Why the trial of Ahed Tamimi, who slapped an Israeli soldier, is gaining international attention

Why the trial of Ahed Tamimi, who slapped an Israeli soldier, is gaining international attention

Why the trial of Ahed Tamimi, who slapped an Israeli soldier, is gaining international attention

Updated 21 February 2018, 9:05 AEDT

The trial of a 17-year-old Palestinian teenager arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier is generating headlines around the world, with the UN, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch calling for her release.

She is the blonde, curly-haired Palestinian teenager labelled by Israeli activists as a professional provocateur and accused of inciting others to attack.

To Palestinians, 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi is a hero who stood up to the armed Israeli soldiers who regularly raid her village and have shot two of her relatives dead.

The case began on December 15, when Ms Tamimi confronted two Israeli soldiers in the driveway of her home in the occupied West Bank — pushing, shoving and slapping an Israeli soldier who was refusing to leave her yard.

She was 16 at the time.

The incident was livestreamed by her mother Nariman on Facebook and went viral.

Four days later, they were both arrested by the Israeli army.

The teenager was charged with assault and incitement — charges that could lead to up to 10 years in prison.

"Ahed Tamimi has been charged with attacking an IDF [Israel Defence Force] officer and soldier on December 15, 2017, attacking security forces on additional occasions, rock hurling, participating in riots and inciting others to engage in violence and in acts of terror towards Israeli civilians," the IDF said in a statement to 7.30.

Ms Tamimi's lawyer Gaby Lasky told 7.30: "What is happening here is that a young woman was able to put back on the table of every Israeli family the occupation — something that Israelis don't want to deal with, don't want to talk about it.

"It's just there, but nobody has to question its legality, or its morality."

Ms Tamimi's case has now gained attention around the world.

The UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for her release, while hundreds have marched in the streets for her freedom in Europe and the US, and she has been passionately defended in the Australian Parliament.

Meanwhile in Israel, many have welcomed Ms Tamimi's arrest.

Education Minister Naftali Bennet 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 the trial has garnered.

He said the same thing would happen to a young person who attacked a policeman or a soldier in Melbourne or Sydney.

"It's an assault. And if you look at the footage, it's a rather violent assault," he said.

Ahed Tamimi started protesting at a young age

In the village of Nabi Saleh, where Ms Tamimi grew up, life is lived under the watchful eye of the Israeli military.

There is an army lookout tower at the entrance and heavy gates installed on the roads leading in and out.

"The proximity to the settlement places big restrictions on freedom of movement. With fairly depressing regularity, the access to the village is closed," chief of the UN Human Rights office in the occupied Palestinian territories James Heenan told 7.30.

"The vehicular access is closed by the gate, which means that the village is isolated, except for those who can walk."

The village of Nabi Saleh, and the Tamimi family in particular, are famous for refusing to submit to the Israeli army.

From a young age, Ms Tamimi regularly took part in protests against the military occupation that controls their lives and the presence of an Israeli settlement just 200 metres away, built on what was once the village farmlands of Nabi Saleh.

"When she [was] around 7 or 8 years she [started] participating," Ms Tamimi's father Bassem Tamimi said.

"They [raided] my home 200 times in the last five years — more than. This is the circumstances. This is the conditions she [lives] in."

The protests are often met by armed Israeli soldiers.

The young people of Nabi Saleh regularly throw stones at the soldiers, who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

"Riots are often held in the Nabi Saleh village. Participants in these riots incite terror and violence towards Israeli civilians, hurl rocks at security forces and at those travelling on the route near the village, and engage in additional violent and unlawful activities," the IDF said.

Three young Palestinians have been shot dead in the village since 2011 — two of them Ms Tamimi's relatives.

"She saw how they [killed] her uncle. How they killed Mustapha before that," Bassem Tamimi said.

Ms Tamimi was eight when she saw her mother arrested for disobeying soldiers' orders, and 10 when her father was arrested and spent 14 months in jail, accused of organising demonstrations and encouraging children to throw stones.

In 2015, images of her biting an Israeli soldier as he tried to take away her young brother went viral.

Questions if 'Western-looking' Tamimis are 'real' Palestinians

"We had to examine whether these children were being sent and by which entities and how much money, because this was a serious threat to Israel's security," Mr Oren said.

