Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi returned home to a hero’s welcome in her West Bank village on Sunday after Israel released the 17-year-old from prison at the end of her eight-month sentence for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers.
Ahed and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, were greeted with banners, cheers and Palestinian flags as they entered their home village of Nabi Saleh.
Ahed was arrested in December after the then-16-year-old confronted two Israeli soldiers in the driveway of her home in the occupied West Bank — pushing, shoving and slapping them after they refused to leave her yard.
Her mother filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral and, for many, instantly turned Ahed into a symbol of resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule over the Palestinians.
Hero to Palestinians, criminal to Israelis
From a young age, Ahed had regularly taken part in protests against Israeli military occupation and the presence of an Israeli settlement just 200 metres away from her family home, built on what was once the village farmlands of Nabi Saleh.Just hours before she assault the soldiers, her 15-year-old cousin Mohammad had been shot in the head at close range with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli soldiers.
Her arrest drew international attention.
The UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for her release, and hundreds marched in the streets for her freedom in Europe and the US. She was also passionately defended in the Australian Parliament.
But in Israel, many welcomed Ahed’s arrest.
There she is seen by many as either as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy.
In the wake of the assault, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he would like to see her in jail for the rest of her life, while another MP said he would like to “hit her in the face”.
Israeli Deputy Minister and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren rejected all the attention her trial garnered.
He said the same thing would happen to a young person who attacked a policeman or a soldier in Melbourne or Sydney.
‘The resistance continues’
In Nabi Saleh, supporters welcomed Ahed home with Palestinian flags planted on the roof of her home.
Hundreds of chairs were set up for well-wishers in the courtyard.
“The resistance continues until the occupation is removed,” Ahed said upon her return.
“All the female prisoners are steadfast. I salute everyone who supported me and my case.”
From her home, Ahed headed to a visit to the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Her father, Bassem Tamimi, said he expected her to take a lead in the struggle against Israeli occupation but she was also weighing college options.
In a sign of her popularity, a pair of Italian artists painted a large mural of her on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier ahead of her release.
Israeli police say they were caught in the act, along with another Palestinian, and arrested for vandalism.
Israel’s detention of minors under scrutiny
Ahed’s case has trained a spotlight on the detention of Palestinian minors by Israel, a practice that has been criticised by international rights groups.
Some 300 minors are currently being held, according to Palestinian figures.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinians are increasingly disillusioned about efforts to establish a state in those territories, after more than two decades of failed negotiations with Israel.
–ABC, with AP