What were the circumstances that led to a 16 year old being arrested as a dangerous criminal, with the very strong likelihood that she will be incarcerated for many years and what has this to do with Women for Independence? National Committee member Lesley Orr explains.
Happy New Year to all WFI members and supporters! What are your hopes and dreams for 2018 – and what will you be doing to make at least some of them a reality? I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, and will admit right now that I have no intention of giving up red wine…although I am certainly planning to do a lot more dancing this year, and very much hope (like Emma Goldman) that dancing will be part of our revolution! But I’m excited about being part of the newly elected WFI National Committee, combining old timers and several new members who’ll bring fresh ideas, energy and experience to our work. I believe there is tremendous collective potential and power in this group of women who have the privilege of representing our WFI sisters throughout the land. With your support we’ll be endeavouring to build on past achievements, developing our Womanifesto, and identifying new campaigns to build a better, fairer and more equal Scotland on the road to independence. And I mean no disrespect to the more mature members, but it’s especially great to welcome two young women onto the Committee – 16 year old Erin Mwembo from North Berwick and 17 year old Zara Munro from East Kilbride. Both are real political activists with a track record of campaigning on a range of issues. They have drive, determination and confidence, along with real commitment to participate in shaping a brighter future for Scotland and the world. I’m really proud that our movement has opened up space and encouragement for Erin and Zara to be at the forefront of activism for change, and hope that their political involvement will be a positive, transformative experience – despite the elements of misogyny, ignorance and lack of respect which still blight our public domain.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the terrible price some children and young people pay for having hopes and dreams. I hope and pray that no teenage activists in Scotland will be rudely dragged from their beds, thrown into a military jeep, isolated and locked up in a cold prison cell, and indicted on twelve charges by a military court. That’s what happened in the early hours of Wednesday 19 December to 16 year old Ahed Tamimi (below), from the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Apparently she is violent and dangerous – a threat to the might and power of Israel. Ahed is the girl with flowing hair who, along with her 20 year old cousin Noor, confronted and slapped Israeli soldiers outside her house, a few days before her arrest.
A video of the incident, filmed by her mother (who was also arrested) went viral and global, giving rise to sharply conflicting interpretations and responses. Ahed is reported to have said: “Get out or I’ll punch you,” before carrying out her threat by pushing the soldiers as well as kicking them, hitting them in the face and throwing stones at them. In Israel, there was an outcry about the humiliation of the soldiers, and suggestions that the girl, who came from a family of known activists, had deliberately provoked them. But what were the circumstances that led to a 16 year old being arrested as a dangerous criminal, with the very strong likelihood that she will be incarcerated for many years? On 15 December, Just before the ‘slap heard around the world’, Ahed’s 14 year old cousin Mohammed was hit in the face with a rubber coated steel bullet. He was badly injured and had to be put into an induced coma. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas into the family home and took up positions in their yard.
This story goes back a long way. In 2011 Ahed’s father was arrested for organising weekly demonstrations in the village to oppose the theft of land and a well (vital as a source of fresh water) for the benefit of one of the surrounding illegal Israeli settlements which continue to encroach on the rights, space and liberties of Nabi Saleh. Many Scots have visited the village, which is renowned for its history of collective struggle and defiance. Indeed, a WfI member from East Lothian was hit by a rubber bullet while there during a trip with Scottish solidarity choir San Ghanny [‘We shall sing’ in Arabic].
Ahed’s childhood and adolescence has been marked by violence, tragedy and intrusion, growing up under Israeli occupation. She is part of an angry and traumatised generation. Journalist Harriet Sherwood has met and interviewed her, and writes:
‘The family home is in Area C, the 62% of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control. Their village, Nabi Saleh, has been the scene of frequent protests since Israeli settlers appropriated the local spring a decade ago. Bassem and his wife, Nariman, and other members of the family have often been at the forefront. Stones have been thrown by the protesters; Israeli forces have responded with teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon and sometimes live ammunition. At least two villagers, including Ahed’s uncle Rushdie, have been killed, hundreds injured, and at least 140 people detained or imprisoned – among them Bassem and Nariman, several times. Ahed has grown up in this environment. When I asked her how often she had experienced teargas, she laughed, saying she couldn’t count the times. She described military raids on the family home. I observed Ahed and her brothers as, over and over again, they watched footage of their parents being arrested and their uncle writhing on the ground after being shot.’ (Guardian, January 2 2018).
Ahed and her parents
In Israel Ahed has been widely demonised as the terrorist puppet of political parents, deserving of stiff punishment to teach her – and them – a lesson. But she has also been hailed globally as a courageous symbol for Palestinian resistance to injustice and oppression. She is far from alone: there are over 300 Palestinian children and around 70 women currently being held in Israeli prisons. Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts – between 500 and 700 each year. The Israel Prison Service revealed that an average of 204 Palestinian children have been held in custody every month since 2012. Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalised throughout the process”. These were the conclusions of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations‘. Palestinian children as young as 12 are routinely:
- Taken from their homes at gunpoint in night-time raids by soldiers.
