Summary: At a moment when Israeli society continues to move ever further to the right, the need to solidarize with Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian woman anti-war activist from the West Bank, takes on critical importance. This article views her resistance to Israeli policy as part of a legacy of activism, struggle and thought by women reaching back to the work of such figures as Eleanor Marx — Editors
Some walls seem too stable, and too hard to unsettle. However, it takes one young woman to show that history is always going ahead and resistance cannot be shut down easily.
On December 19, 2017 Ahed Tamimi was arrested in her home in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier. She was arrested alongside her mother, Nariman, and 20 year old cousin, Nour. Ahed has remained in custody since.
Ahed Tamimi has managed to unsettle many premonitions and assumptions. She has changed questions of solidarity and empathy in Israel and internationally. Renowned Israeli song writer Yehonatan Geffen, who wrote some of the most popular song lyrics for Israeli children and adults, has compared Ahed to Anne Frank, causing cultural minister Miri Regev to cancel his participation in the celebrations of Israel’s 70th foundation year this year. Numerous blogs, campaigns and editorials have investigated the history of Ahed’s family, justifying various positions—such as that she comes from a long history of dissenters. Another video emerged of her quarreling with soldiers. And then, Gideon Levy, longstanding investigator of human rights abuses who has a weekly column in liberal left newspaper Haaretz, published a column according to which her 15-year-old cousin’s head was shattered by an Israeli soldier’s bullet. Later on, it was revealed that Michael Oren, former ambassador to the United States and deputy minister, investigated whether the Tamimi family were hired actors and referred to them as ‘Pallywood’.
The reception of the story of Ahed Tamimi reeks of sexism, racism and xenophobia. It would be much easier to handle her, many have commented, had she been an elderly Palestinian man in traditional dress. That would fit the stereotypes of dissent, and more profoundly of otherness, generated in Israel and exported internationally much better. But she is a light skinned, feisty young woman, endowed in generosity with what Jews fondly refer to as ‘Chutzpah’.
One can learn a lot about the underlying assumptions that unfolded beneath the narrative of Ahed Tamimi’s case when juxtaposing it to that of another young person who has been in the news in the not too distant past, Elor Azaria.
On March 24, 2016, Elor Azaria, 20-year old soldier from Ramleh, shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a wounded Palestinian who had assaulted an Israeli soldier, eleven minutes after al-Sharif had already been shot. Video footage from that incident shows that the Palestinian was already wounded and did not pose any threat to Aazaria. The incident and subsequent trial created an uproar in Israel society. Notably, from the Israeli right a campaign emerged under the heading “everyone’s child.” A rally was organized to support him in Tel Aviv. As he stood trial, support demonstrations were organized around the military court.
Is Ahed Tamimi “everyone’s child”, too? It seems there is something in her that is too threatening to gain this title. She doesn’t fit neatly into boxes of the Oppressed, the Other or ‘threat’ that are so much intertwined in the stories told around the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli governments throughout the years. Her sex, color of skin and history are too much for the Israeli government to handle, and so she stands trial on January 31, the day in which she turns 17.
January, it seems, is the birth month of many feisty women in history. One of them, Eleanor Marx, (1855-1898), foremother of socialism-feminism, trade unionist, internationalist, her father’s editor, secretary and first biographer, was a troublemaker in her own right. In a new biography of Eleanor’s life which has changed the terms of her reception in left wing historiography as well as in feminist theory, Rachel Holmes (Eleanor Marx, A Life, Bloomsbury 2014) recounts the life and work of one of the biggest — and unsung — heroines of social democracy as we know it today.
Eleanor had her own brushes with the law. In 1887 the daily democratic protest in Trafalgar Square, galvanized by economic strife and political unrest, had escalated into what was named Bloody Sunday, in which more than 200 demonstrators were hospitalized and three died. Eleanor arrived at the home of her father’s longstanding collaborator, Friedrich Engels, with several bruises and her coat in tatters. Most of the men who had marched with her in that rally had escaped before she got engaged in a skirmish with British policemen. But it was she who was the attacker, not the attacked, confirmed Engels.
Eleanor was a brilliant writer, educated at the foot of Das Kapital; Holmes reads her as the practice to her father’s theory. She remains a role model for solidarity, empathy and resistance for women who succeeded in her footsteps and are still fighting, today, to go ahead (in the words of her favorite motto). In her 1884 the Irish Dynamiters she writes: “The man who could not hear a tale of distress without attempting to relieve it can now brag of abetting acts that endanger the lives of innocent women and children.”
Ahed Tamimi has unsettled the walls of empathy, of resistance and of solidarity. She has allowed the world to see what it is like growing up in Palestine; who deserves to be “everyone’s child” and who does not. She has shown that no wall is too stable to be brought down, and as Eleanor Marx knew well, as much as violence can be boundless, so can empathy.
 Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx: A Life, (London: Bloomsbury), 2014, p. 300