Ahed Tamimi: shy Palestinian girl turned anti-occupation 'lioness'

The activist who made headlines as a teenager when she slapped an Israeli soldier was arrested again on Monday

Israeli troops arrest Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi in occupied West Bank

Israeli troops arrest Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi in occupied West Bank
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Ahed Tamimi instantly became an anti-occupation icon in the West Bank and the Middle East when she slapped an Israeli soldier attempting to raid her home at the age of 16.

That moment in 2017, caught on camera and followed by eight months in prison, turned the once-shy girl with the long mane of strawberry-blonde curls into the “lioness” of her village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah.

On Monday, Ahed, now 22, was arrested again, this time for “inciting violence” in a since-deleted Instagram post, amid the Israel-Gaza war that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians in the strip, including 4,000 children, according to local Palestinian authorities.

Her mother told The National she does not know where she is being held.

Ahed was never one to conform to society's expectations, her mother, Nariman Tamimi said. She spent much of her childhood playing football alongside her three brothers outside their family home.

“Her favourite player was (Brazilian) Neymar. We even got a family friend to get a signed T-shirt for Ahed from Spain.”

Like many in the occupied territories, her life has been marked by tragedy and restrictions.

Israeli forces killed two of her uncles and an aunt, while her mother was arrested in 2018. Her father, Bassem, is currently in Israeli custody after being detained 10 days ago on his way to Jordan.

It is unclear if the post that led to her recent arrest came from an account belonging to her or from someone claiming to be her.

“Every time she creates a new account, it's hacked,” said Nariman. “Even the account they say made the post they arrested her about has been hacked.”

Ahed has never fit with the image of muqawama, meaning resistance to the occupation – almost always angry, weapon-wielding Palestinian men. She is not the person the world sees, explains her family.

“She's quiet and shy, she keeps to herself” and has an understated bravery, said Nariman.

When she was taken from her home on Monday, Ahed said: “Mama, don't worry. I'm strong. I'll be OK”, her mother said.

“She was waiting for this moment [her arrest]. She hasn't been sleeping lately.”

Palestinian residents say the threats and pressure from settlers, emboldened by the most far-right government in Israel's history, have grown worse since the deadly Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Since then, the UN has recorded more than 170 settler-related attacks on Palestinians, hundreds of whom have been forced from their homes.

Nariman said her daughter felt the pressure mounting against her as settlers called for her arrest.

“That's why she was fully dressed, shoes and all when she was taken.

“Ever since October 7, it's been increasingly difficult to know where the detainees are being kept. We still don't know anything about Ahed,” added the mother.

Israeli soldiers raiding her home had threatened the entire family, Nariman said.

“They called Ahed all kinds of insults. They said they're coming for me and my eldest son, Wa'd, next.”

Ahed has been studying to become a lawyer, her mother said, but she had been ill and had missed out on university.

“She's tired and unwell. There's nothing normal about this.”

Her father earlier blamed his generation for his daughter's struggles.

“We failed to end the occupation and we gave our children the occupation. But I feel happy that (Ahed) represents her generation,” he said in 2018.

In a published letter she wrote after prison in 2018, the Palestinian teenager highlighted the daily struggles of life under occupation that prevented her from living a normal life.

“If I were permitted to be a regular teenager living in a normal country, I would play sports. I wanted to become a football player but I don’t play here because there is no time,” she wrote.

“Instead, I have been involved in demonstrations and confrontations with the Israeli army since I was a child.”

Earlier this year, she published a memoir, They Called Me a Lioness.

“What would you do if you grew up seeing your home repeatedly raided? Your parents arrested? Your mother shot? Your uncle killed? Try, for just a moment, to imagine that this was your life,” the memoir begins.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 8:47 AM