Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi left prison early Sunday after serving an eight-month sentence for slapping and shoving IDF soldiers outside her home in the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh late last year.
Tamimi, 17, and her mother, who was also jailed over the incident, were being driven by Israeli authorities from a prison inside Israel to a checkpoint at Tulkarem leading to the West Bank, where they live, according to prison spokesman Assaf Librati.
“They just left the prison,” Librati said.
Upon their release from prison, the two are expected to pay a visit to the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and then hold a press conference in their village of Nebi Saleh.
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.
Troops on Saturday detained two Italian artists who had painted a large mural of Ahed Tamimi on Israel’s West Bank security barrier, according to local activist Munther Amireh and amateur video posted online.
In Tamimi’s village of Nebi Saleh, supporters prepared for Sunday’s homecoming, planting Palestinian flags on the roof of her family home and setting up hundreds of chairs for well-wishers in the courtyard.
Ahed’s father Bassem said Saturday that after her release from prison “we expect her to lead and we will support her to lead” in the fight to end occupation. He did not say what that would entail.
Bassem Tamimi said that his daughter completed her high school exams in prison, with the help of other prisoners who taught the required material. He said she initially hoped to attend a West Bank university but has also received scholarship offers abroad.
Since their arrests days after the December 15 incident, Ahed and Nariman have remained in the Hasharon Prison in central Israel. Their sentence, handed down in March, included time already served.
The teen’s cousin Nour was also indicted for her involvement in the quarrel, but she was released in January.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, Ahed Tamimi, who was 16 when she was arrested, admitted to the aggravated assault of an IDF soldier, incitement to violence and disrupting soldiers on two other occasions.
Nariman pleaded guilty for crimes of incitement, disrupting a soldier, and assisting in the assault of a soldier.
The two were arrested after a video emerged showing Ahed Tamimi and her cousin yelling at Israeli troops near her home and slapping one of the soldiers. The incident was filmed by Nariman and streamed live online.
In Ahed’s version of the incident, shared in court during a hearing in December, Tamimi said the 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.
Last month, a parole board rejected a petition for the early release of the 17-year-old. Officials from the Shin Bet security service had protested her release, arguing that freeing Tamimi could exacerbate tensions in the West Bank. Moreover, the Shin Bet had underlined that Tamimi has yet to express remorse for her actions.
AP contributed to this report.