A few days after Christmas I took my laptop to Whole Foods, thinking it would be a good place to get some work done. I didn’t realize just how many families would be out that day. Of course, I thought, it’s the week of Christmas: kids out of school, family is in town, and lots of people have time off from work. I was distracted by the kids running around--a few were having epic-after-Christmas meltdowns seemingly competing for loudest temper tantrum.
I alternated between watching this predictable family drama, and reading articles about Ahed Tamimi, a teenage Palestinian girl arrested and held by the Israelis for allegedly assaulting an Israeli soldier. I shifted back and forth in my mind between the Middle East and the present. I float between two cultures almost minute by minute--sometimes it’s hard to be present to one and not be thinking of the other.
I watched the children run around and I couldn’t help but remember holiday weeks in Jordan and Lebanon. Different holidays. Different cultures. Different religions. Different language. Different customs.
Similar chaos. Similar joy. Similar community feel. Similar families gathered.
Same meltdowns with different (and yet, very much the same) kids running around.
In that instant, I audibly said, “we’re the same.” We are so much more alike than we are different. As I watched the families, I thought about how context is everything. We might be very much alike but our context is vastly different. I wondered how the American families I was watching would do as refugees. How would they respond to living in a camp? How would their lives be different? How would they be the same? I also wondered how my Palestinian friends would view this lunchtime chaos at Whole Foods. Or what they would even think of a Whole Foods?
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
That’s why it’s so important to understand your own worldview as just that, your own worldview. It might be your truth but it’s not the absolute truth or even true measure for others. I constantly remind myself of this when I re-enter the United States. I would love to let judgments fly, being suddenly confronted with so much abundance and superficiality so soon after being immersed in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. But I continually have to remember that my context is vastly different than most of my fellow Americans. It is unhelpful (and harmful) to judge, but it is helpful to recognize and accept that others have different cultural grids and worldviews. Key words are: recognize and accept. Worldview is a powerful thing that shapes not only how we think, but how we live our lives.
I passionately teach about the everyday life of Palestinians in order to help others understand how vastly different their lives are than ours. Being a refugee for life means you lack the basic human rights that Americans take for granted. Being under a military occupation means you lack the basic rights that citizens of any country have. We must keep that in mind.
Back to Ahed Tamimi. Her story has been all over the international media and yet, our national mainstream media has paid little attention to her story. The articles I have seen in our media are incredibly biased. No context. No history. Some writers call her a terrorist and a trouble maker. A former Israeli ambassador to the US said her family wasn’t a real family, stating they dress her up in American clothes and pay her (and her family) to provoke the IDF. I have had friends contacting me to ask me for a good argument to those who say things like I have listed. And if you know me well, my advice was, “why are you arguing with someone on this over social media?”
I even had someone challenge me, saying the problem was that she would not stay focused on her schoolwork. Dear God, I wish that was her biggest problem. Unfortunately, instead of worrying about school and friends - the normal problems of 16-year-old girls across the globe, Ahed Tamimi was fighting for her basic human rights. Every aspect of Tamimi’s life is influenced by the Israeli occupation of her village. Nabi Saleh is a Palestinian village known for its non-violent resistance. There have been weekly demonstrations against Israeli settlements for years.
“Meanwhile, hundreds of dunams of Nabi Saleh's lands have been confiscated for the purposes of building Israel's illegal Halamish settlement, whose residents have burned hundreds of the village's olive trees - attacks that escalated after the protests began. In 2009, the village's water spring was also confiscated for the use of the settlers.
The 600 or so residents of the village receive only 12 hours of running water a week from Israel, while the settlers in Halamish have running water 24 hours a day. A large swimming pool can also be seen on the settlement grounds from the Tamimi family's home. The village is raided almost every day by Israeli forces, who douse residents' homes with skunk spray, a putrid-smelling liquid. The Israeli army targets the water tanks installed on their roofs, Bassem said.”
Ahed’s father, Bassem, is a prominent political activist. Her mother has been arrested several times for filming Israeli soldiers in their village. On December 15th, after hearing her cousin was shot in the face with rubber bullets by IDF soldiers, Ahed was videotaped pushing, kicking, and slapping an IDF soldier. Her 20-year-old cousin was with her and her mother filmed the incident.
The soldiers were on private property. She knew her cousin was shot in the face a few hours earlier.
Three days later, after an uproar in Israel, she was taken out of her bed in the middle of the night in handcuffs. She was held without due process for two weeks before charges were filed. She was charged with twelve counts-- including five counts of assaults: threatening a soldier, attacking a soldier under aggravated circumstances, interfering with a soldier in carrying out his duties, incitement, and throwing objects at individuals or property.
Her mother was arrested for incitement for filming the incident when she arrived at the detention center to see her daughter. Her cousin, Mohammad, who was shot in the face with rubber bullets, was in a coma for 72 hours.
The Department of State’s 2013 annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories, citing human rights organizations, noted that Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children in detention includes “beatings, long-term handcuffing, threats, intimidation, and solitary confinement,” which in some cases amount to “torture.”
Not only are Palestinian children subjected to what UNICEF termed “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” ill- treatment by Israeli forces, they are also railroaded into a separate-and-unequal military court system lacking in fundamental due process guarantees.
I sat in Whole Foods, literally staring blankly into space, trying to process. I watched people around me and again wondered if this story would be different if it was one of them. Would it change if it was your sister or your daughter or your daughter’s friend? Would it change if Ahed behaved in a way you understood better? Or thought was proper behavior for someone her age? What form of resistance is acceptable to you? I also wondered what it would take for people to be as worried about a 16-year-old Palestinian girl as I was.
This even has sparked an explosion on social media across the Middle East, including many of my friends. Ahed Tamimi has become a symbol of resistance - with articles, blog posts, opinion pieces, and videos on her behalf flooding the internet. Many have changed their FB profile picture to pictures of Ahed.
In many ways, she has highlighted what the occupation looks like in an average teenager’s life. It has forced the world to consider the issue of the occupied West Bank. It has highlighted the injustice and human rights abuses Palestinians face every single day. More so, she has dared not to comply--to stand and speak her truth and slap and resist- a Palestinian Joan of Arc, as she has been called.
She will pay dearly for it. I fear the Israelis, out of their humiliation, will make an example of her. She faces 10 years in prison for that slap and her many years of activism. Part of me wonders if she was ever going to escape such a sentence. Part of me wonders if that is why she is so bold.
You can think her a heroine or a villain. Undeniably her story has become a uniting force, a rallying cry for the Palestinian struggle. I have never seen anything quite like it. A 16-year-old might be a new national - no, international - symbol of resistance. A reminder to the world that the Palestinians are here and none of us will be free until she is...until they are.
“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” ~Nelson Mandela