#NotYour (Western)Feminism: The Ahed Tamimi story

by Carla Perrucca and Manuel Herrera Almela

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Nelson Mandela. Ahed Tamimi is a 16 year old Palestinian girl who was arrested a couple of months ago in her home and now she remains in detention. The Israeli authorities accuse her of slapping and “assaulting” a soldier. The image of a girl smacking an armed soldier in the face is striking, and we must put it in context: a soldier shot the head of her 14-year-old cousin with a rubber bullet, and fired tear-gas directly at their home. The imagery of the first scenario has a  strong impact; a teenager facing off with the Israeli army depicts the big asymmetry in the conflict that is hard to avoid. Even if she yells and slaps them, there is no possible comparison, let alone the weapons the Israeli soldiers carry. The asymmetry of conflict is evident again in 2015, when a soldier tried to arrest Ahed’s 12-year-old brother Mohammed. The soldier sat on the boy who at the time had his arm in a cast, his head pressed against a boulder and the soldier’s machine gun dangling next to Mohammed’s body (Beaumont, 2015). Ahed was yelling and grabbing the soldier, and finally bit his hand.

According to UNICEF, Israel has arrested 7.000 children between the years 2009-2013. This reality must challenge us and here is why the detention of Ahed is so eye-opening: first, because she is an arrested child , and second because she made this situation public through her social network (Deger 2015). And now, this girl has become a danger for Israel by changing the international perception of the conflict. As Beaumont (2015) wrote in the Guardian: ‘Israel is gradually losing a global battle of narratives over the occupation where a different asymmetry – the leverage of social media – can propel a single incident into an international scandal’.

Photo credit: Fotomovimiento on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Perhaps the fact that the bite and the smack to soldiers were delivered by a teenage girl is important. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, women all over the world have decided that the imperialistic and patriarchal behaviour of men when occupying territories and the people within them, which has been normalised for centuries, now needs to be overturned. Even though perhaps an asymmetric fight, it seems appropriate that the bite and the slap should become another weapon in the arsenal of this particular fight.

Despite Ahed’s history of standing up against injustices, there has been a curious lack of support from Western feminist groups, and human rights organizations, which paradoxically present themselves as main actors of girls’ empowerment. One of the reasons may be that there is a widespread acceptance of state enforced violence. The state justifies actions by presenting “targeted” people as threats and once declared as such, those individuals are reduced to “things”. Israel has deployed this strategy with Ahed Tamimi. Girls such as Ahed, who stand against settler colonialism and build visions of communal care, are not the empowered feminists that the West wants. She seeks justice against oppression, rather than empowerment that only benefits herself. Her feminism is socio-political, rather than self-centered. Her feminism reveals the ugly face of patriarchal settler-colonialism, and her courage vividly shows everyone that Israeli occupation is simply an aberration of human rights. Ahed’s situation should prompt us to think about our selective humanitarianism. Individuals whose activism unveils the viciousness of great powers, or are advocates of communal care, deserve to be included in our vision of feminism and social justice, which are intrinsically interconnected. Even if we don’t launch campaigns for Ahed’s liberation, it is impossible for us to escape her call to witness the mass displacement and dispossession of her people.

Photo credit: Alberto Hugo Rojas on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

At a local level, in Palestine the repercussion of Tamimi’s detention has been significant, particularly in the Palestinian Liberation Movement, which identifies Tamimi’s fight with major political protests against the Israeli occupation. What is different from the previous protests is that the case of Tamimi has been connected with another similar global struggle; the feminist revolution. Meanwhile, the Zionist regime has attempted to take out Tamimi’s struggle from the global feminist revolution, and instead to portrait it as a standard terrorist action. Following this logic, we can portrait Israel as a patriarchal and misogynous actor, which identifies every Palestinian as a “dangerous” threat for their survival. What is more, the Zionist regime behaves differently towards Ahed. This practice confirms Israel as a patriarchal state.

As an example to conclude, the painter Malak Mattar shows the world the persistence of Palestinians. Her paintings are examples of how Palestinian women are central actors for the cause. It is obvious that men and women are fundamental components of the country’s fight, but the Palestinian spirit is essentially a feminist and feminine one. In this context, we must bring to the fore the Palestinian women’s long history as full agents of resistance and liberation.


References: Deger, A. (2015) “Meet The Teenage Girls Behind The Viral Photo From Nabi Saleh ”, Mondoweiss [Online] Retrieved from: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/09/teenage-behind-saleh/#sthash.AFWNdeRu.dpuf [Accessed 19 March 2018].

Beaumont,P. (2015) “Nabi Saleh Images Illustrate Changing Asymmetry Of Israel-Palestinian Conflict”, The Guardian [Online] Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/01/nabi-saleh-images-illustrate-changing-asym metry-of-israeli-palestinian-conflict [Accessed 19 March 2018].

UNICEF (2013). Palestinian children need improved protection in Israeli military detention – UNICEF. [online] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_68093.html [Accessed 20 Mar. 2018].

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