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Imagining Palestine's children as our own

My daughter, like Ahed Tamimi, also has blonde curly hair and light eyes. Her continual detention has left me awake in the middle of the night, my stomach churning. What if it was my little girl?

Who is David and who is Goliath? Ahed Tamimi faces down a soldier in Nabi Saleh. (Haim Shwarczenberg)

Who is David and who is Goliath? Ahed Tamimi faces down a soldier in Nabi Saleh. (Haim Shwarczenberg)

The controversy began with an image — that of a young Palestinian girl slapping the arm of an Israeli soldier. Since that girl, Ahed Tamimi, has been arrested a flurry of images has followed, turning her into the poster child for the new generation of Palestinian resistance.

We should, indeed, be rallying around Ahed. But we mustn’t get so caught up in Ahed’s image that we forget about the hundreds of Palestinian children who are detained by Israel every year. Or perhaps we’ve forgotten about them already? These children come from villages that are not in the media’s spotlight. We know neither their faces nor their names, so it is easy to pretend that they don’t exist.

It is easy to pretend that they aren’t languishing in filthy cells. It is easy to pretend that they aren’t being abused and — dare I say it? — tortured. It is easy to pretend that they aren’t being denied access to attorneys. Hundreds of children every year, many even younger than Ahed.

What if every time one of these children was arrested we all pasted their photos on our Facebook pages? What if we all came up with hashtags for all them? What if all of us pitched editors articles about them and their villages? What if the media showed up for all of those children, each and every one? Would it make a difference?

As I try to keep my eye on the bigger picture, I, too, find myself returning to images of Ahed. The picture that has struck me the most, the image that has undone me, shows her being led into a hearing, surrounded by officers. A woman in a blue uniform grasps the handcuffs wrapped around Ahed’s wrists. Ahed herself is hunched over ever so slightly, as though she’s trying to curl into herself. A smile plays on her lips. Some might see it as a smirk, an act of bravado; But it’s that smile that has awakened some sort of grief in me because in it, I see someone who is disoriented, confused, frightened.

Ahed Tamimi in the Ofer prison military court. December 20, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Ahed Tamimi in the Ofer prison military court. December 20, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Or maybe it’s us — the Jewish people — who are disoriented, confused, frightened?

My daughter also has blonde curly hair and light eyes — something about the physical similarities between her and Ahed has left me deeply unsettled. Awake in the middle of the night, my stomach churning. What if it was my little girl?

I’ve not visited the particular prison that Ahed is being held in, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Abu Kabir, the prison in south Tel Aviv, near my old neighborhood of Kiryat Shalom. I would walk by it on occasion on my way to the elementary school where I volunteered.

As I lie in bed in the middle of the night, I have this absurd fantasy of knocking politely on some door at Abu Kabir. I imagine it opening and I see myself talking to some guard, explaining, calmly, that this is all a big mistake. That they’re holding this little girl by mistake. That the occupation is a mistake and sending soldiers into people’s villages and homes is a mistake and taking Ahed was a mistake. That taking any child is a mistake. And so, you see, dear guard, if you would just let me come in so that I could lead her and the other children out by their hands, by their small hands—hands that will grow, hands that they will use to do many things in their lives, in their futures — I would really appreciate it.

It’s silly, but I have this fantasy of helping this little blonde girl who looks so much like my own daughter. It is a mother’s fantasy. And this is what we all have to do: we have to imagine, we have to understand, the children of Palestine’s villages as our own.

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    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Mya: Do you let your daughter assault verbally and physically soldiers? One of my friends son in Switzerland was drunk and he insulted the quiet Swiss policemen in his town. He has been beaten and judged. This Tahimi appears on videos for years. She is doing with her family “Palestinian” business. Our authorities have the right to punish her.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        With all due respect, comparing the occupied territories to Switzerland, of all places, is not a bright tactic.

        1. Switzerland is not occupied territory. Not for fifty hours, fifty days, or fifty years.
        2. Switzerland does not apply military law to people of one ethnicity but civilian law to people of another within the same territory and with vastly differing rights, protections and intent.
        3. That Swiss policeman was not illegally occupying either Switzerland or your friend’s son’s home, or barging into it without a warrant.
        4. That Swiss policeman is not part of an occupying force that killed your friend’s son’s nephew and other relatives or routinely shoots Swiss protesters.
        5. Switzerland is a model of how people of three national backgrounds and cultures, speaking three or four languages can get along within one state of all its citizens.
        6. Ahed Tammimi was not drunk when she slapped that aggressive occupier. She was 100% sober.
        7. Switzerland and alcohol abuse aside, as Bruce points out, she’s in jail not because she assaulted a soldier, she’s in jail because she’s a political prisoner.
        8. It is striking how often the Israeli right wing resorts to this peculiar and very cheap slander: the “they do it for the money” slander. No one believes this crap. It’s not even remotely credible, and says much more about the slanderer than persons slandered. It betrays impoverishment, moral exhaustion, bankruptcy.

        For all of these reasons, I find your proposition ridiculous.

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          I am a Jew and for me the Judea and Samaria are Eretz Israel where the minorities can live in peace if they respect our laws. This Tahimi (and her family) has assaulted several time our soldiers. She must be punished. Her family gets money by making these videos. They are in the “Palestine business”. On the other hand assaulting soldiers or policemen is punished everywhere in the world, including Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            And like most racists you don’t even know the names of the ones you consider inferior human beings, try to catch up on their family name ….

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Halevy, one might as well be engaging a vending machine with the same product coming out the bottom slot every time.

            “can live in peace if they respect our laws”

            This is a sinsister Orwellian euphemism from something much less nice. You are, in fact, a none-too-smooth proponent of Feiglinist extremism, and when people understand this it makes everything much clearer:

            A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin

            Reply to Comment
          • Ana Camusso Wapner

            Itshak our authorities rules a people who are not israelies, so what they do is completely illegal and must be condemned permanently and constantly. The Military Court is not judging her family, it is judging her. From the very time of her detention it has published in the news all the Ahed family background. The true is that in detaining and condemn Ahed, Israel lets the world see its complete failure. Israel only has one plan: occupation. And that’s it. And that is what disturbs and embarrasses so much when Jewish Israelis see this picture.

            Reply to Comment
    2. john

      the hasbarists who fall into the trap – i.e. ‘we don’t teach our children to hate’, or ‘she deserves to go to jail for hitting a soldier’ – betray a startling lack of imagination. empathy, as with much else in israel, ends at the periphery of the state religion.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tommy Goldberg

      “My daughter, like Ahed Tamimi, also has blonde curly hair and light eyes. Her continual detention […]”

      OMG, Mya, your daughter has been detained? Isn’t she just a baby?

      SCNR. Other than that, excellent article, as usual.

      Reply to Comment