatic relations.
Countries that have ratified the CRC are bound by international humanitarian law to protect the rights of children. Israel ratified the CRC in 1991, while simultaneously waging a war on Palestinian children. In contradiction, Israeli military law allows any Palestinian child aged 12 or over to be arrested, interrogated without the presence of a parent or lawyer, and sentenced in the Israeli military court system.
The purportedly "most moral army in the world" is so afraid of unarmed children like Ahed and Muhammed, plus hundreds of other Palestinian children, that they put them on trial in military courts, where the conviction rate is close to 100 percent. Between 2000-2018, up to 8,000 Palestinian children were victims of this inhumane legal system. Presently 400 children are imprisoned under Israel's military dictatorship.
The western world is evidently in a state of paralysis after a 16-year-old woman resisted Israeli military oppression, and highlighted that Israeli brutality towards children is even worse than that inflicted by the oppressors in apartheid South Africa. During the struggle against apartheid, youth were charged with public violence and tried in civilian courts, e.g. the Wynberg Seven – whereas Ahed faces incarceration under military law.
Ahed and her family toured South Africa in August 2017. She met various activists and political leaders. She was also photographed with deputy president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, whose silence now on her arrest is shocking.
It is significant that she was arrested during the ANC's 54 national conference (December 16-20, 2017). The 5,000 ANC cadres expressed a pathetic display of solidarity and only demanded the downgrading of the South African embassy. This is grossly inadequate. More appropriate would be the immediate expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and complete severance of diplomatic relations.
A misogynistic and racist U.S. president should not be permitted to threaten South Africa over Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine. Now is the time to defy the U.S. government as a supporter of apartheid Israel. President Trump's illegal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has generated fury around the world.
Now is the opportunity for South Africa to regain the moral authority it held during the Mandela presidency. We South Africans must side with the Palestinians and demand the release of all political prisoners (especially children) and the end of Israeli military occupation in Palestine.