I Watched Ahed Tamimi Grow Up And I Know Why She Defended Her Home

Updated | Images of three women, Ahed Tamimi, her mother Nariman and her cousin Nour, have been sprawled across the media following their arrest by Israeli forces, after Israeli news outlets released a video of them screaming and slapping soldiers.

The women are not just the defiant resistors as they have been painted. Their actions and reactions are a reflection of what years of humiliation and degradation do to a family, and a population.

Ahed, now 16, was once the shy girl that barely whispered whenever she was asked questions. Her voice was sweet and it lent itself to a vulnerability that makes you tread carefully and with kindness.

She was the little girl of Nabi Saleh village, whose hair could not be tamed. Its thickness and volume, however, have not shielded her from the horrors erupting around her.

I recall the first time I went to Nabi Saleh for the weekly demonstration against settlement expansion. It was a summer day with the sun mercilessly burning above us. My T-shirt was soaked in sweat and my lungs were burning from the teargas. It was also the first time I met Nariman Tamimi.

Nariman is a mother of four children, but also the woman who took in all that entered her home.

At the time, neither of us knew one another, or knew we would be bonded by tragedy. Yet, when soldiers tried to detain me and my younger cousin, Nariman quickly jumped in without any hesitation.

Her hands were ferociously shaking as she clung on to a video camera in a helpless attempt to document any potential violations by the army. Despite her clear nervousness, she raised her voice and yelled at the fully armed soldiers: "These are my daughters, you will not take them!"

At that moment, my knees wobbled and my heart palpitated because of the fear of being arrested. But then I was overcome with a sense of calm. This young woman, who had no idea what my name even was, readily risked her life to ensure my safety.

Ahed Tamimi
Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (R), 16, a well-known campaigner against Israel's occupation, appears at a military court at the Israeli-run Ofer prison in the West Bank village of Betunia on December 20, 2017. Israel's army arrested Tamimi on December 19, 2017, after a video went viral of her slapping Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank as they remained impassive. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Underneath all the strength and resilience, Nariman's roar is a small part of her. She is a woman that holds her scars tightly and paints a world of dreams where she is simply a Palestinian woman.

There were times she sat on the balcony of her home in Nabi Saleh as we sipped tea and imagined a different world. Somehow it was always one where we may have never met one another, because we didn't have to. We didn't have to protest, or fight for our right to security, we just lived through the banalities of life.

We would build a canvas of colorful realities, but they were always butchered with the memories of heartache, pain and violence.

Nariman's voice would break as she recalled the stories of her brother Rushdie Tamimi, who took his last breath in her arms after Israeli forces shot him. His death came just a year after her cousin Mustafa Tamimi laid in a pool of blood after being targeted by an Israeli soldier.

"Those that live," she would tell me, "are not really living." She would continue to remember how her husband was incarcerated, how she would tell her children stories of his strength because she could not afford to break in front of them.

I remember when she ran to hug her husband Bassem after his release from prison. This moment of joy was followed by the imprisonment of her eldest son, Waed. With her children playing in the distance, we would try to remember the names of the dozens of people she loved that were either arrested, tortured, injured or killed. We almost always forgot someone.

Ahed Tamim
Ahed Tamimi was filmed while pushing and slapping two IDF soldiers. Bassem Tamimi

While Nariman carries the weight of these experiences, her children have been quietly trying to make sense of it all. It's the same fate of most Palestinian children.

Ahed, who was barely nine when protests began, also stood as a witness to all of the injustices from Israeli forces. The little girl with the shy voice realized at a young age that she could not afford to be quiet, that whispers are a luxury afforded by those that do not have to defend their homes from daily raids, from land annexation, or incarceration.

It was a few years ago, when Israeli forces tried to arrest her brother that Ahed became a beacon of hope and resistance in the village. Her scrawny body full of rage, she held a fist in front of the Israeli soldiers as they hung on to their guns.

While Nariman and Ahed helped save many from possible arrest, they could not save themselves. The reality of imprisonment is inevitable for Palestinians who are active against Israeli aggression.

Despite being a teenager, Ahed is being tried in an Israeli military court with a 99.7 percent conviction rate. Since 2012, the Israeli military has held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month, with over three-quarters of them enduring some form of physical violence following their arrest.

The crime the Tamimis are being charged with revolves around incitement and assault. What the Israeli court cannot fathom, and refuses to recognize, is the fact that the soldiers' presence at the Tamimi's home in the first place was unjust and part of an illegal occupation.

To add to the anger, just a few moments before Ahed and her cousin Nour were videotaped yelling at the army, the same soldiers raided their home and shot Ahed's cousin, 14-year-old Mohammad Fadel Tamimi, in the head. He is now in intensive care, according to Palestinian media and rights groups.

Everyone in that family has been arrested, apart from the two youngest boys, Mohammad, 14, and Salam, 12. The sad reality is that if these injustices continue, one day we may have to call for their release as well.

Nariman once told me "this place, is a place of butchered childhoods." With her voice full of love and tenderness, she continued: "Maybe your children will actually have a chance."

Mariam Barghouti is a writer based in Ramallah. You can follow her on Twitter.

The headline of this article has been amended.