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Palestinian Teenager Who Slapped Israeli Soldier Is Released From Jail

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Prison time is almost a rite of passage for some Palestinian activists, and Ahed Tamimi, the West Bank teenage firebrand who rose to international prominence after she kicked and slapped an Israeli soldier, tried to use hers profitably.

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Isabel Kershner
, New York Times

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Prison time is almost a rite of passage for some Palestinian activists, and Ahed Tamimi, the West Bank teenage firebrand who rose to international prominence after she kicked and slapped an Israeli soldier, tried to use hers profitably.

“I learned a lot,” Tamimi, 17, said hours after her release Sunday from an Israeli prison, where she served an eight-month term. “I learned how to stay patient, to be in a group. I did my best to use the time to study. I came out more educated, and understand the world better than when I went in.”

She also came out no less determined.

She now plans to study law with an eye to suing Israel in international courts for what she describes as the violations and war crimes of the occupation.

“Of course I’m not going to forget the cause,” she said in an interview, “but I’m going to invest in my studies, because knowledge is the strongest weapon for a struggler.”

Declaring that the resistance would go on, she said her imprisonment had been “difficult but meaningful.” She expressed solidarity with the female Palestinian prisoners she left behind.

Tamimi was arrested in December days after she was seen on video kicking, hitting, punching and shoving a heavily armed Israeli soldier at the entrance to her family home in the village of Nabi Saleh. She was 16 at the time. Her mother, Nariman, who relayed the event live on Facebook, was also arrested, as was a cousin who joined in.

The soldier and a comrade stood impassively during the altercation, then left the scene.

The episode occurred shortly after a 15-year-old cousin of Tamimi was shot in the head by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli forces. He was gravely injured but survived.

Many of the 500 or so residents of Nabi Saleh belong to the extended Tamimi clan.

For nearly a decade, the village has been conducting a grassroots campaign of weekly Friday protests against the Israeli occupation, land seizures and an adjacent settlement that has taken control of a village spring. The protests regularly end in stone throwing against Israeli security forces.

Family members, including Tamimi’s father, Bassem, have been in and out of prison. Three residents of the village have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

To supporters, Ahed Tamimi is a courageous, consciousness-raising icon of popular Palestinian resistance. Pro-Israeli detractors view her and her family as publicity-seeking agitators who exploit children by putting them at the forefront of the struggle and as experts in what they say are staged provocations they call “Pallywood.”

Tamimi is no stranger to the camera. She was recorded on video nearly three years ago biting the hand of another Israeli soldier who was trying to arrest her brother. And in 2012, when she was 11, she was photographed raising her fist and yelling at another Israeli soldier.

In March, after being put on trial in an Israeli military court, Tamimi accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to charges including assault and incitement. She was sentenced to eight months, minus time served in detention, and received a fine and a three-year suspended sentence. Her mother accepted a similar deal.

At the time, Israelis argued over whether the soldiers in the video had acted with admirable restraint, or had shown humiliating weakness by not responding, at least by arresting Tamimi on the spot. Some Palestinians also wrestled with the video, debating whether it harmed the cause by showing Israeli soldiers in too gentle a light or helped promote the viability of unarmed resistance.

Tamimi said of the soldiers’ conduct, “Obviously they saw the cameras and that’s why they were so restrained.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong that I should regret,” she added. “At the end of the day, the soldier came to my house. I didn’t go to his house.” Further defending her actions, she said the soldiers “were part of the force who shot my cousin half an hour before.”

Critics of Tamimi point to a part of the video in which she declared, “Our strength is in our stones,” and appeared to condone, or justify, stabbings, suicide bombings and other violence.

The December altercation occurred soon after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, enraging the Palestinians who claim the eastern half of the contested holy city as their own future capital. In the video, Tamimi said Trump must bear responsibility for the reactions that his decision could “bring upon” the Palestinians.

“Everyone must do things so we can unite this way,” she said.

The point is hardly theoretical. Thursday, another Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Yusef, 17, from the village of Kaubar, not far from Nabi Saleh, entered a Jewish settlement and stabbed to death an Israeli man, Yotam Ovadia, 31, and injured two others before one of them fatally shot the assailant.

Tamimi now skirts questions about her position on violent means of resistance, aware that she is on parole and that any perceived incitement to violence could land her back in jail.

In general, she says, resistance is “a natural reaction to the occupation of our land.”

“Resistance is not just the stone,” she said. “It is the poems we write. Art.” Her father chimed in: “Also the boycott and the isolation of Israel.” Asked what she would do the next time soldiers show up in her yard she weighed her words: “I don’t know what the future holds, and they gave me a suspended sentence to restrict me. But anyone who knows me has a sense of what is going to happen.”

Tamimi was speaking at a friend’s house in a Ramallah suburb during a quiet moment in a dizzying, if carefully choreographed, day. Surrounded by family and supporters, she wore a black and white checkered kaffiyeh, a Palestinian national symbol, draped across her shoulders beneath her trademark unruly blonde mane.

The day had begun at 4:10 a.m. in a prison in northern Israel. A few hours later, the Israelis delivered her and her mother to their village. After a hero’s welcome there, the family set out for Ramallah.

Tamimi paid her respects at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, the father of the Palestinian cause, and was received by his successor, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who praised her as “a model of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, independence and statehood,” according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. Back in Nabi Saleh later in the afternoon, Tamimi held a news conference. She declared that she was boycotting the Israeli news media and would not take any questions from Israeli reporters, though several were present and the website of the liberal Haaretz newspaper livestreamed the event.

Palestinian flags were raised and nationalist songs played over loudspeakers. Tamimi held court in the center of the village. Behind her was a giant replica of a slingshot and a masked female figure in school uniform, poised to launch a huge pencil.

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