There are thousands of Ahed Tamimis

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There are thousands of Ahed Tamimis

Every now and again, a Palestinian story rises out of the humdrum coverage and quotidian violence of the Israeli occupation to attract genuine international interest. It is currently the turn of Ahed Tamimi, from the West Bank village of Nabi Salih, whose slapping of an armed Israeli soldier captured attention worldwide. 
Yet, away from such high-profile dramas, hundreds of children are routinely arrested, abused and locked up. Currently Israel has more than 300 Palestinian children in detention. What happened to Ahed is little different to all their stories — it is not a rare aberration but the norm.
The use of force against protesters is well known. The tear gas, skunk spray and rubber-coated metal bullets all take their toll, sometimes killing and maiming, and sometimes such stories get an airing on television. Yet no television cameras pick up what happens to Palestinian kids as they are picked up from their homes and refuges in the middle of the night. Children often wake to find a unit of heavily armed Israeli soldiers in their bedroom. If they are lucky, they get a seat in the back of the jeep that is taking them to a nearby settlement, but many are sat on the floor, their hands cuffed. Many complain that soldiers abuse them, usually not heavily but the child is so petrified that not much is needed to induce trauma and terror. Hours of interrogation later, largely never recorded, and the Palestinian signs a confession, most of the time in Hebrew — a language they do not understand. 
According to a survey by Military Court Watch, about two-thirds of Palestinian children arrested in 2017 reported being subjected to violence and abuse. This reflects the contents of a 2013 UNICEF report that found ill-treatment of children in Israeli military detention was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.”
Ahed slapped a soldier. Given that she had just discovered her 15-year-old cousin had been shot in the head, some might consider this a restrained response. When an Israeli settler does something similar, typically the Israeli army does nothing. Its standing mission is not to keep the peace and protect everyone, but merely Israeli citizens. 
Settlers throw stones, as do Palestinian kids. In Jerusalem, ultra-orthodox Jews often throw stones at cars driving on the Sabbath. Back in 2006, ultra-orthodox protesters rioted, threw stones and even injured six policemen, but they were not as systematically and nationally vilified as this 16-year-old Palestinian girl.

Away from the glare of the television cameras, Israeli authorities routinely detain Palestinian children and process them at a ‘court’ that might as well have a kangaroo sign hanging outside.

Chris Doyle

Israeli authorities — sounding not so different to, say, the Iranian or Syrian regimes — claim Ahed’s actions were incitement. To them, Ahed was dangerous because she showed defiance; she faced up to the occupation as opposed to accepting it or giving in to it. This is what is dangerous and the Israeli top brass knows it. Allow actions such as Ahed’s to pass and the following day there will be 10 such cases; within a week, thousands, and the West Bank might slip out of their control. It is an inevitable consequence of maintaining a 50-year-old occupation over millions of people who do not want you there and hate your presence, all of which is exacerbated by trying to insert more than a half a million Israeli citizens into this territory as illegal settlers. 
The incitement is the occupation. As there are countless Ahed Tamimis, there are also countless Nabi Salihs — Palestinian villages losing their lands, not least ones close to settlements or the wall. They have been systematically denuded of ancestral lands. At Nabi Salih, these confiscations were largely for the benefit of the nearby settlement of Halamish, built on an abandoned fort. Weekly protests took place at the spring that was stolen for the settlement. 
Hardcore partisans of Israel — the see-no-evil, anti-Arab fire-breathers — will scream that God gave Israel the land and that Israel has a universally acclaimed justice system and globally admired Supreme Court. This is nowhere to be seen if you are a Palestinian, adult or child, brought into an Israeli military court. The word “court” is a euphemism here for a processing center. The Ofer military court, according to its own figures, has a 99.74 percent conviction rate. Palestinians know their best chance of getting out is to plead guilty or else they are held for even longer. If you watch the proceedings, typically no evidence is presented and no witnesses are cross-examined. The judge may even be a settler or, in other words, someone active in stealing the defendant’s land. The Palestinians in shackles are more interested in communicating with their families, who they may be seeing for the first time in weeks. You might as well hang a kangaroo sign outside the door. Like so many others, Ahed has been transferred for detention inside Israel, which is against international law, and had her detention extended four times. But does anyone care? 
The bottom line is Israel teaches Palestinians that their lives do not count but Israeli lives do. This is reinforced internationally, when countries like the US pick and choose on a political basis which regimes to criticize and which to support; which protesters are heroes and which are agitators and criminals. Children’s rights should be respected wherever and whoever they are, without exception. 
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. 
Twitter: @Doylech
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