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Palestinian teenager jailed for slapping soldiers plans law career after release

Ahed Tamimi has become a symbol of resistance to the occupation.

A Palestinian teenager who became an international symbol of resistance to Israeli occupation after slapping two soldiers has walked out of prison to declare she wants to study law to defend her people.

In a news conference in the courtyard of her family home, 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi briefly raised her fist and said the “occupation must leave”.

However, the once feisty youngster appeared to be subdued, stopping short of committing to continued acts of protest and saying her eight-month prison stint had taught her to appreciate life.

Underlying her case are clashing narratives about Israel’s half-century rule over the Palestinians, the extent of permissible Palestinian resistance to it and the battle for global public opinion.

Ahed’s supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers in frustration after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously injured a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.

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Ahed Tamimi with her father Bassem and mother Nariman (Nasser Nasser/AP)

In Israel, she is seen by many either as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy – even as a “terrorist”. Israel has treated her actions as a criminal offence, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement.

In liberal circles, the hard-charging prosecution of Ahed was criticised as a public relations disaster because it turned her into an international icon.

Her release comes at a time when Palestinian hopes for an independent state appear dimmer than ever.
Many Palestinians are disillusioned by their and feel exhausted after years of conflict with Israel.

Alternatives have arisen, including calling for a single state for both peoples between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, but they have not gained a mass following.

In this context, the idea of so-called popular resistance – regular demonstrations, including stone-throwing by unarmed protesters – has only caught on in a few West Bank villages, including Nabi Saleh, home to the extended Tamimi clan.

Since 2009, residents of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often ended with stone-throwing clashes. Ahed has participated in such marches from a young age and has had several highly publicised run-ins with soldiers. One photo shows the then 12-year-old raising a clenched fist towards a soldier towering over her.

In a sign of her popularity, a pair of Italian artists painted a large mural of her on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier ahead of her release. Israeli police say they were caught in the act along with another Palestinian and arrested for vandalism.

Ahed and her mother Nariman – also arrested in December in connection with the same incident – were released on Sunday morning from a prison in northern Israel. They were driven by bus to the West Bank and given a hero’s welcome in Nabi Saleh.

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An artist paints a giant mural of Ahed Tamimi (Nasser Nasser/AP)

“The resistance continues until the occupation is removed,” Ahed said upon her return.

In the news conference at her home, Ahed said she completed her school exams in prison.

“I will study law to defend my people and defend my Palestinian cause in international forums,” she said.

Her scuffle with the two soldiers took place on December 15 in Nabi Saleh.

At the time, protests had erupted in several parts of the West Bank over US President Donald Trump’s recognition 10 days earlier of the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. She was arrested at her home four days later.

Israeli cabinet minister Uri Ariel said the Tamimi case highlighted what could happen if Israel lets its guard down.

“I think Israel acts too mercifully with these types of terrorists. Israel should treat harshly those who hit its soldiers,” he said.

“We can’t have a situation where there is no deterrence. Lack of deterrence leads to the reality we see now… we must change that.”

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