- Blindfolded, bound and shackled.
- Interrogated without a lawyer or relative being present and with no audio-visual recording.
- Put into solitary confinement.
- Forced to sign confessions (often in Hebrew – a language they do not understand).
97% of children arrested and brought before military courts are convicted and sentenced to prison terms.
Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, reports that over the last 45 years 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and/or detained under Israeli military orders. Behind the headlines about Ahed are a host of women and children who have been arrested, incarcerated, denied access to lawyers, threatened, abused, and violated. Feminist and human rights activist Khalida Jarrar (below), who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was first arrested in 1989 for taking part in an International Women’s Day demonstration.
She heads the PLC’s Prisoners’ Committee, serves as the Palestinian representative to the Council of Europe and is Vice-Chair of Addameer’s Board of Directors. On 3 June 2016 Jarrar was released after 14 months in Israeli prison: she was arrested in April 2015 following a dawn raid of her home near Ramallah, one day after Palestine officially became a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – Khalida had been appointed to the committee to oversee the Palestinian Authority membership of the ICC to prepare for potential legal action against Israel. In July 2017 there was another dawn raid and she is once more back in Israel’s prison system – one of 450 Palestinians held on indefinite ‘administrative detention’ without charge or trial. Khalida and Ahed are both in Hasharon prison, located outside the 1967 occupied territory. This is in direct contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power must keep detainees inside the occupied territory.
Women for Independence has a strong record of concern and campaigning on women and the Scottish prison system. We recently published the Report of our ‘Justice Watch’ initiative, which undertook a mass observation of women’s experience on trial in Scottish courts, and on the basis of evidence gathered includes a manifesto of six proposals to achieve justice for women. In Palestine, women’s rights advocate Salwa Duaibis co-founded ‘Military Court Watch’, which monitors the treatment of children in Israeli military detention, and there are civil society campaigns calling for the release of Khalida Jarrar and other detained women, and for the terms of the Geneva Convention to be upheld in the treatment of all prisoners.
WFI banner proclaiming our commitments
We are committed to action for gender equality, justice and human rights in Scotland, but our concern and solidarity is without borders, and one of the objects of the WfI constitution is to support like-minded women and networks, both national and international. Recent history demonstrates the importance of people around the world mobilising to challenge and end oppressive regimes. No doubt many of us were involved in the anti-apartheid movement, including the economic boycott of South African produce. Veteran civil rights leader Desmond Tutu said in 2014:
‘I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces…It is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government. I know first-hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed. In South Africa we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world who through the use of non-violent means encouraged governments and other corporate actors. The same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, promoted by Palestinian civil society.’
The arrest and treatment of Ahed brings the challenge to demonstrate meaningful solidarity into sharp focus. We dream of self-determination and autonomy for Scotland and are committed to democratic activism in its pursuit. Surely we of all people must respond to the courage and determination of our Palestinian sisters in their struggles for recognition, liberation and democratic rights in their homeland.
In an article published in Haaretz newspaper on 31 December, Bassem Tamimi writes powerfully about his daughter’s tears of struggle. He tells of an awareness-raising visit they made to South Africa last summer. After showing a video, Ahed responded to the emotional reaction of the audience:
‘“We may be victims of the Israeli regime, but we are just as proud of our choice to fight for our cause, despite the known cost. We knew where this path would lead us, but our identity, as a people and as individuals, is planted in the struggle, and draws its inspiration from there. Beyond the suffering and daily oppression of the prisoners, the wounded and the killed, we also know the tremendous power that comes from belonging to a resistance movement; the dedication, the love, the small sublime moments that come from the choice to shatter the invisible walls of passivity…We don’t want you to support us because of some photogenic tears, but because we chose the struggle and our struggle is just. This is the only way we’ll be able to stop crying one day.’
The Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has called on WFI to show feminist leadership by mobilising our membership in support of imprisoned women and children, and Sofiah MacLeod of SPSC has provided a briefing paper with information and ideas for action. I hope that members and groups around Scotland will respond to the enduring scandal and everyday catastrophe of brutal persecution by the occupying power. We know that we have made an impact in Scotland – let’s use our collective influence to watch and campaign for justice in Palestine too.
Write to Ahed and let her know that women in Scotland are watching and standing beside her, as allies, in solidarity! It’s her 17th birthday on 31 January.
Ben Yehuda, P.O. Box 7
40 330 Israel
Write to Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary, and to your own MP