Mr Oren led a classified Israeli parliamentary investigation into whether the Tamimis were "real" Palestinians and if anyone was paying them to protest each week, provoke soldiers and film the confrontations.

"What they all had in common was a Western look — freckles, blond hair, or strawberry blond, or red hair," Mr Oren said.

"They would dress as Americans. Audiences in the West would see children that look like their children being hit by Israeli soldiers."

Just hours before Ms Tamimi slapped the soldier, her 15-year-old cousin Mohammad was shot in the head at close range with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli soldiers.

He required intensive surgery and part of his skull had to be removed in order to dislodge the bullet.

"I get headaches sometimes right here on this side, because I'm missing a part of my skull bone, right behind my eye," he told 7.30.

He denied children in the village are paid or encouraged to protest.

"No, no-one pays anybody money to throw stones,' Mohammad said.

"This is incorrect what they are saying."

Last year, when he was 14, Mohammad spent three months in an Israeli jail, accused of throwing stones at soldiers.

"When I was detained from home I was wearing my pyjamas. They dragged me to the jeep. I was interrogated at the police station for three consecutive days," Mohammad said.

UN 'concerned about Palestinian children in Israeli jails'

The UN has grave concerns about the number of Palestinian children in Israeli jails.

"Ahed's case is an example of this," Mr Heenan said.

"What has been reported by the United Nations for many years is that there's a high level of detention of children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

"We have over 300 children in detention as we speak, we also have some children in administrative, which is detention without charge."

Mr Heenan said the manner of Ms Tamimi's arrest was also concerning.

"Heavily armed security forces raiding the house in the middle of the night — we have concerns about the way in which she has been interrogated without a lawyer, or a family, relative present, which is particularly important for children," he said.

Ms Tamimi's lawyer claims she was denied clothing by Israeli guards.

"Ahed was actually denied a coat, or a jacket — although it was freezing," Ms Lasky said.

"She was denied underwear, clothes, for almost a week. She didn't change her clothes."

Ms Tamimi faces a total of 12 charges, including incitement.

Ahed Tamimi 'called for suicide bombings' on Facebook

Watching the trial closely is Maurice Hersh, who used to be the prosecutor for the Israeli military court in the West Bank.

He now works for right-wing Israeli lobby group NGO Monitor.

"Really the crux of the indictment is really the incitement and the calling for committing suicide bombings," he told 7.30.

"She has a tremendous amount of influence. And if someone was to heed her call to carry out suicide bombings, I think that would be very severe."

The Israeli military prosecutor said comments made by Ms Tamimi on her Facebook page are what amount to a "call for suicide bombings".

In the Facebook live video, Ms Tamimi referred to US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"They have to take responsibility for whatever our reaction is — whether it's stabbing attacks, or suicide attacks, or stone throwing," she said.

But Ms Lasky said: "She is not saying that people should act in that manner, stabbing people, making terrorist attacks."

"It's a 16-year-old girl, being more realistic than President Trump. Knowing that words have an effect.

"There are some people that want to read into the video what they want. But that's not what it says!"

Israeli activists have long accused the Tamimis of condoning violence, pointing to a cousin of Ms Tamimi's father, who was jailed 17 years ago for aiding a suicide bomber who killed 15 Israeli civilians in 2001 — including a 15-year-old who held Australian citizenship.

Two years ago, Ms Tamimi's mother shared a post on Facebook defending the cousin.

Today, Mr Tamimi said his family rejects violence.

"For me, I was believing in the armed resistance and I was arrested for that," he said.

"But I changed because I believe that the suitable and more effective issue is the non-violent resistance."

Trial to take place behind closed doors

Ms Tamimi was denied bail and will spend the remainder of her trial behind bars.

Last week, the judge ruled the trial will take place behind closed doors.

"I have a lot of a lot of cases of settlers, that have been brought to court, in the civil system, in Israel, regarding similar things, or even worse things than what Ahed had done, and have not received even one day imprisonment," Ms Lasky said.

The Israeli military court system for Palestinians has a 99.7 per cent conviction rate.

Ms Tamimi is not likely to be home anytime soon.