Video by Nida Omar and Olivia Maeder
Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager who was arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier in December, turned 17 on Jan. 31.
On the eve of her birthday, Gould Street transformed into a celebratory rally that both commemorated Tamimi’s birthday and called for action against Israeli military forces for prosecuting children in the occupied territories.
The event was hosted by Ryerson’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), in collaboration with No Way to Treat a Child. It’s part of a campaign that seeks to challenge Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, demanding protection for children held in Israel military detention.
Bouquets of balloons that read #FreeAhed, a large paper cake and party hats all adorned a table outside the Student Campus Centre. Bystanders were able to sign a birthday card on display and write letters to Tamimi, which Mona El-Falou, president of the SJP, plans to send to her in prison.
Tamimi is a well-known teenage Palestinian activist. She became internationally famous after a video of her confronting Israeli soldiers outside of her home went viral. Tamimi lives in Nabi Saleh, a small Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank.
The village of Nabi Saleh is notorious for its weekly protests that have taken place for years against Israeli settlements. A week before the incident, Tamimi’s fifteen-year-old cousin, Mohammad, was shot by a rubber bullet by a member of the Israeli security forces.
In the video taken in December, Tamimi is shown slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers with her cousin. A week after the incident, Tamimi was arrested in a nighttime raid that was filmed by Israeli forces.
The Israeli military court has filed 12 charges against her for assault under aggravated circumstances, incitement and throwing stones.
She is currently in military detention and could face up to 10 years in prison. Her military trial is scheduled to begin next week.
“Tamimi has been a symbol for all the Palestinian children that are now imprisoned in Palestine.
“It’s not normal under any human law to imprison minors for protesting in their own land or for protecting their own home. Her trial still hasn’t happened – and she’s still imprisoned,” said El-Falou.
“The point of the celebration, isn’t necessarily about the birthday itself,” says El-Falou, The SJP organized the event to emphasize the fact that Tamimi is a minor and there are hundreds of Palestinian children like her who’ve have been arrested in the past.
The SJP also provided a petition for bystanders that urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and minister of foreign affairs Chrystia Freeland to take action against Israeli military forces from prosecuting children. Demonstrations for Tamimi have been occurring all over the world. A protest was also held on Bloor Street outside Freeland’s office on the same day.
No Way to Treat a Child is a U.S.-based campaign that came to Canada back in August, according to Karen Rodman, an activist who is part of the organization. The campaign is an extension of the fieldwork being done by Defense for Children in Palestine, which is the key organization that works with children in Israeli military courts.
“[The organization] takes a narrow focus on the rights of children, underneath international law. There are certain rules that have to be followed by an occupier, in this case Israel. In particular, we’re focusing on the rights of children to be free from torture, free from denial of legal and human rights,” says Rodman.
In the U.S., a bill that tackles this issue is currently making its way through Congress. In November, the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act,” was introduced to prohibit U.S tax dollars from paying for violations against children detained in military incarceration.
For the Canadian government, Rodman hopes that similar action will be taken.
“The idea is to basically ask our government to stand clearly on this and to speak out from government to government to play their role with foreign policy in that regard,” says Rodman.
Public opinion about Tamimi has been mixed. While some salute her as a hero, others have accused her of being a propaganda tool. Tamimi comes from a family of activists and this isn’t the first time she’s made headlines. In 2012, a video of her angrily confronting an Israeli soldier also went viral.
In response to these accusations, El-Falou said, “Let’s put that aside and just look at facts. She’s a child. She’s a minor and she’s protecting her own home in her own land.”
All photos by Nida Omar