Today we celebrate Tamimi's release, tomorrow the struggle continues

Today we celebrate Tamimi's release, tomorrow the struggle continues
Comment: It's important to celebrate, especially when there aren't many things to celebrate, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
03 Aug, 2018
During her incarceration, Ahed Tamimi became a symbol of Palestinian resistance [AFP]
The release from Israeli prison of the young Palestinian freedom fighter, Ahed Tamimi, was celebrated around the world this week, following her shocking arrest eight months ago.

Israel issued 12 charges against her after a video appeared showing her involvement in an altercation with an Israeli soldier during a raid on her home village Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank. While large sections of Israeli and mainstream media focused on Tamimi's slap, much less was said about the soldier's assault that left her 14-year old cousin Mohammed dead after being shot in the head.

Although, as David A Love put it in his AlJazeera
piece: "The real crime this 16-year-old Palestinian girl committed was resisting a hostile and racist military occupation and its human rights violations, and having the temerity to challenge the toxic masculinity of the Israeli military."

While celebrations are important, particularly for the Palestinian people who continue to live under illegal military occupation and siege, we shouldn't overlook her ill-treatment and deeply traumatic experience as a child imprisoned by a deeply racist and unjust institution known globally for its human rights abuses against children in particular.

I hope nobody ever goes through what I went through, but I'm glad I ended up there for my beliefs… And I'm ready to go to prison a hundred more times

Defense for Children International-Palestine has reported around 375 children between the ages of 12 and 17 to be living under Israeli military detention in 2016 alone. Furthermore, 73 percent of Palestinian children face violence at the point of their arrest, and an alarming 97 percent were interrogated without a parent present.

Upon her release,
she spoke of how difficult her months of incarceration were. "I hope nobody ever goes through what I went through," clearly also recognising the importance of her visible strength as she now takes on the responsibility of being a public face of Palestinian resistance, "but I'm glad I ended up there for my beliefs… And I'm ready to go to prison a hundred more times if it serves the good of my country."

Even while behind bars, despite the treatment she faced, she remained resilient, practically, by
"turning the jail into a school" alongside the other imprisoned Palestinian women in her unit, as they spent hours on end learning from legal texts.

The prison responded by
shutting down her classes or sabotaging the periods of study in some way, as if the psychological violence of verbal abuse and sexual harassment of which the world received a small taste during her interrogation, was not enough.

She also explained
to RT Arabic, that the hardest thing she endured while imprisoned, was hearing of her 17-year-old cousin Musab's murder by Israeli soldiers in the new year.

Ahed Tamimi's uncompromising stand against injustice before and after her arrest, her ability to persevere, despite countless attempts at character assassination, all point to this young woman as an example in the face of colonialism and racism. But, we cannot think that it is enough to just share videos of her, post some social media solidarity and express joy because she made it out.

This is especially true given so many other Palestinian children continue to face more than a decade in prison for offences such as
throwing stones.

It neither does justice to the significance of her actions, nor to the extent that she has inspired oppressed communities around the world. Symbols are empty if they do not serve to fuel a movement. Ahed Tamimi - alongside so many of her family members - has literally put her life and freedom on the line to oppose the daily Israeli violations of international law, and to defend the rights of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and dignity.

It is now important that she has hundreds of thousands of others willing to do that alongside her, not only in Palestine but around the world.

Throughout the #FreeAhed movement, people posted about, painted and drew Ahed Tamimi. During her incarceration, like many political prisoners before her, she became a symbol of the ongoing struggle, a face to put on the countless anonymous Palestinians who suffer the same fate, and a name around which to congregate and mobilise.

It also meant, however, that there were many - often sexist - attempts to reduce her to just that, a face. There was somewhat of an obsession with her appearance, from the colour of her hair to her eyes and complexion, as journalist Amira Hass explained in
her article: "In Nabi Saleh, the Palestinians Aren't Legally Blonde." She was also nicknamed "Shirley Temper".
They are afraid of the truth. If they were not wrong, they would not be afraid of the truth

Similarly, some pro-Israelis took to discrediting her by calling the entire affair as Palestinian propaganda, mockingly dubbed "Pallywood".

This was also reinforced by the fact that her features meant white people could see themselves in her and were therefore far more likely to humanise/sympathise with her, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of many, as
explained by writer Ben Ehrenreich. He wrote: "A great deal of work goes into 'othering' Palestinians, to casting them as some really recognizable other… but when suddenly the kid doesn't fit into those stereotypes - when she actually looks like a European kid or an American kid - then suddenly all that work of dehumanization can't function, and she can't be 'othered' in the same way. And then people freak out."

This being said, despite all the attempts to discredit her, or to limit the solidarity movement to her and her alone while conveniently forgetting about the hundreds of other children (and thousands of other political prisoners) in Israeli jails, Ahed Tamimi remained determined to use her platform to raise broader questions about Palestine and its liberation.

This is what makes her such a powerful figure, and it is also why Israel's propaganda machine has been so worried about her.

she summed up perfectly: "They are afraid of the truth. If they were not wrong, they would not be afraid of the truth. The truth scares them. And I managed to deliver this truth to the world. And of course, they're afraid how far I reached. They always fear the truth, they are the occupier, and we are under occupation."

This commitment to justice, to struggle, and to truth, whatever the consequences, is one from which activists around the world will need to take inspiration in the months ahead, as states, politicians, and institutions continue to slander, criminalise, and prosecute those who raise the Palestinian people's struggle for freedom or attempt to implement Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against those complicit with their expropriation and oppression.

The road to freedom is always a long one, and in the words of Frederick Douglass: "This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow the struggle continues.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff