Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) faced a backlash Wednesday over an admission he made a day earlier that Israel had conducted a secret investigation into whether the Palestinian Tamimi family was “real” or composed of hired actors.
The Tamimis, known for public protests against an IDF presence in the West Bank, have been in the headlines recently due to an incident in which 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi was filmed slapping soldiers last month
In a statement released Tuesday night responding to an Israeli musician’s comparison of the Palestinian teenager to Anne Frank, Oren said that as chair of a classified subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee two years ago, he led efforts to probe the Tamimis’ “credibility,” accusing them of manipulating Westerners by posing as a family and provoking violent responses from IDF soldiers.
“In discussions that I held in the committee, the issue of the family’s credibility was raised and whether they were indeed a real family,” he said, describing them as a “Pallywood production.”
“We are talking about a family that receives money from terror organizations in order to carry out activities against IDF soldiers in an attempt to incite them to respond violently, and thus make Israel look bad,” Oren insisted.
The committee, which met in 2015, looked into whether “members of the family were chosen for their appearance” — blond, blue-eyed and light-skinned — Oren said. “Also clothing. A real costume. American dress in every respect, not Palestinian, with backward baseball caps. Even Europeans don’t wear backward baseball caps. It was all ready; after a provocation or a brawl the posters would come out. It was all prepared.”
The committee discussions, which were attended by representatives of the Shin Bet security agency, the IDF’s Military Intelligence directorate and other high-level officials, discovered that “in all likelihood, not all of the children that appear as children of the Tamimi family are actually in the family,” the deputy minister said.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Oren admitted that the probe “was not conclusive and there remains a big question mark over the issue.”
In response to Oren’s comments, Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka accused the deputy minister of humiliating the Tamimi family and being racist toward Palestinians.
Zahalka, joined by his party colleagues, demanded that Oren release the minutes of the committee discussions.
“The discussion is of public interest and making it public will not harm national security; therefore there is good reason to publish the protocols so the public can judge for itself,” Zahalka said in a statement released by the party.
On December 15, Ahed Tamimi and her cousin Nour, 21, were filmed hitting two IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. They have since been arrested for assault and remain in custody as legal proceedings continue. Videos of the 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.
The scuffle took place amid clashes and protests against US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In Ahed Tamimi’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 prior to 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.
She has since become a cause célèbre for Palestinian supporters, and rallies have been held in several locations calling for her release. 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.
Nabi Saleh has been a frequent staging ground for provoked clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, specifically members of the Tamimi clan, which has a history of getting involved in highly publicized interactions 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.
In 2012, Ahed Tamimi gained fame among Palestinian activists for an incident in which she led a group of children, including her younger brother, in arguing with Israeli soldiers.