Two Italian artists leave Israel after arrest over Ahed Tamimi mural

Authorities had rescinded visas, threatened to expel two activists detained over image on security barrier near Bethlehem, if they did not leave within 3 days

A man paints a mural of Palestinian Ahed Tamimi on a part of Israel's West Bank security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 25, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
A man paints a mural of Palestinian Ahed Tamimi on a part of Israel's West Bank security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 25, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

A lawyer for two Italian artists said Monday they had left Israel after being arrested for painting a large mural of a formerly imprisoned teenage Palestinian protester on the West Bank security barrier.

Lawyer Azmi Masalha said the Italians left Israel on Monday morning. He said Israel has barred them for 10 years from entering the country again.

On Sunday authorities arrested the two and rescinded their visas, threatening them with expulsion from country if they did not leave voluntarily.

Police said that the two were arrested over “suspicion of vandalizing and damaging the security fence in the Bethlehem area,” and were transferred to the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration following interrogation.

The authority decided to “cancel their temporary visas for Israel and allow them to leave the country within 72 hours,” a police statement said.

“If they fail to comply they will be expelled,” police added.

A Palestinian who had been arrested with the Italians on Saturday was also freed, since he was not strongly involved in their activities, the statement said.

Italy’s foreign minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, said in a statement Sunday night he had “learned with relief… (that) the two Italian citizens arrested in Israel will quickly be able to return to Italy.”

The roughly four-meter (13-foot) image near Bethlehem in the West Bank depicts the teenage Tamimi, who was convicted and jailed for slapping two Israeli soldiers, an episode captured on video, and for incitement to violence against Israelis.

Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, who was also jailed over the incident, were freed Sunday morning after over seven months in jail, returning to celebrations in their hometown of Nabi Saleh in the central West Bank.

Border police said on Saturday that troops had arrested the two Italians and a Palestinian — all masked — after they “illegally drew on the wall.”

“When border policemen took action to arrest them, they tried to escape in their car, which was stopped by the forces,” the police said in a statement.

On Wednesday, one of the men drawing the mural had identified himself as Italian street artist Jorit Agoch.

A message was posted to a Facebook page under his name saying he had been arrested and pleading for help.

Tamimi’s incarceration had drawn attention from around the globe, highlighting the teen’s image as a Palestinian icon. She had become a cause célèbre for Palestinian supporters, and rallies were held in several locations calling for her release after her arrest in December.

Many Palestinians saw her as bravely standing up to military control over the West Bank, while Israelis accused her family of using her as a pawn.

Following her release release on Sunday, Tamimi was greeted by hundreds of supporters and journalists in Nabi Saleh.

In her first public comments since being released, she thanked her supporters and declared that “the resistance is ongoing.”

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