free ahed tamimi

Why Liberal Feminism Must Embrace The Cause To #FreeAhedTamimi

Last month, teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi was arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces in a night raid in illegally occupied Palestine.  The circumstances of her arrest and the human rights abuse she faces are horrifying, but liberal feminists from the West are mysteriously silent about her cause. 

Tamimi was taken into Israeli custody on an uncorroborated suspicion of ‘assaulting a soldier and an IDF officer’ in a chaotic night raid that involved about thirty Israeli soldiers storming into Tamimi’s house, rifling through her household contents, confiscating the family’s phones, computers and laptops, roughing up her relatives, and dragging the sixteen-year-old girl to an IDF jeep, from which she was taken to the police station for interrogation. She was arrested after confronting a soldier who shot her 14-year-old cousin in the head, and following a long history of assault and harassment faced by Tamimi and her family at the hands of the Israeli military. The family has been subjected to repeated arrests, tear-gas attacks, and even threats by Israeli leaders and commentators, who called not just for their life imprisonment but also implied the sixteen-year-old Ahed should be raped in a dark room for her crimes.

Tamimi now faces twelve charges in Israel’s military courts, including stone throwing, incitement, and threatening and assaulting a soldier. As a result, she could now face several years in prison, if she is convicted, which she has a high chance of being: Israel’s military courts convict a staggering 99.74% of the defendants that come before it. This is because Israel’s military justice system has long been recognized as a kangaroo court and labeled ‘the occupation’s accomplice‘ and ‘the judicial arm of the occupation.’ Israel’s military courts are of dubious jurisdiction and many of their practices are illegal under either international law.

The arrest, abuse, and persecution of an outspoken teenage female activist in a corrupt kangaroo court should be the object of international conversation, led at the forefront by feminists who purport to care about the cause of girls and their empowerment globally. Yet, major Western media publications, feminist activists and commentators, and feminist politicians all remain noticeably silent on the campaign to free Ahed Tamimi.

As some commentators have noted, Tamimi’s actions and persecution remind us of another teenage girl from the Global South who was systemically targeted and attacked for her activism: Malala Yousafzai. Yet while Malala was greeted by U.S. state representatives, given a Malala day and several U.S. platforms, and has a (rightfully earned) place in feminist history, Tamimi — who has been a vocal activist since she was as young as 12, standing up to settler violence and occupation — is resolutely ignored.  Tamimi has been denied a visa to speak in the United States, and no prominent western feminist championing girl’s empowerment has bothered making public statements supporting her. They do not use popular hashtags on social media standing with Tamimi. Feminist politicians who have won themselves power and a public platform exploiting feminist rhetoric — in both the United States and the United Kingdom — are too afraid of the political backlash of supporting a Palestinian anti-occupation activist to extend their feminism in support of a teenage girl under the threat of state violence. Self-styled feminist publications have not come out in her favor. The #metoo movement, which has gained a lot of momentum this past year, has left young girls like Tamimi behind.

Who is better positioned to fight this sixteen-year-old girl’s barbaric treatment and oppression than citizens and activists of the country that pours millions of dollars into the military apparatus holding her down? How can western feminism style itself as a movement against the subjugation of women if it protects only its own, but cheers the incarceration and suppression of foreign women? What narrow and self-serving agenda does mainstream western feminism serve if it doesn’t have a global outlook?

How can U.S. feminism, be it in ignorance, good conscience, or targeted moral callousness remain silent on Ahed Tamimi?

Ahed Tamimi is a victim of a systemic issue American feminists should be familiar with: an institution of criminal justice designed specifically to keep an oppressed minority incarcerated without due process.

The Israeli military courts target Palestinian children: they prosecute and incarcerate about a thousand Palestinian children a year. UNICEF has noted that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.” A report by Defense for Children International Palestine documents this routine ill-treatment; children under the Israeli military’s arrest face physical and emotional violence, verbal abuse, intimidation, harassment, and humiliation including strip searching. They are often interrogated without regard for their (already sparse) rights under the law, tortured, coerced into confessions, and denied access to attorneys and parents. Tamimi is statistically likely to have faced these situations upon her arrest and detention and has already been documented as deprived of the presence of an adult at her interrogation. Upon conviction (under dubious evidentiary and procedural rules, in addition to the other injustices already wrought upon them), children face further human rights violations in the prison system, including poor cell conditions, restricted family visits, poor education and poor security.

Tamimi’s crimes sound serious on paper — indeed her detractors have called the young girl a terrorist — the reality is that even banal actions can give you serious convictions in the military courts. A journalist was convicted of incitement for commenting ‘your smile will end the occupation’ on Facebook. Children are sometimes convicted of stone-throwing for throwing small rocks at distant buildings, with no actual or possible bodily harm resulting from their actions. The crimes are often disproportionate to the action; the punishments disproportionate to the crimes. There are suggestions that Tamimi was arrested not for her actions, but for the viral videos of them that appeared on social media: making the Israeli Defense Forces look weak or ‘impotent.’

And Tamimi’s alleged and proven crimes alike give no excuse to a criminal  system that thrives on overzealous prosecution, rigged laws, poor procedural protections, illegal violence and torture, and the systematic oppression of a defenseless demographic on the simple basis of their identity. Tamimi is the young teenage female face of the targeted and state-sponsored systemic suppression of the Palestinian people when resisting their oppressors.

After #BlackLivesMatter, the #J20 arrests, and the military violence facing the water protectors at the #NoDAPL protests, there should be no doubt in U.S. feminist consciousness that there are times when state actors can be corrupt, and state violence can be wielded to suppress oppressed minorities who resist. After hearing about and fighting for Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the countless other victims of police brutality, U.S. feminists should be able to understand how those who are victims of state or state-sponsored violence can often be portrayed as criminals — black people are “thugs” and brown people are “terrorists” — in order to excuse the actions of the actors who have taken their lives. The hard labor performed by black activists over the past five years should have educated enough mainstream, liberal feminists and enabled them to diagnose the mechanisms through which a corrupt state, judiciary, police and military apparatus can work together in purportedly ‘lawful’ ways to inflict violence on a historically oppressed demographic to subjugate them.

There has been a long history of solidarity between black activists and Palestinian freedom fighters that recognizes these similarities and called them out for what they are. The Movement for Black Lives issued a strong statement in alliance with Palestinians, and popular hashtags such as #Palestine2Ferguson have documented the similarity in the struggles of the two communities against state violence. Prominent black feminist Angela Davis has a history of championing the Palestinian cause, as do other prominent historical and contemporary black activists.

It is time now that mainstream, liberal western feminism embraced the path already illuminated by black women in showing solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine, starting with embracing the cause of Ahed Tamimi, who will now need international pressure to combat the unjust military system that might condemn her to lose her childhood to years in military prison on trumped-up charges. Tamimi’s arrest was a direct consequence of U.S. actions: she was arrested at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement to effectively consider the illegally annexed East Jerusalem as part of Israel, in blatant contravention of international law. The continual injustices she, her family, and all women and children face under the occupation are all endorsed by the United States government and happen only with its continued financial, legal and political support. All citizens, taxpayers and voters of the United States are implicated in its international actions: and recent national debates have reminded us that international consideration must be a crucial part of domestic progressive activism.

Any U.S. feminist that considers her role to be standing up to the oppressive power of the U.S. government must extend that activism to confronting its foreign policy and its international allies. U.S. feminism must embrace the cause of Ahed Tamimi — and demand justice for this victim to a brutal and unjust judiciary set-up that mirrors America’s own.

You can read about ways to support the case of Ahed Tamimi here

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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