Australia has once again remained silent on another Israeli outrage, writes Professor Stuart Rees.
Sixteen-year old Ahed Tamimi has been imprisoned in an Israeli jail. She slapped an Israeli soldier who had invaded her home in the village of Nabi Saleh, where her cousin was shot in the face with a rubber bullet and sustained life-threatening injuries. Her mother Nariman and cousin Noor have also been arrested. A video of the incident was streamed live on Facebook.
In response to Ahed’s resistance, Israeli education Minister Naftali Bennet said that Tamimi should spend the rest of her life in prison. A prominent Israeli commentator, Ben Caspin said he’d like to see the teenager sent to a dungeon to be tortured in such a fashion that no-one should witness it.
Around the world there is outrage that Ahed has been being shackled and held in detention. I’m outraged by Australian political leaders’ apparent non-response to the thuggery of Bennet and others, politicians whom an Australian government regards as partners in anti-terrorism operations and with whom we like to trade in arms.
I do not want to hear the sitting-on-the-fence response: we’ve stayed silent because we can’t interfere in the affairs of another country. That’s the time-honoured coward’s way out. As a newly minted member of the UN’s Human Rights Council, the Australian government should not behave as though it believes in human rights but can’t afford to offend a friend.
Journalist Ben Ehrenreich records that Ahed first came to the notice of Israeli authorities when she was 11. She was filmed raising her bare, skinny arm to shake her fist in the face of a fully armed Israeli soldier twice her size. Other soldiers had just arrested her brother.
The very courageous Ahed has lived her life under a brutal occupation. Settlers who steal land are protected by the military. Settlers act with impunity but aim to ethnically cleanse the area surrounding Nabi Saleh. Those who resist injustice are charged with being offenders while the perpetrators of injustice are defined as victims. Morality, law, human rights and ethics don’t exist. Who cares?
An Injustice System
Ahed confronts an oppressive military juvenile court system. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has described the behaviour of the judge who determined that the ‘danger’ posed by Ahed justified her continued detention. “The judge too is just a small cog in the machine, someone who does his job and returns to his own daughters and sons at night proud of his day’s contemptible work.”
Even if Israel’s bastardry to Ahed and her family is perceived in Australia as no different from Minister Dutton’s cruelty towards asylum seekers and refugees, the general issue of Israeli justice and the future for Palestinians merits attention.
In Australian government circles, a political con game continues as platitudes about a two-state solution. Netanyahu and Co. are laughing. They will not allow a Palestinian state. They insist that Jerusalem is already their capital.
At least Australian officialdom might be slightly outraged by a military court system which denies access to lawyers, shackles and imprisons Palestinian children? Defence for Children International reports that out of 520 cases of Palestinian children being detained by Israel between 2012 and 2016, 72 per cent faced physical violence and 66 per cent experienced verbal abuse and humiliation.
The highly regarded Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu records that in this so-called justice system, the conviction rate for Palestinian youth is 99.2 per cent, which means that Ahed is likely to be convicted. The official charge against the teenager is assault but her real crime has been to shame Israel’s occupation and refuse to bow down.
Buttu says that Ahed has revealed Israel’s ugly secret: that it has no intention of ever letting Palestinians live in freedom.
Perhaps it’s naïve to think that an Australian government would protest Ahed’s treatment. Australia usually opposes UN resolutions critical of Israel; though on some votes concerning Israeli issues governments have summoned sufficient courage to abstain.
When Israeli leader Netanyahu came to Australia in February 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull was all over him like a hot rash. Turnbull claimed that the two countries had so much in common. After the Beersheeba celebrations, Turnbull spent four days in Israel and 45 minutes with Palestinians.
International publicity surrounding Ahed Tamimi contrasts with the silence and passivity of Australia’s mainstream media, government and opposition. They may be indulging in hot summer hedonism, or are preparing for the bureaucratic game playing which can fill time in Canberra and State capitals.
But I want to hear that in 2018, they’ll reject cowardice and shun cruelty. Manus and Nauru detainees and Indigenous Australians, keep your fingers crossed.
Outrage against injustice reinforces individuals’ sense of their own humanity. Such a stand can also contribute to protesters’ mental and physical health. Listen to Ahed Tamimi’s father Bassem.
He says that the soldiers whom Ahed resisted have been unwanted and uninvited guests in their home ever since Ahed was born. He speaks of the importance of resistance and of pride in his daughter. “Beyond the suffering and daily oppression of the prisoners, the wounded and the killed, we also know the tremendous power that comes from belonging to a resistance movement, the dedication, the love, the small sublime moments that come from the choice to shatter the invisible walls of passivity.”
Can we hear Bassem’s challenge? Will his lesson be heeded, or will Australian leadership stay indifferent and find comfort in complacency?
By her defiance, Ahed has provided an opportunity for leaders in the Australian government and opposition to express outrage at Israeli injustice. By taking that opportunity, they could mark a new and refreshing justice-oriented era in Australian politics.
Political leaders could reach out to the Tamimi family by saying, ‘We are with you, we are outraged by your treatment. We will do everything possible to respect human rights in our own country and in yours.’
In fair go manner, a message of support for the imprisoned Palestinian could be borrowed from the iconic Australian movie and musical, Muriel’s Wedding. That story ended with memorable recognition of a young woman who had been treated as insignificant but, against the odds, achieved an ‘amazing’ new identity.
To support the leadership of the brave Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, Australians can show gratitude and admiration with a Muriels’ Wedding repeat, but this time by saying, ‘Ahed, you’re fuckin’ amazing !’
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