On Sunday, Palestinian teenage protester Ahed Tamimi tearfully embraced relatives after being released from the Israeli prison where she served eight months on assault and incitement charges. The 17-year-old was arrested in December after a video showing her kicking and slapping two armed Israeli soldiers went viral on Facebook.
In the hours after her release, at her home in Nabi Saleh, a village in the West Bank, Tamimi said that she “knew a long time ago” that she would be arrested for her opposition to Israeli occupation. Her mother, Nariman, was arrested in December for posting the footage on social media; Nariman was also released Sunday.
In the months since her arrest, Tamimi has become a prominent symbol of the Palestinian protest movement, her image gracing murals and posters around the world. Israelis had nicknamed her “Shirley Temper” for her curls and repeated confrontations with Israeli soldiers, while officials deemed her a dangerous provocateur.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since it captured the land in a 1967 war and has built numerous settlements that crisscross land the Palestinians claim for a future state. Nabi Saleh, which borders the Israeli outpost Halamish, is one of these contested areas.
In 2009, when Jewish settlers confiscated some of Nabi Saleh’s land, including a spring that served as its water source, activists and residents began staging weekly demonstrations.
Israeli troops and border police have confronted the demonstrators, firing tear gas, arresting stone-throwers and imposing curfews. Israel says the security measures around Nabi Saleh, which has a population of about 500, and other areas are necessary to prevent the kind of attacks that Palestinians have recently carried out in Jewish settlements across the West Bank.
In the hours after Tamimi’s arrest in December, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the teen and her parents would not “escape from what they deserve” and that anyone who was “wild during the day would be arrested at night.”
After eight months in prison, Tamimi received a hero’s welcome home by family members and supporters alike. Songs blared from loudspeakers, including one written especially for her: “Despite the softness of your hands, your hands have shaken the world,” the lyrics said.
As she spoke to reporters, Tamimi’s face was pale and her eyes bloodshot. The teenager acknowledged that “life in prison was very difficult.”
Rights groups said Sunday that Tamimi’s arrest highlighted Israel’s practice of detaining Palestinian minors, who are also subject to the military court system in the West Bank. According to statistics released by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem this month, 291 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners.
“Ahed Tamimi has been released, but only after serving an unjust sentence based on the ridiculous premise that she posed a threat to armed and heavily protected soldiers,” Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s head of office in Jerusalem, said in a statement.
“Ahed Tamimi’s release must not obscure the familiar and continuing story of the Israeli military using discriminatory policies to lock up Palestinian children,” said Higazi, who described her arrest as “a blatant attempt by the Israeli authorities to intimidate those who dare to challenge the ongoing brutal repression by occupying forces.”
Tamimi’s father, Bassem, said he could not describe how happy he was to see his wife and daughter back home.