Court orders teen soldier-slapper held in custody until end of proceedings

In decision regarding 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed, judge writes that ‘intensity of her violence establishes clear rationale for danger’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Sixteen-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (2nd right) stands for a hearing in the Israeli military court at Ofer military prison in the West Bank, on January 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)
Sixteen-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (2nd right) stands for a hearing in the Israeli military court at Ofer military prison in the West Bank, on January 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

A military court judge on Wednesday ordered that 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi and her mother, Nariman — who were both filmed slapping and shoving IDF soldiers last month in their West Bank village of Nebi Saleh —  remain behind bars until the end of legal proceedings against them.

In his decision regarding the younger Tamimi, Judge Haim Balilti wrote that “the gravity of the offenses of which she is accused do not allow for an alternative to custody.”

The Ofer Military Court judge argued that security forces treated the Palestinian teenager “leniently over a long period of time.”

“The intensity of her violence establishes a clear rationale for danger and indicates that her actions stem from the promotion of an ideological goal,” Balilti added.

Nour Tamimi (2L) and her aunt Nariman Tamimi (2R) attend a hearing at the Ofer military court in the West Bank on January 1, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The judge said he took Ahed’s young age into consideration in his decision, writing that he “examined whether the purpose of her arrest could be achieved through other ways that wouldn’t harm her freedom.”

However, Balilti surmised that “age is not everything” and the “considerable danger” posed by the young girl trumped other concerns.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the decision in a Wednesday tweet, branding the 16-year-old soldier-slapper as a “terrorist.”

“There is justice in the military court, and I welcome the decision to keep the terrorist Ahed Tamimi in custody until the end of the proceedings,” he wrote. “Our message is clear: the State of Israel will not allow IDF soldiers to be harmed and anyone who tries to do so will pay a heavy price.”

Earlier this month, the military court indicted Ahed, Nariman, and Ahed’s 21-year-old cousin Nour over the December 15 incident. The three were each charged with aggravated assault of soldiers, with additional charges lodged against the mother and daughter for other incidents over the past two years.

A military court judge ordered the release of Nour on January 5, saying that the charges against the 21-year-old were fewer and less severe. However, Ahed and Nariman have remained imprisoned since their arrests on December 19.

The indictment against the teenager is the most severe of the three and cites a total of 12 counts, which took into account five other altercations with IDF soldiers that she was alleged to have taken part in over the past two years.

Bassem Tamimi (C) the father of sixteen-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (UNSEEN), a well-known campaigner against Israel’s occupation, waves at his daughter during a hearing in the Israeli military court at Ofer military prison in the West Bank village of Betunia on January 15, 2018. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The severity of the indictment against Ahed, in particular, indicated that she could face a lengthy jail term if convicted.

Footage from last month’s encounter in Nabi Saleh shows Ahed and Nour approaching two Israeli soldiers, then shoving, kicking and slapping them, while filming on their cellphones.

They move backwards after Nariman arrives and she begins pushing the soldiers herself. The armed soldiers do not respond in the face of what appears to be an attempt to provoke them.

In Ahed’s version of the incident, shared in front of the court during a hearing last month, she said that the same soldiers featured in the video had shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet an hour before the filmed encounter. “Then I saw the same soldiers who hit my cousin, this time in front of my house. I could not keep quiet and I responded as I did,” the 16-year-old testified.

Photos of Ahed’s cousin Muhammad Tamimi have been widely shared on Palestinian social media, showing the young boy’s face badly bruised and scarred. The Palestinian Ma’an news outlet had reported that he was in an induced coma due to the injuries, but has since woken up.

Nabi Saleh — 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Ramallah — has been a frequent staging ground for clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, specifically members of the Tamimi family, which has a history of involvement in highly publicized clashes with the IDF.

In August 2015, an IDF soldier was caught on film trying to arrest Ahed’s cousin Muhammad Tamimi, who had been throwing rocks during a violent protest.

Videos of the December 15 incident were widely picked up by Israeli media, which often accuse Palestinian protesters of seeking to provoke the army into responses, only to be filmed.

Ahed Tamimi, sister of the boy whose attempted arrest by an Israeli soldier led to a West Bank scuffle on August 28, faces a soldier in 2012 (Screen capture via YouTube)

Ahed Tamimi has since become a cause célèbre for Palestinian supporters and rallies have been held in several locations calling for her release, including a demonstration in Paris on Thursday. Many Palestinians see her as bravely standing up to military control over the West Bank, while Israelis accuse her family of using the 16-year-old as a pawn in staged provocations.

Some Israeli politicians hailed the restraint of the soldiers as evidence of the military’s values, while others called for tough responses in the face of seeming humiliation.

Rights groups have criticized the minor’s continued detention. On Monday,  Amnesty International issued a statement demanding that Israel release the 16-year-old.

The B’Tselem rights group issued a similar condemnation on Wednesday, claiming that Israel “military justice system is not a tool for justice, but rather a central mechanism of repression in the service of Israeli control of Palestinians in the territories.”

The NGO said that the indictments against the Tamimis “ignoring the fact that at the time, authorities saw no need to stop or summon the alleged suspects”

 AFP contributed to this report. 

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