Lawmakers salute soldiers for resisting goading by Palestinian teen girls

Failed effort to provoke troops into violent response garners praise from ministers, who say 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi should be jailed for incident

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli lawmakers on Monday lined up to praise the IDF servicemen who were filmed resisting attempts by Palestinian teenage girls to provoke two soldiers stationed in the West Bank into a violent response, with one minister saying they should be jailed for life.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the IDF as the “most humane army that exhibits moral values that do not exist elsewhere.”

But, he warned this “humane behavior” must not come at the expense of deterrence. “If you riot during the day, you’ll be arrested at night,” he said during a press conference at the Re’im military base in southern Israel.

During an encounter in the village of Nabi Saleh Friday, the officer and another soldier were repeatedly shoved and hit by a group of women and girls. In the video, the soldiers scarcely reacted to the instigation, which prompted criticism from some commentators that they were being timid and not adequately defending themselves.

Liberman did not offer his opinion on that aspect of the case, but said that “if there was a shortcoming, it will be addressed.”

The army said earlier that the soldiers “acted professionally and were not dragged into violence,” though they could have arrested the girls.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Israeli security forces arrested 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi at her home in the West Bank city of Nabi Saleh for her role in Friday’s incident.

Just before her arrest was announced, Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio the teen provocateurs should be jailed for life for attacking the soldiers.

“The images are difficult, but we have an excellent chief of staff, and I trust him to investigate the incident, draw conclusions and prosecute the attackers,” he said in an interview.

Bennett noted that under Israeli law, attacking soldiers is punishable by up to seven years in jail.

Head of the Jewish Home party Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, December 4, 2017. (Flash90)

“Their place is in jail, and I expect them to be arrested,” he said. “They should spend their lives in prison.”

The army later on Monday in a statement confirmed the arrest, saying the teen took part in violent protests in the Ramallah area on Friday in which 200 soldiers were attacked by Palestinian rioters.

According to Ahed’s father, Bassem, Israeli troops confiscated cellphones, laptops and cameras from the family home.

Tamimi and two other teenage girls had filmed themselves hitting Israeli soldiers, yelling at them and — at one point — slapping one of them across the face.

The girls film the soldiers with cellphones, which seems to indicate they were trying to instigate a violent response from the soldiers. However, the servicemen do not oblige the girls, and refrain from retaliating throughout the encounter.

The soldiers’ muted response was also praised by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, who told the Ynet news website that the soldiers showed “remarkable maturity” by not giving in to the provocation.

Katz said their restraint prevented significant criticism of Israel, and said it was “good” Tamimi was arrested overnight.

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay chimed in on Twitter, hailing the soldiers who “displayed self-control in an impossible situation.”

Palestinians fight an Israeli soldier who attempted to arrest a boy at a protest near the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, on August 28, 2015. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Nabi Saleh has been the 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 12-year-old Muhammad Tamimi, who had been throwing rocks during a violent protest.

In 2012, 13-year-old Ahed 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.

In a video of the incident, she can be seen repeatedly raising her balled fist at a soldier, poised to hit him, but never actually doing so.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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