RAMALLAH, West Bank — The family of Palestinian teen protester Ahed Tamimi on Monday released excerpts from a video in which an Israeli interrogator threatens the then-16-year-old with the arrest of her relatives if she refuses to cooperate. The interrogator also comments on her body, fair skin and “eyes of an angel.”
The interrogator, said to be an agent of the Israeli military intelligence branch, at times moves within inches of the teenager who doesn’t respond and repeatedly asserts her right to remain silent.
The Israeli military said a complaint filed by Tamimi’s lawyer of improper conduct by the investigator has been handed to the Justice Ministry and is being “thoroughly examined.”
Ahed’s father, Bassem, told reporters that the video is evidence of Israel’s failure to break his daughter. He portrayed Tamimi as a symbol of resistance to Israel’s 51-year-old military occupation. Her silence under pressure shows that “we are not victims, we are fighters for the cause of freedom of our people,” he said.
It was not clear how the video had been filmed.
Tamimi is serving an eight-month prison term — the result of a plea deal — for slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers outside her West Bank home in mid-December.
In her version of the incident, shared in front of the court during a hearing in December, 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,” Tamimi testified.
In February, the outgoing Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav Mordechai said 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi had admitted under questioning that he had sustained head injuries from falling off his bike and hitting his head on the handlebars.
Citing an article in which Muhammad’s father Fadel described how his son took a rubber bullet to the skull while witnessing December clashes with IDF soldiers, Mordechai blasted the Tamimi family as a group of con artists.
But records from the boy’s visit to the Istishari Hospital in Ramallah appeared to contradict this claim, starting “The above-mentioned patient presented to our hospital on 15/12/2017 immediately after a bullet injury (head trauma) by Israeli soldiers (left maxillary area entrance, no exit wound).”
The teen’s arrest and prosecution by Israel has garnered international attention. It has also touched on broader issues, such as the detention of Palestinian minors by Israeli — currently 356 — and the debate on what constitutes legitimate resistance to Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians.
Her supporters see a brave girl who struck the soldiers in anger after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin. In Israel, she is seen either as a naive young woman manipulated by her elders or as a threat to Israel’s military deterrence.
The interrogation video was part of the case file handed to the defense after Tamimi was indicted, said Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, who helps coordinate her legal strategy.
Tamimi’s lawyer filed a complaint with the military’s judge advocate general over the interrogation tactics, including apparent threats, coercion and sexual innuendo, said Pollak.
The interrogation took place on December 26, a week after Tamimi’s arrest, at an Israeli police station in the West Bank, said Pollak. One of the interrogators was a police officer and the second belonged to Israel’s military intelligence branch, he added.
At the beginning, Tamimi is asked whether she had spoken to a lawyer, and she nods her head. From then on, she refuses to answer questions.
The military intelligence agent, who sits in a chair close to her, attempts to get her to speak, at times threatening her, then telling her that with her blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin, she reminds him of his younger sister.
“When I think of my little sister, her eyes look like your eyes,” he tells here. “She is white like you. In the sun, she looks like the hamburger. And what about you? What do you look like in the sun? Red, red, red? When I see your eyes, I say, it’s a shame (haram) you are here (in detention),” he says.
At another time, he tells her she has the “eyes of an angel.”
He also threatens her, mentioning names of family members, and telling her that “we will take everyone if you don’t cooperate.”
Rights groups say Tamimi’s experience is typical of what Palestinian minors experience in Israeli custody.
“The majority of Palestinian minors experience a wide range of serious rights violations from the moment of arrest through the conclusion of their trial proceedings,” said Ivan Karakashian of the West Bank-based group Defense for Children International Palestine.
He said the assessment is based on affidavits collected in 2017 from 137 minors who had been in detention. Karakshian said between 500 and 700 minors are prosecuted and convicted in military courts each year.
Under Israeli military law applied in the West Bank, minors can consult with a lawyer before an interrogation, but don’t have the right to have legal representation during questioning, defense lawyers said.
Even the right to prior consultation is often not honored, said Yael Stein of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem and Farah Bayadsi of Defense for Children International Palestine.
If the minors don’t have the phone number of attorneys, or the attorneys can’t get to the location in time, interrogators can start questioning without them.